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Lee Hall Interview

August 21, 2010

Lee Hall

21 August 2010

Lee is a US based Lawyer and is Legal VP of the international advocacy group Friends of Animals. Lee has also taught law courses at Rutger’s University.

In addition to composing numerous published articles for Abolitionist-Online, Dissident Voice, Actionline (Friends of Animals), Satya magazine and other publications; Lee is also author of 3 books; Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine (co-authored with Priscilla Feral) (2005), Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror (2006) and the recently released: On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth (2010).

The combined interests in human rights and nonhuman rights that run through Lee’s writings focus on the culture of the cage, and the concept of transcending it. Some of Lee’s writing appears in the Animal Rights Library (“Modern Authors and Texts”), available at

ARZone: What makes your new book, On Their Own Terms, cutting-edge–as it has been called by your supporters?

Lee Hall: Thank you for your question. I would say this isn’t about supporting me so much as it is about supporting a project, and that project is advancing animal rights.

I wrote On Their Own Terms as an effort to promote, with clarity, the essence and the point of the vegan commitment: that conscious beings should live free from human dominance, on their own terms.

Cara Hunt, with whom I’ve worked at conferences at the UVic law school in Canada, is a vegan-organic grower. Cara says it’s hard for people to understand why one would avoid using manure, say, from an animal roaming about, apparently happy. But put the message as “letting them live on their own terms” and the point becomes understandable, and transcends differing ideologies.

The book also explains that expanded cages and pastures take habitat from free-living animals. Cara says this “sparks a light-bulb moment for non-vegan environmentalists who are opposed to factory farms and still considering larger cages and open ranges.”

And the book points out that these free-living beings, ignored in the sprawl of agribusiness and often missed in the animal-advocacy pamphlets, are the ones for whom the idea of “rights” actually applies.

I’ll pause here, that was a lot. Thank you for asking.

In your book, you say that the little people of the Italian Renaissance (the humans who were bred to be short and who were used as jesters or pets by the rich) did not have rights.

In the absence of rights, who decides whether or not it would be “caring” to use these people for companionship for the immediate family only, and never use them for entertaining at dinner parties? In practice, who decides?

Yi-Fu Tuan brings this up in Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets, and I thought it worth addressing. By the way, Roger noted the significance of this book years back and I’m grateful for that. It’s well worth any advocate’s time and money to track down a copy.

Deliberately bringing someone into existence, causing someone to be born with an unusual body for the purpose of making fun of this, for entertaining others, would involve a serious lack of respect. Would we be satisfied to demand a custom-designed “rights” movement alongside such a practice–or is the key imperative for activists to stop it from happening?

The Italian royalty failed at systematically producing short-statured people to amuse themselves, so that’s now a moot question; but I think you raise this issue to ask who should be able to decide what happens to animals deliberately bred as pets.

It poses a challenge for animal rights. In the book I explain why the care ethic applies to these animals. But meanwhile, can we continue to defend the custom at all? Should they have to rely on the level of care we deem appropriate?

You know, there are a whole lot of well-meaning people who are going to accuse us of “racism” if we agree with breeding bans. Europe seems to be ahead of the curve on this issue.

In contrasting abolition to your own approach, you say abolishing the property status of animals is necessary but not sufficient to ensure respect for them.

Thanks for bringing this out.. Abolition is part of my approach, for, as you note, I think ending the property status is necessary. If we are serious about animal rights, we can’t continue to buy and sell other animals. So we’re agreed on that. Any serious student of veganism agrees with this. The people who began a vegan movement in 1944 posed an abolitionist challenge to our habit of treating animals as commodities.

You argue that nonhumans also need to be assured the opportunity to experience autonomy.

Right. And this has to be clear. Animal rights doesn’t only involve the absence of property; it’s about human beings human beings gaining the integrity, stamina, and creativity to envision a world beyond human supremacy.

It’s about people finally resolving to help each other understand we can interact with life on this planet based on respect.

Human non-citizens aren’t property, Tim, as we know. But are dominated — even to death. We need to challenge domination, the concept of nations, otherness of many kinds. People divide beings into groups and rank them constantly. This is a huge problem to unravel.

The right not to be property isn’t all we need; that oversimplifies the matter.

We are going to need to release animals from the cage of property law, yes. But do we know how to let them be, to let them flourish? Anticipate not only the end of cages but also the beginning of humans as respectful people and all animals as fully alive, interacting with this world on their own terms.

Have you ever noticed how much we need this vital vision, Tim? Think about the imagery of animals in vegan pamphlets. Many dependent animals. Many suffering or dead animals. Other animals are more than a collective of victims waiting to be saved like Nell on the railroad tracks.   Our animal-rights project is not just about ending the bad scenes (although it is about ending them). It isn’t just about ending property status (although it is that). And it isn’t even just about stopping domestication (although it is that). In the long run it’s about communities of animals living right now just as they would and will if and when our culture really becomes a culture, and accepts their rights. Where will animal rights actually be found? In habitat. So defending habitat and intervening when it’s taken away is huge too. And hugely neglected. Animal-rights people have largely bypassed and even verbally dismissed habitat issues. We’ve got to learn about habitat and be capable of defending it. This is about taking the vegan commitment holistically, and the urgency of this is underscored by current climate and extinction realities. I’d better pause. Thank you.

You said: Rights theory holds that the basic right is the right to self-ownership. Therefore, ending the property status of others necessarily acknowledges their inherent right to self-ownership/autonomy

That’s a really interesting point

Fist let’s acknowledge that self-ownership would be meaningless for purpose-bred animals. An advocate might mention chimpanzees and Chihuahuas as though rights theory fits them all. ~On Their Own Terms~urges advocates

(a)   the need for a caring ethic for dependent animals, (b) a rights position for independent animals, and (c) the will to stop imposing ourselves on the autonomy of others on this planet. We need to respect that independence and actively defend it.

That’s going to force us to look at our entire idea of human culture. We can say the full picture of animal rights is assumed as we end property status, but dominion came before property law and human supremacy is the deeper issue. As we chat, Tim, communities of animals are being extinguished because of human entitlement and our expanding population. We have a responsibility to prevent harm to individuals and try to stop genocide of their communities. In 1984, Tom Regan said animal rights should mean autonomy for those animals who could live free — using the wonderful phrase “Let them be!” As On Their Own Terms shows, though, the theory presented in Regan’s Case for Animal Rights has been watered down in practice and in the literature.

Can I go into a few details on this?

Sure, please do

Thank you.

Recent proponents of abolition have gone along with supposedly humane control. The pattern goes like this: A group of animals is targeted. Activists react. “Implement non-lethal solutions!” ..they insist, implicitly agreeing the animals are a problem. And nearly everyone’s doing it, from wealthy humane bureaucracies to abolitionist writers. On Their Own Terms discusses how Tom Regan and Gary Francione have indicated that, as a substitute for guns, agencies should try porcine zona pellucida, pharmaceutical birth control made in a lab from pig ovaries–the patent on this stuff is held by the Humane Society of the US and it’s promoted and tested from North America to Europe to Australia. The deer and geese and horses and bison who are never born because of this aren’t property (they don’t exist), but this is domination of the most intrusive kind to the deer who have their reproductive systems controlled. Tim: This lesser-evil thinking turns out not-so-lesser when we look up what this stuff is made of and its effects on deer and other animals. And why agree with animal-control agencies that deer are a problem? Animal-rights advocacy needs a way to resist such assumptions, and there is no time to waste. Hence a book about how we can resist them. Hence my work to defend local deer, local coyotes. We need to ensure our theory can be applied on behalf of animals under attack. I just said the lesser evil is really not-so-lesser. Let me explain what that means. Your question highlights  a key difference between Regan’s and Francione’s acceptance of birth control for free-living animals, on one hand, and the resistance to it you’ll see in my books and in Friends of Animals’ rights work. Tim, I think it’s worth it to concentrate on this difference, and the serious effects it has when played out in activism: Deer are dissected, for example, by researchers at Cornell University in New York to find out the effects of these contraceptives. In addition to killing deer so their bodies can be taken apart and studied, the harms include severe pelvic inflammatory disease, abscesses severe enough to be called tubercular in appearance at the injection site lasting ~two years~,  and even, in one or two cases, bone marrow fat depletion of the kind seen in starving animals. (Here’s one of various journal articles: ) Sometimes we hear calls to neuter Alaska wolves or chemically castrate New Jersey bears. (When goose eggs are addled, we actually see animal advocacy groups use border collies to haze the birds away from the nests.)  It doesn’t advance rights to say we should control the reproductive systems of free-living animals. This points to the importance of starting out by distinguishing ~selectively bred~ animals from communities of animals who could actually experience autonomy, and shouldn’t be denied that opportunity.

Do you believe in moral rights that could be used as the basis of political advocacy for securing future legal rights? Why or why not?

People sometimes bring up moral rights to claim domesticated animals, such as animals bred as pets, “are not our property; we are not their owners.” That leads to problematic views: for example, notions that domesticated animals have acquired or will be gaining rights through laws or simply through enough love and caring on the part of their caregivers. We can keep things simple through language on which most all of us would agree: Conscious animals have interests. Rather than speaking of something we might or might not believe in, I feel confident speaking of rights as socially created, enforceable protections for the interests we know animals have.

Thanks for asking that.

Your book “Capers in the Churchyard” examines what you class as two major trends in the animal rights movement. Militancy and husbandry agreements. Why do you consider these problematic?

I think that when activists use either intimidation or compromises with industry as their systematic approach, they make it possible for government and industry to neutralize activism.

While we ought not to condone actual violence, isn’t it the case that all movements for social justice have included a radical element that pushes the envelope and forces a public debate?

Veganism is radical. Intimidation isn’t. Intimidation is control over people.And compromises with industry mean control over the non-human beings at issue. I believe we can avoid drawbacks, stop acting like control addicts, and bring the movement into integrity — integrating our advocacy approach with the culture we want to bring about.

Thanks, Lee. Is there a place for economic sabotage?

Thank you, Carolyn. I’d say when we support vegan businesses it is not sabotaging so much as creating. Now, you might be thinking, well, we do threaten the livelihood of the carriage driver or the rancher, but we are offering a way ahead. By now, we all know ranchers and former stalkers of animals who are vegans, and they say being persuaded by vegans was the best thing that could have happened to them — and by the way how many times does a UN report have to say animal agribusiness is destroying the planet? Veganism is not a sabotage but a healing and it’s important to constantly make this clear.

I think where some advocates really differ is in their attitude to illegal direct action and violence. I am not pro violence but accept that in certain situations it may be a good tactic to be violent in order to effect escape from an aggressor… or to protect a victim and speak as one of many UK activists who have been hospitalised by the police and animal abusers (4 activists have been killed). (Question asked on behalf on ARZone member)

I know we do differ but I hear the point you are making. As I note in Capers in the Churchyard, the activist Steve Christmas lay in an intensive-care unit after being deliberately run over by a hunter when Brian Cass, managing director of a lab-testing firm, was able to work the next day after being struck on the head by anti-vivisectionists, and yet the general public heard only about Cass. There is a double standard; I think we agree on that.

Where do you draw the line, if at all, on violence bearing the mind that abdicating responsibility to law enforcement agencies (sometimes itself a good idea) involves them using violence? How do you personally define violence?

I question intimidation. No matter who uses it. Whether people should intimidate each other is a vegan issue. And from the pragmatic standpoint, when activists use intimidation, it gives lawmakers an excuse to make uglier, more violent law.

Since November 2006 when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was made into a law, many free speech and animal rights groups have worked to repealing the law. Do you think that we will ever see this happen or do you think that there is just simply not enough interest in doing so? Have we missed our chance to crush this law while public interest on the matter was high and is this something we now have to live with? Have the ‘forces’ behind this law won?

The AETA oversteps Constitutional limits, by creating, with vague and sweeping definitions, a special class of crimes for activists, enabling the government to threaten us with extra severity for actions already covered by other criminal penalties. It should be repealed. (On this topic, why do we still have a Department of Homeland Security?) Lawmakers aren’t motivated to repeal this law. Eventually, it will be struck down in court. Its use so far has highlighted the difficulty of prosecuting people under such a badly written law. It’ll be struck down eventually but the trouble with bad laws is that they’re used against people in order to produce the plaintiffs finally positioned to defeat them.

What are your thoughts on abortion, from a vegan point of view?

I do trap-neuter-return work with feral cats and they are often pregnant. They have a speedy gestation cycle, about two months, and soon after birth they can get pregnant again, even as their already-born babies are nursing. So while no one welcomes this situation, abortions occur, and if that’s disallowed, it’s going to be awfully hard to deal with TNR. Surely it is not right to impose the role of giving birth on someone — that is taking over a person’s body. That’s one thing purpose-breeding has done to animals; it’s stepped up their reproductive cycles. As for the human context, the key political issue here is that people get pregnant in a culture of gender inequality. Veganism challenges exploitation, it challenges oppression. So I would think vegan people need to challenge ourselves to learn from feminist theory on this issue; I find the work of Catharine MacKinnon particularly helpful here, and I’d point people to  MacKinnon’s books, including ~Women’s Lives; Men’s Laws.~That book also contains a powerful essay titled “Of Mice and Men: A Fragment on Animal Rights.” One more thing. Have you noticed there’s much more talk, including in vegan circles, about whether abortion should be legal than whether killing people in war should be questioned?

Lee, you touched on this in your response to my first question. You advocate for spaying/neutering of domesticated animals but against the same for free-living animals. Given that any individual animal is a rights holder, what is the relevant moral difference that allows our intrusion in the former case but not the latter?

Yes, we touch on this…I’ll try to keep this response briefer than the last 🙂 So we discussed above the matter of whether any individual animal is a rights holder; for domesticated animals, I would apply the ~ethic of care.~In the case of the cats I’ve rescued, their reproductive autonomy has already been seriously compromised through domestication. The best thing I can do is to stop this cycle.At the same time, I think as animal-rights proponents we need to agree, promptly, that we should take our hands off the reproductive systems of free-living animals. (Credit is due to Priscilla Feral for making me aware of this issue and how critical it is.) Francione has said in a book review that “an ethic of care can help once we have accepted the personhood of nonhumans and have included them within the scope of our moral community.” I thought that was spot-on when I first read it. I find it confusing in retrospect. ~On Their Own Terms~ seeks to bring clarity to the issue of where a care ethic currently applies, where a rights paradigm should apply, and how to move so fewer animals our care and more of them have rights.

I am glad to see that you do tackle the thorny subject of human population in your latest book and I agree that our numbers are too great for us to thrive, the Earth and her other inhabitants. This is a massively delicate issue which brings forth… images of the barbarous Chinese one child policy and the dying rooms as well as the Eugenics movement and the Holocaust. Derogatory words such as “breeders” are already being used against those who have more than 2 children so I am told. How do you think we should approach this subject– by fighting for global women’s liberation (women who have a choice tend to limit their brood or not bother in the first place)or by legislature? Education, or dealing with the… humanitarian problems which lead to large families — for example, high infant mortality, a need for children to work the land and look after the parents, and of course the misogynistic culture of virility which regards many women as… nothing more than mobile wombs?

Virginia Woolf memorably said that to enjoy freedom we must control ourselves. Negative human population growth is a good idea; the problems come when it is forced. It would be best if we agreed to control our own numbers; and this means we’ll need to deal with sexism, with some babies being respected less than others, as well as access to resources and education. Everything you bring up here is great stuff for more discussion. (CLARIFYING: Sexism is ABSOLUTELY NOT great.) Speaking of this, it’s nice that The Vegan Society now offers condoms.

You suggest when referring to animal exploiters replacing the word welfare with husbandry. Joan Dunayer and others suggest that when referring to animal “welfare” groups, we use quotes to point out the fallacy in the use of that word. Your thoughts?

I think we should encourage each other to take back the word. Industries aren’t genuinely attempting to advance the well-being of anyone but their shareholders when they tout those supposed improved conditions for the animals they use and sell, so why help them play word games? They shouldn’t get to say they have animal-welfare standards.  The well-being of animals is something we as animal advocates care deeply about, so let’s stop the misuse of the word. And if a charity works with industries on husbandry modifications, it’s not fair to call that animal-welfare work. Punctuation around the word welfare does tip people off to our concerns about the way it’s being used, but I think it works well to be straightforward and get the point across directly–to call it as we see it.  We can use terms that describe what’s really going on: the group is talking about animal control, or a handling change. A husbandry modification.

I would like to preface this question with a quote from Capers in the Churchyard (2006: 132) which contains a welcome sociological element: “It takes time to unlearn the patterns of interacting that we’ve been brought up to accept as the norm. Unravelling our hierarchies would be a revolution more profound than anything in our modern memory. It would mean giving up the human clubs of whiteness, of maleness, and even of humanness, kicking the habit of defining ourselves as possessors of domination over all that fly, walk, swim, and crawl over the contours of a weary planet. It would mean the most comprehensive peace movement ever known.”

In relation to the human clubs point, there have been recent calls to animal advocates to forge “alliance politics” with other groups, such as class-based groups and others representing oppressed and marginalised humans. Sadly the animal advocacy movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class. Assuming you endorse the call to try to connect with groups campaigning against human harm, how do you think we can advance this idea of alliance politics?

It’s worth the effort to challenge our positions in various hierarchies. It’s worth the effort to also question whether the categories we talk about are fabricated to serve hierarchies. If we agree, we’ll press ourselves to stay receptive, to understand that we can all learn from others’ perspectives, and that we have a lot to challenge within ourselves. There’s a saying, “there’s no “I” in denial” – so I have to constantly ask myself what I am doing about my part in social rankings, how I myself invest in the whole competition-based, rank-based, us-and-them, class-based society. Am I impressed by titles; am I judging by appearances; am I shying away from taking a stand in certain cases because I can, because they don’t directly apply to me? And even before the question of seeking alliances, what about what’s actually here in front of our faces? What about all this meat-is-for-pussies and skinny-bitch stuff? Why is derision considered acceptable among people who claim the word vegan –a principle of respect? We’re not going to get humanity to relinquish our master role by shaming and shocking each other.Why do animal advocates put up with activist “stunts” that exploit race and gender biases and homelessness to make their points? This stuff has actually created harmful stereotypes about the category of animal advocates as a group itself. Thinking people don’t rush to hear about species bias from a source that shows little or no understanding of social hierarchy in any other context. Another serious issue that doesn’t get enough attention is that we (the human class) identify as members of nations, as citizens, and fence out the non-citizens using arbitrary lines drawn over the planet’s surface. This is preposterous. A bunch of primates scanning each others’ irises; some locked up by others for crossing an imaginary line without the precisely correct permits from the authoritative primates. Humans even send our own children away to be killed based on their interests as beings born inside one or another set of imaginary lines. With border walls we kill each other and we break up the migrations of animals in ways that kill them and devastate entire communities. What on Earth is wrong with us? That’s a serious question for each of us. Chapter Six of~On Their Own Terms~ discusses why and how “the potential of the animal-rights movement hinges on our motivation to visit the deep level at which all oppressions connect, from whence they spawn social injustice, environmental injustice, and the degradation of the ecology and living beings.” If we can take that journey, we can fortify ourselves to address the matter of human supremacy.  I think we should get on with it, because if we don’t learn how to live on Earth with genuine respect, we’ll surely be ejected from it. But if we do learn how to do it, we’re going to achieve what the vegan movement set out to achieve: the first civilization that merits the name. I’m grateful for this forum because it offers a space to help plan that achievement.

In New Zealand – where possums are persecuted, and were brought in and not natural there…they poison the forest floors, they kill the possums year after year and other animals too, and I thought a birth-control pill for them would be the answer Would you disagree with giving them a birth control pill in this case?

Do you mean free-living animals? Yes, I would. Were the conflict between human groups, one forcing contraceptives on the other would raise alarm bells over human rights and reproductive autonomy.

Yes, free living and highly persecuted by everyone and their grandmother!

The pills might involve less physical pain than another form of animal control, but does involvement in the manipulation and control of animals mean unintentionally accepting the human agreement that animals simply must be kept in check if not used as food, clothing, entertainment, or objects of curiosity?

I have been asked “Why are vegans opposed to relationships between human & animals?” (I believe she meant domestic) I didn’t realize we (vegans) were opposed! I was taken aback & don’t feel I answered her question well. How would u reply?

Let’s picture a respectful, and thus exhilarating interaction… Wrote about this one in the new book. This is where we sit down and describe a culture transformed.  We must have a goal, so how do we express it? What does the animal-rights advocate want? Here’s how mine looks: There is hardly an experience more joyful than lying down on a grassy hill in a park at dusk in summer, waiting for the bats to emerge and swoop and flutter overhead. There is hardly a more exhilarating feeling than camping quietly watching a group of deer walk past — the feeling of letting other animals pass through our lives in peace. The more we think about it, the more exciting the plan to respect animals’ freedom becomes. I think, yes! This is what animal right looks like. What do you think animal rights would look like?

A very similar scenario. Where each animal that arrives to have “relationship” with me, does it on it’s own terms thanks, Lee!!!

Well, some say deer need to be eradicated because certain native plants in Valley Forge National Historical Park will go extinct. First, let’s take this seriously… Native plants are important to an entire complex community of animals living in a certain place. But then we look underneath the matter and we find that the state in which this land exists has a Game Commission (excuse the term)… and they have a year-round hunting and trapping season to persecute coyotes. So we’re pressing them on this. How can they have it both ways? They say the deer are out of control yet they are controlling the coyotes out of existence. We defend all of the communities together.

[We’re suing the federal government for trying to control (that is eliminate most of) the deer.]

What do we do about animals  that we have brought into an environment that contribute to habitat destruction and/or kill animals that may become extinct? I’m told cane toads are a real problem as are feral cats, foxes etc – all introduced and certain native species are devastated by some introduced animals…

I would love it if our native species could survive and not become extinct. I don’t know how to work this issue out still and I’m not sure this has helped me. Maybe what I have been told or observed is not true? Maybe cane toads can co-exist with our more delicate species of amphibian.

We have to grapple with these issues one by one.  You  bring up how complex animal rights really is.

I know. We have to try to stop doing things that make matters worse. Domestication, ranching… we must challenge it.

You worked closely with Gary Francione in the past and now there seems to have been some kind of split… what’s the story (no-one is watching!)

J Donald Watson once said … that we should avoid gossip, and defined that as saying something we wouldn’t say of another in front of them. So, I will say you are right. We (Friends of Animals in general) did work closely with Gary in the past. That has become difficult to continue. But we all learn from each others’ work. None of us work in a vacuum.

I am wondering about the hard cases, where, if left on their own predator species will attack human populations, or cases such as urban rats who carry diseases. Or “if left on their own” and “populations”

“Predator species will attack human populations’” We are primates. We are not the “top of the food chain.”

I think this is a fascinating point, Tim. What does it mean to relinquish human supremacy? Are we really prepared for that? That’s what’s behind a lot of these coyote- and wolf- killing schemes. We resent their power. How do we deal with that? We hear “don’t mention coyotes – people will flip out!” I want to live in a world in which I am at risk. I don’t think that’s absurd to say. Do you?

Oh, and yes, coyotes are a danger to our poodles. And the point is..  🙂

In North America, federal and state widllife agencies assure we’re pretty much estranged from nature — fearful of raccoons — most everyone.  That’s calculated. Why settle for it

Right on. And provincial agencies too 🙂

Thank you, Lee!

No — thank you! 🙂

Thank you. Take care, everyone, and we’ll be in touch on the forum.


Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement.

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