Doris Lin, an attorney specializing in animal law and the VP of legal affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ. I hold a degree in Applied Biological Sciences from M.I.T. and have worked for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agency. I’m a former chair of the NJ State Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee, and I am the author of the Wildlife Protection chapter in the NJ Environmental Law Handbook. Here we talk about her life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Just give us a bit of background, what is your story?
Dorin Lin: I’m an animal rights attorney. I work for Animal Protection League of NJ, mainly filing lawsuits against hunting and defending the free speech rights of protesters.
Jacobsen: How did you become involved in non-human rights activism?
Lin: I had always loved animals, and when I was a teenager in NJ when NJ was considering a bill to ban the steel-jawed leghold trap. The article in the local paper mentioned Friends of Animals, so I got in touch with them and ordered pre-printed postcards that I gave out to teachers and friends. I started ordering lots of animal rights pamphlets and leaflets to read and to hand out.
Jacobsen: How did you become an Administrator of “About Animal Rights”?
Lin: Back in 2008, About.com had hundreds of topics and each topic had a Guide and a newsletter. I was subscribed to the vegetarian food newsletter, and one day, I noticed a link at the bottom that said, “Be a Guide.” I clicked on it and there was a list of topics they needed Guides for, and one of them was animal rights.
Jacobsen: What are the basics of non-human animal rights?
Lin: Animals have a right to be free from human use and exploitation. They have rights because they are sentient – they are capable of suffering and feeling pain.
Jacobsen: What are the central powerful objections to non-human animal rights? How much are these invalid? How much are these valid?
Lin: I think most people don’t realize how their morals are influenced by the culture they were raised in. That’s why most Americans think it’s OK to eat cows, pigs, and chickens, but are horrified by the idea of eating dogs, horses, and whales. They are full of moral outrage at the thought of eating these other animals.
They don’t think of cows, pigs, or chickens as thinking, feeling beings. Obviously, they are thinking, feeling beings. We know that nonhuman animals are capable to emotions and thought because we see it in our pets every day. There’s also objective scientific evidence; a conference of neuroscientists signed a declaration that nonhuman animals have consciousness.
Some animal uses are patently frivolous: circuses, fur, cosmetics testing, etc. The excuses for fur and circuses are flimsy, since the purposes are vanity and entertainment.
Companies test products on animals for pure greed and profit: to prove a new ingredient safe for consumers so that it can be patented and sold exclusively by that company. Some people believe that meat is necessary for human health, but this has been debunked over and over, and many studies show the benefits of a vegan/vegetarian diet.
People also sometimes say, “People are more important!” It’s a speciesist view, but even if you believe that, the mayor of your town is probably more important than you, but that doesn’t mean she has the right to kill you and eat you.
Jacobsen: How much is the respect for the health and wellness of other animals important for the health of ecosystems?
Lin: It’s extremely important. All species – plant, animals, microbes, fungi – are part of the ecosystem. It’s a complex web that connects all of us, and if you mess up one part of the web, it affects on other parts. Wild animals are important for spreading seeds and fertilizing the ground.
Jacobsen: How much is animal agriculture contributing to anthropogenic climate change or human induced global warming?
How can changes in our eating and the reduction in the suffering of non-human animals through the decrease in animal agriculture help with the health of future generations of people through reductions in the predicted severities of anthropogenic climate change?
Lin: Animal agriculture is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, causes of climate change.
It takes a tremendous amount of land, water, fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, energy, and other resources to raise crops to feed to animals for people to eat. The main driver of rainforest deforestation in the Amazon is animal agriculture, because land is being cleared to graze cattle and to grow crops to feed cattle.
Cow flatulence is also a big source of methane, a greenhouse gas. Eating plants directly, instead of feeding plants to animals, is one of the best ways to fight climate change.
Jacobsen: What have been lies made about human rights? What truths dispel them?(I’m assuming that there is a typo in the question, and it should be, “What have been lies made about animal rights?”)
Lin: In the 17th century, Rene Descartes, a mathematician and philosopher, said that animals do not feel pain and cry out just like a machine that makes a sound.
Obviously, with science supporting evolution and the knowledge that people are animals, our brains and nervous systems are not so different from other animals. Few people today would doubt that animals are sentient.
The companies that benefit from animal exploitation – fur stores, factory farms, and animal testing facilities – try to paint animal activists as terrorists.
With their high-paid lobbyists and donations to legislators, they’ve passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in the United States, as well as state laws against animal activism, despite the fact that animal activists have never killed or seriously injured anyone.
White nationalists are stockpiling weapons and going on killing sprees, but these corporations have convinced legislators that the real terrorists are the animal rights activists filming undercover videos of animal abuse.
Jacobsen: If people want to become active, how can they do it? Who can be expected as opposition to this animal rights activism? How can they prepare for such opposition?
Lin: I’m a big fan of local, grassroots groups. Google “animal rights” and the name of your state or province to try to find a local group. You can participate in protests, letter writing campaigns, tabling, boycotts, and other activism. If there is no local animal rights group, you might be able to find a vegan Facebook group for your area.
However, many of these groups are centered around vegan food – finding it, buying it, and making it. It’s fun to go to a vegan potluck, and there is definitely value in having vegan friends, but that’s not activism. If you’re not finding organized activities, I encourage people to start your own group!
The opposition is going to come from the industries that profit from animal exploitation and from
people who are set in their ways. Don’t get discouraged. We have an uphill battle against centuries of customs and culture. It’s a marathon; not a sprint. I think it’s important to find other local animal activists so that you can support each other (see previous mention of vegan potlucks). If you don’t know anyone locally, you can find people and groups on social media. I’ve always loved the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Jacobsen: Any recommended books or speakers?
Lin: Lauren Ornelas from Food Empowerment Project, Christopher Sebastian, Breeze Harper, Aph Ko, Dawn Moncrief from A Well Fed World, Carol Adams.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Lin: I think it’s important to understand that animal rights is a social justice movement and we do ourselves and the animals a disservice when we distance ourselves from other social justice movements. The environmental movement is a natural ally, but we also need to align ourselves with anti-racism, anti-classism, pro-LGBTQ, feminism, and other movements. It’s so counterproductive when I see homophobic and racist messages being used in the animal rights movement. Similarly, we have to address fat shaming and disease shaming within our movement. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes, and, vegans can get sick.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Doris.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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