The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tormod V Burkey

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tormod V Burkey


Summary: Sean was impressed when he read Ethics for a Full World or, Can Animal-Lovers Save the World?. There was a lot to chat about when author Tormod V Burkey popped in to Bookbag Towers.
Date: 31 March 2017
Interviewer: Sean Barrs
Reviewed by Sean Barrs

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Sean was impressed when he read Ethics for a Full World or, Can Animal-Lovers Save the World?. There was a lot to chat about when author Tormod V Burkey popped in to Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Tormod V Burkey: I consider a wide range of readers and stakeholders, which may be part of the reason it is such a diversified book. Much of the time I see Sea Shepherd crews and Earth First! type activists and monkeywrenchers. Though they are perhaps the ones who need it the least. I also want well-intentioned politicians, bureaucrats/technocrats and people employed with environmental NGOs to think more clearly and be more effective. Really anyone who wants to save the world, or wants to know what that means. I want all of us to think more clearly about the mechanisms that obstruct progress towards doing a better job of protecting the world as we know it—or used to know it—and be more motivated to keep up the fight, so that we can become more effective.

  • BB: This is your debut book, how does it feel? What do you hope to accomplish?

TVB: It feels good to have it out there, but like publishing scientific papers it is also quite anti-climactic. Partly because of the amount of time that goes by from when you finish writing it until it is actually out. Partly there is never a clearcut time at which to celebrate. There is always more to be done, and almost doubts: will it really amount to anything in real terms? Will it be read? Will it change any of those reading it? Will it lead to real action being taken? I have high hopes, but also great doubts. If I can get anyone to think more clearly about the challenges facing us, and thus to be more effective in our common struggle, then that will cheer me up. But the challenges are so daunting.

  • BB: The title of your book poses a question. By the end of your study do you feel that the question has been answered? Have you come across any better answers since you finished it?

TVB: The question per se is not really fully answered. The answer I give is that animal-lovers have some great advantages in the struggle to save the world before it is too late. There are many mechanisms that make it difficult in our current democracies to save the world, but without the passion and energy that animal-lovers and nature-lovers bring to the table, we clearly will not save the world. It is still not clear that animal-lovers can save the world, as it is not clear that any of us can save the world, as things currently stand. It all depends how many of us there are fighting the good fight, and how organized we manage to get. I believe mainstreaming a new ethic is an essential ingredient, but how do you get billions of people to internalize a new ethic, or allow the people who already hold such ethics to win out? The eternal question is always: "How?"

  • BB: Writing a book like this is an excellent way to raise awareness for environmentalism. What other ways could people go about it?

TVB: Arne Næss, the Norwegian philosopher and father of Deep Ecology, told me years ago: "don’t write a book!" He felt there were better things to do—and he had many books to his name. I am an activist at heart, but it is hard to get critical mass for an action, or the necessary attention; and the right kind of attention. We all need to find enough good collaborators, with complementary skill sets, and it all has to be very well organized. I write in part because I want to motivate and embolden those who think and feel the way that I do.

  • BB: For those interested in exploring the ideas and subject of your book further, where should they go or look next?

TVB: Depends on their needs and their preparedness. Many of the books I cite can be useful, depending on where the holes in your knowledge are. Though true understanding is critical, and that requires a framework into which one can put, and thereby make sense of, any new information/knowledge. In a general sense, it is our feelings and emotions that move us to act, and taking action is the most critical thing. But the ability to think mechanistically and understanding the processes involved in moving our society are important for choosing the right kinds of actions.

  • BB: You make many references to Charles Darwin. Do you think people would be as environmentally aware as they are today without his contribution to science?

TVB: The key point about Darwin, is that without the field that developed from his original insight, we would understand nothing about life. Evolutionary biology created a rational way to think about the living world, and I think rationality is critical when we have to save the world. Faith is a bit like hope—it can lull you into wishful thinking, which has a way of getting in the way of taking real, concerted, action. Of course, rationality has to have some good values to work on. What we ultimately care about form kind of the basic axioms for our way of thinking. We all have to be really clear on what we care deeply about. Darwin showed that all life forms came about from the same value-neutral process. Consequently, there is no reason other than the self-serving, utilitarian, for caring more for humans than for other species. And self-serving utilitarianism is simply not good ethics.

  • BB: Eliminating anthropocentrism is the key argument you give for making the world fuller and reducing environmental destruction. Do you think adopting a vegan diet could be the logical next step?

TVB: The Bookbag reviewer seemed to think I was playing down the role of vegan activists. On the contrary, I hope I am playing up the importance and the role of activists. That said, I also hope we will manage to be smart about it. We really have to get organized if we are to have some hope of saving the world and the "things" we love. We have to have systems whereby not only idealists will behave properly.

Once you have shed anthropocentrism a lot of the behaviors our society makes us used to become hard to justify. People who are vegan in order to reduce non-human suffering and our ecological footprint are the best among us when it comes to modifying our own individual behavior. But key behaviors are not only about diet, they are also about air travel and reproduction, etc. In a full world everything is political. Setting a good example only goes so far, as it is not solely about our own behavior but about getting humanity as a whole to behave better. That is always the big problem: we don’t really know how to get humanity to take action, collectively, even when we know that we must.

  • BB: The Trump administration cares very little for climate change. What do you think this will do for awareness about the issues you raise?

TVB: I hope it means that people wake up to the fact that they are not going to get any real help from the politicians and the bureaucrats, and realize that they are going to have to get involved, to stand up and fight for what they love. Politicians will not do the right thing until people make it very hard for them not to. And we also have to ensure not only that politicians get money to do good into budgets. It is important to remember that the job also has to be done well.

  • BB: What was the hardest part about writing this book?

TVB: My writing process is slow and chaotic; I procrastinate and need to let things mature. The hardest part is maintaining motivation, because I am always struggling with the question of what is the best way to be spending my time. Otherwise, the struggles were the same as they always are: the constant feeling that humans everywhere are doing unspeakable things to the natural world, and we seem powerless to do much about it. I live with the constant knowledge of what is happening to other species and their habitats all around the world, all the time, and that is the hardest part about life in the modern world. The passage of time, time that is in such desperately short supply, feeling powerless to do much to improve matters for the ones I care so deeply about, is the hardest for me. And getting a book out can take a lot of time. Not knowing whether the book would do any good, or if writing a book was the best thing I could do, whether anyone would ever read it, and whether them reading it would change anything, was probably the worst for me, while I was still writing it. But I live with this all the time.

  • BB: What's next for Tormod V Burkey?

TVB: It depends what opportunities open up. It was hard to see what best I could do earlier, and it seemed that among the options available to me at the time, the best was to write a book. There are many things I would like to do, including a stint with Sea Shepherd, but the deciding question will always be "what can I do that is most effective?" The Afterword of my book calls for getting experts together from various fields to produce an edited book where we analyze the question "Can we save the world?" Perhaps this will still be the best option open to me. Though I long for something better and something more direct.

  • BB: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Tormod. We wish you every success.

You can read more about Tormod V Burkey here.

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Kristin Eskeland said:

I will definitely read this book!