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Star activist: Interview with Lynda Stoner

lynda_stonerAustralian actor Lynda Stoner starred in hit TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s including Cop Shop, Chances and Prisoner: Cell Block H. But she gave up a career in the limelight to campaign for animal rights. She spoke with Katrina Fox.

You work for Animal Liberation NSW. Tell us about your role. 

My role with Animal Liberation is communications manager. Under that descriptor I have the privilege of researching animal rights issues and writing about them for brochures, the website and other avenues.  

As with other people here much of the work I do is confined to the office and on other occasions I am involved with direct action. I lobby politicians, generate free promotional opportunities for this organisation such as ADSHEL billboards and free to air commercials and assist in the day to day running of the office. 

A large portion of my time in the office is responding to our free call 1800 Cruelty Hotline.  This service was set up over three years ago in response to an ever increasing number of calls coming from country and rural areas from people distressed by animal cruelty.  

The RSPCA has a policy in NSW and Victoria of not taking anonymous calls which means the plight of many thousands of animals has gone unreported.  Animal Liberation takes the case details and then becomes the informant which means the original caller no longer has to be involved.  

Due to increasing numbers of calls the 1800 went into Victoria 2 years ago and into Tasmania last year.  The RSPCA in Tasmania takes all calls including anonymous ones and we have a constructive relationship that works to the benefit of all animals. 

We have a good working relationship with the police, many councils, the DPI and when we can get caller contact details we are able to send through to the RSPCA in NSW. 

We have a wonderful person working for us in Victoria who was an RSPCA inspector.  He is a one person mover and shaker and did great work to assist animals during the bushfires. 

He works tremendously well with official organisations and also knows the law back to front and his experience and can-do attitude ensures he can assist animals in peril rapidly. 

When did you first become involved in animal rights? 

I began in the animal rights movement in 1978 not long after Peter Singer’s momentous book Animal Liberation was released. Some months prior I had seen coverage of Harp seal pups being slaughtered for their fluffy, baby fur.  

It stood to reason that if I hadn’t been aware of this iniquity there must be other areas of animal cruelty unbeknownst to me. I began researching areas of animal exploitation and took up volunteer work with the Wilderness Society.  

What they do is terrific but I felt a sense of urgency in wanting to focus on animals that are subjugated in the name of “food,” “clothing” and “entertainment – rodeos, circuses, zoos.”

Someone recommended Peter’s book which I bought the same day and consumed four chapters of in a cab on the way to work. 

The book, for me, was an epiphany.  It shocked and distressed me but it was as though the book was calling me home. I cannot describe it any other way. I immediately stopped eating meat and over the next couple of days threw out all my leather goods and binned any cosmetics that had been tested on animals. I knew I would spend the rest of my life working for animal rights. 

How did your new knowledge impact on your work as a renowned actor? 

At the time I read the book I had just started working in a high-profile television show. The show alone should have absorbed all my attention but I was consumed by animal rights.  

Friends and colleagues thought/hoped this was whimsy on my part – mostly because I became rabid, loud, judgemental and totally intolerant of anyone eating and wearing animals.  I recall more arguments with more people (practically everyone) than at any other time in my life.  

I am now of the opinion that I alienated more people during my dictatorial days than ever I persuaded them of the multi benefits of not contributing to the maltreatment of animals. 

Back then vegetarianism (much less veganism!) was a relatively unknown phenomenon associated with “hippies” and “communes” – nonverbal descriptions of which included lots of eye rolling and sniggering.  

It didn’t matter a whit to me if the entire population of talkback radio railed and belittled, I knew that what I read in Peter Singer’s book is the unarguable truth, we do not have the right to exploit any living creature. 

I was pole-axed by the plight of animals and the monumental amount of ways humans use animals. Those concerns and how to stop them took me over more and more and culminated in the privilege of me now working fulltime at Animal Liberation, “at home.” 

What are your thoughts on the bond between humans and animals? 

Compassion toward animals is a symbiotic relationship. By respecting and nurturing the rights of nonhumans it seems a natural extension to respect and nurture all life. 

I continue to be perplexed by people who believe compassion for one needs to be at the exclusion of the other.  Surely we have sufficient compassion to encompass caring for all life forms.  

I tend still towards impatience with people who say, “you should be working to help humans, not animals,” (this usually from people who are doing nothing to help anyone) and those who say they “only” love animals.  

It’s as though we have all been born with a limited amount of empathy and if too much if used up we’ll be emptied out.  If you eat meat and dairy products and wear animal skins you are directly responsible for the ongoing suffering of animals. The bonus of opting out of this misery is that your health will improve and so will our environment.  

It is widely known now that the production of meat, dairy and leather are toxic to this planet.  Compassion for all animals will generate a healthier planet and a healthier you and you will no longer be causing suffering to animals. 

How do animals enrich our lives? 

Animals enrich our lives by just being. Doing whatever they enjoy doing without intervention from humans wherever possible.  

Having said that, many people’s lives are deepened by the company of a dog, cat, horse, rabbit, guinea pig, rat and others. For many their companion animal is their dearest friend, someone who loves them unconditionally. Animals don’t give a toss about what you are wearing, your profession or where you live.  

If you are good to them they will reciprocate with trust and love. Children who have been taught healthy interaction with animals have a greater sense of empathy and through living with animals also learn responsibility for the welfare of others. Animals in a healthy environment are also just lots of fun. 

We can learn so many things from animals.  Depending on which species you care to study they all have unique capabilities and strengths.  A good way to learn from animals is to go to their country of origin or absorb documentaries and read about them.  

Never, ever go to a zoo or a circus because all you will see are animals that have been sublimated into what humans have done to them. Any time you go to anything other than a free-range zoo (and Animal Liberation would endorse these places only as a desperate measure) you will see stereotypic behaviour and animals that are as physiologically damaged as any human would be who was kept confined and deprived of normal behaviour and environment.   

How has the animal rights movement impacted on your life? 

The animal rights movement changed my life completely. I was on a life path I thought meant a great deal to me only to have it turn in a totally different direction. I am grateful to my old life though as it gave me the opportunity to get animal rights issues into the public forum in a way I could not otherwise have done. 

Do you live with any companion animals? 

My family and I have always had companion animals and I am happy my son has been around dogs since he was born up until age eighteen when our last beloved dog died.  

Before my son was born I had three little dogs who were vegetarian (during my dictatorial years) and I must say they bloomed and flourished.  However with our last dog I revised my views on denying him his natural carnivorous state.  

And dogs and cats are carnivores. Check their fangs for one thing, their digestive tracts, a dog’s tendency to gulp and rip just as they’ve done for thousands of years.  For our dog I subjected myself to walking into the butchers to get our boy his bones (or rather, someone else’s bones) and scalded myself for hypocrisy. 

Vowed I would not get another companion animal if it meant another animal had to die to feed my chosen one/s.  Besides, the grief we went through when Lobo died was it for me.  So my life has been blessed with the company of animals but I doubt I will go there again.  Perhaps a rabbit…or two… 

What changes have you seen in the animal rights movement over the years? 

The animal rights movement has grown rapidly since I first came into it, and it’s growing around the world. Minority countries tend still to pamper a chosen few species and close their eyes to the suffering of animals that make up their dinner and handbags.  

Of-course having abattoirs, battery hen sheds, sow stalls and  broiler (chicken meat) sheds behind closed doors far removed from the majority of the population means humans can more easily ignore suffering.  

Tragically majority countries are tending to pick up minority countries intensive systems - tragically for the animals, human health and the environment. If everyone went vegan there would be sufficient food to feed the entire human population.  And incidents of heart disease and cancer would plummet.  If this sounds like Shangri-la then I am all for reaching for the best that we can be. 

You’ve written a book containing vegan recipes – tell us about that. 

It’s called Now Vegan!  It was enjoyable to write and I co-opted friends and family into sharing their favourite dish. 

Not surprisingly much of the book is taken up with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.  I wanted the book to reflect the richness and variety of vegan food, to illustrate that vegans enjoy an abundance of inexpensive, nutritious, easy to prepare and holistically good cuisine.  

Now_VeganLynda Stoner is the communications manager at Animal Liberation NSW. Now Vegan! is available internationally at Amazon and in Australia from the Cruelty Free Shop.

Image of Lynda Stoner courtesy of Animal Liberation NSW.



0 #24 Alex Melonas 2010-06-02 21:21
Just to clarify my position. If it were practically feasible, genetic alteration would be the “right” choice. My reasoning runs like this.

There isn’t anything inherently “good” about “nature”; “nature” is merely, and I mean merely, the “is” in the is/ought fallacy. The existence of carnivores and omnivores and herbivores is the arbitrary result of ongoing genetic mutation in response to external stimuli. “Nature”, the product of this process, is a capricious, chance phenomenon. In other words, “nature” is devoid of all moral/ethical content, and any attempt to connect an ethical/moral claim to “nature” is bound to be an is/ought or naturalistic fallacy.

The relevant ethical/moral concern, then, for me, is the harm and death that occurs in “nature”. Hypothetically, therefore, if genetic tinkering could result in the end of predation then that would be ethically/moral ly better, in the final analysis, than the alternative (e.g. allowing the lion to continue preying on a gazelle).

Because harm and death concern me, the practical limitations to this kind of evaluative argument, however, are impossible to overcome. The complexity or too many variable problem and human fallibility arise and such genetic tampering would no doubt result in more harm and death. We cannot lock carnivores up because of the necessary connections in "nature", as it currently stands, between healthy ecosystems and predation. Russell's ignorance on this point, and thus his criticism of my position, is evidence to support my claim that if we "tinker" more problems will arise. Therefore, a strong policy of non-interventio n is appropriate.

But I do hasten to add in response to those who appeal to the “self-evident” value of bio-diversity, or “nature” more generally, that your reasoning is predicated on a basic philosophical confusion. There is no inherent value in “nature” (for the reasons I mentioned above) and therefore altering “nature” (and hypothetically eliminating carnivores and omnivores) is not an unreasoned position.
0 #23 Russell Edwards 2010-05-23 21:45
Alex, you could just as easily "sanction" a wolf from hunting as you could a human. Just lock it up. After all that's what animal rights activists would like to see happen to human hunters, ultimately, when hunting is made illegal.

You have actually tacitly agreed that animal rights labels entire ecosystems as "of concern" and fundamentally flawed. It is only by appeal to some vague problem with "tinkering" (that apparently only applies to non-human animals) that you have avoided the logical consequence that ecosystems ought to be destroyed. You avert the absurd consequence at the last minute, not by invoking any part of AR philosophy, but by trumping it with some ill-defined external consideration. (the anti-tinkering clause.)

So yes, I think you have helped me demonstrate that AR leads to absurd conclusions that are fundamentally opposed to the operation of natural ecosystems and the existence of biodiversity.

Now, you are free to deny that there is any value worth conserving in ecosystems and biodiversity. Absurdity as such is in the eye of the beholder. But I think the vast majority of contemporary humans would strongly disagree that those are without value.

Furthermore, your inconsistent application of the "tinkering" escape clause reveals which side of this argument is truly "speciesist".
0 #22 Alex Melonas 2010-05-23 19:44
@Russell: Okay, you have clearly stopped reading the thread because we discussed, again and again, the problem of "tinkering" with "nature" (to change carnivores into herbivores, e.g.) and why, therefore, non-interferenc e is the least harmful (and thus, most ethical) choice. With human animals, on the other hand, sanction and suggesting different choice-patterns so as to avoid harm and death is a reasonable option; indeed, that should be one significant aim of ethical/moral discourse. And since, according to the American Dietetic Association, veganism is healthy at all stages of the life cycle, what and whom we eat is a choice and thus this question is justly open to ethical/moral criticism and sanction.

I am going to stop because in the final analysis Russell YOU have not shown how "animal rights" is "an altogether insane philosophy" but, again, YOU have certainly suggested that IF we take your reasoning about "natural" this and that seriously some rather insane and terrible consequences would result. "Land ethic" fans like yourself need to address the naturalistic and is/ought fallacies in your reasoning that make your conclusions quite silly.
0 #21 Russell Edwards 2010-05-23 01:35
genetic alterations? What are you alluding to?
0 #20 Alex Melonas 2010-05-22 23:51
@Russell: We all "interfere with the liberties" of human animals when it comes to say, my "liberty" to assault another, or do violence to you, and that is clearly because your "liberties" end when they begin to cause harm and death. However, when it comes to say carnivorous animals, such interference would NECESSARILY result in genetic alterations, NOT sanction, and therefore the complexity issue arises. Perhaps you should look up the definition of speciesism BEFORE trying to deploy it?
0 #19 Russell Edwards 2010-05-22 23:41
Alex, you still have not explained why it's OK to interfere with the liberties of a human, but not OK to interfere with the liberties of a non-human animal.

Seems pretty "speciesist" to me.
0 #18 Alex Melonas 2010-05-22 23:08
@Russell: But the flaw in your reasoning is that you are essentially denying human animals moral agency, denying them rationality, reasoning, and those capacities that distinguish some of us from nonhuman animals. By this denial, you can then revert to the naturalistic fallacy as you've done here and "consider yourself a part of nature".

But then my obvious rebuttal is that you are begging the question because rape, violence, and bigotry are also a part of your (evolutionary, genetic, and so on) "nature", but you would NEVER argue that I shouldn't be advocating against rape, violence, and bigotry. So, no, "animal rights" activists will NOT concede that point to you because it does not follow logically...unl ess you believe in rape, violence, and bigotry?

The crux is this: because this "part of your nature", like rape, violence, and bigotry causes harm and death, then our moral principles tell us that you ought to keep those "parts of your nature" in check Russell.
0 #17 Russell Edwards 2010-05-22 18:21
OK, so you do disagree with Lynda-- you think it's not necessarily a bad thing to deny animals their natural behaviour.

You just think it's not advisable to tinker with nature in general.

So, if I consider myself part of nature, will you agree to let me be and not attempt to stop me eating meat and hunting?

Could you get all animal rights activists to agree to that?
0 #16 Alex Melonas 2010-05-22 10:23
@Russell: The point of logic is quite simple, but just consider the clear naturalistic and is/ought fallacies in your reasoning before assuming that "natural values" are self-evident. For any "land ethicist", the naturalistic fallacy is built into his/her conclusions, which renders those conclusions quite problematic.

Russell, if you READ the thread, a clear answer to your questions is there. The suffering and death caused by predation concern me because suffering and death qua suffering and death are impartially bad. And therefore, all things considered, if that suffering and death did not occur, that would be a GOOD thing.

However, as I wrote to initially refute your challenge to "animal rights", our efforts at "tinkering" with "nature" have NOT resulted in good or non-harmful consequences because of the enormous variables at work and our flawed capacities in various respects. And therefore, since YOU have yet to prove that there are "natural values" (again, it is the "is" in the is/ought fallacy and YOU have yet to justify the jump from "is" to "ought"), as a HYPOTHETICAL, a lion not being a carnivore would be a good thing, but in praxis, our "tinkering" such would most likely cause far more harm than good and so we should take the position of NON-INTERFERENC E and allow the lion to eat the deer.

(It would follow, then, that if those "natural behaviors" DON'T cause suffering and death then my concerns would not arise.)

So, we can conclude I think and AT LEAST concede that you have certainly not shown that "animal rights" is "an altogether insane philosophy".
0 #15 Russell Edwards 2010-05-22 07:27
I can't follow you concerning the point of order on logic. Ask Goedel, perhaps he can explain the concept of axioms better than I.

Thanks for your clarification on your stance ... you say "I said, again, quite clearly, that things would be better, all considered, if such predation did not occur because of the suffering and death that it causes." and complain that I'm jumping to conclusions about what that means for you. No, I'm just asking you questions, and would still like an answer. How about I just ask one question this time:

Do you think it is morally wrong to interfere with an animal's existence by forcing it to have a particular diet?

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