Saturday, October 24, 2009

NY By Peer-Review: Peter Singer

So when I asked people 'who do you know that is interesting in NY?' I guess I kind of expected...well, I'm not so sure really. I certainly didn't expect Peter Singer. But if anyone was going to introduce me to a celebrity academic, one-time Greens Senate Candidate and all-round brave thinker, it was going to be Dan Cass.

So thanks Dan.

After a few emails, moments of intellectual self-doubt (would my ethics be judged by a professional?) induced by a New Yorker friend Matt (whose nurse Mum was blown-away by Peter's piece in the New York Times about health care), I met Peter and his wife Renata next to a Surviva Ball at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and tagged along with them on the day of action.

Renata and Peter have lived in New York city for the last 20 years. Peter is an academic at Princeton and Renata works at a local NGO - their accents only slightly impinged by the NY twang, they still very much had the laconic, relaxed 'Aus-Melbourne' going on.

Obviously I had heard of Peter Singer, and may have even read his books courtesy of my Mum's libary and political science degree, but I don't remember them and am not particularly on top of his politics. So I did what anyone else would do and googled him.

If you've not read his books or papers (of which there are many), Peter goes where its not comfortable. From infanticide, to animal rights to euthanasia - it's brave logic. What I didn't know was that he writes on environmental policy, and that to him meat consumption huge climate issue.

I haven't really considered this in much depth as to me it feels like a self-evident lifestyle issue, when I'm more concerned about big structural concerns (coal). Most 'movement' people I know don't eat a great deal of meat and personally, I'll eat what ever is in front of me and am a big fan of Kangaroo.

I raise this, to which Peter said "someone did some research and said that if beef were to be replaced by Kangaroo in Australia, the entire current existence of the Roo population would need to increase fivefold to supply the equivalent amount of meat". Sensical.

I also lamented the 'knowing to much' and bliss of ignorance. To which he said something to the effect of "well in the States most people are ignorant and they are causing the problem - is it fair that the rest of us take responsibility for this?" (or something like that). I guess it reminded me of the whole 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem' adage.

So, say I am part of the solution. Does walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain, with people around you chanting slogans to cars really make a difference? You could argue media coverage and awareness make it worthwhile but for the most densely populated city in the world, 400 people showing-up to care about our common future of an estimated 22 million is pretty lame.

Nonetheless. It was an interesting experience because it made me think and also afforded the opportunity to be somewhat voyeristic about the movement - a bit of an outsider for a day.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jess!

    Your Peer Review of NY was such a brilliant idea, I was glad to help.

    I bet Peter and Renata enjoyed meeting you too.

    What sets Peter apart for me is that he is always prepared to talk with people and engage them where they are at.

    He is like John Pilger in this regard. They both get a silly wrap by some in the media for being arrogant, when in fact they are good listeners. They are more open than most commentators, who generally have far less to contribute.