Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of PETA, on animal rights and the film about her life
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Last night HBO premiered I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA. Since its inception, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has made headlines and raised eyebrows. They are almost single-handedly responsible for the movement against animal testing and their efforts have raised the suffering animals experience in a broad spectrum of consumer goods production and food processing into a cause célèbre.
PETA first made headlines in the Silver Spring monkeys case, when Alex Pacheco, then a student at George Washington University, volunteered at a lab run by Edward Taub, who was testing neuroplasticity on live monkeys. Taub had cut sensory ganglia that supplied nerves to the monkeys' fingers, hands, arms, legs; with some of the monkeys, he had severed the entire spinal column. He then tried to force the monkeys to use their limbs by exposing them to persistent electric shock, prolonged physical restraint of an intact arm or leg, and by withholding food. With footage obtained by Pacheco, Taub was convicted of six counts of animal cruelty—largely as a result of the monkeys' reported living conditions—making them "the most famous lab animals in history," according to psychiatrist Norman Doidge. Taub's conviction was later overturned on appeal and the monkeys were eventually euthanized.
PETA was born.
In the subsequent decades they ran the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty against Europe's largest animal-testing facility (footage showed staff punching beagle puppies in the face, shouting at them, and simulating sex acts while taking blood samples); against Covance, the United State's largest importer of primates for laboratory research (evidence was found that they were dissecting monkeys at its Vienna, Virginia laboratory while the animals were still alive); against General Motors for using live animals in crash tests; against L'Oreal for testing cosmetics on animals; against the use of fur for fashion and fur farms; against Smithfield Foods for torturing Butterball turkeys; and against fast food chains, most recently against KFC through the launch of their website kentuckyfriedcruelty.com.
They have launched campaigns and engaged in stunts that are designed for media attention. In 1996, PETA activists famously threw a dead raccoon onto the table of Anna Wintour, the fur supporting editor-in-chief of Vogue, while she was dining at the Four Seasons in New York, and left bloody paw prints and the words "Fur Hag" on the steps of her home. They ran a campaign entitled Holocaust on your Plate that consisted of eight 60-square-foot panels, each juxtaposing images of the Holocaust with images of factory farming. Photographs of concentration camp inmates in wooden bunks were shown next to photographs of caged chickens, and piled bodies of Holocaust victims next to a pile of pig carcasses. In 2003 in Jerusalem, after a donkey was loaded with explosives and blown up in a terrorist attack, Newkirk sent a letter to then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat to keep animals out of the conflict. As the film shows, they also took over Jean-Paul Gaultier's Paris boutique and smeared blood on the windows to protest his use of fur in his clothing.
The group's tactics have been criticized. Co-founder Pacheco, who is no longer with PETA, called them "stupid human tricks." Some feminists criticize their campaigns featuring the Lettuce Ladies and "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" ads as objectifying women. Of their Holocaust on a Plate campaign, Anti-Defamation League Chairman Abraham Foxman said "The effort by PETA to compare the deliberate systematic murder of millions of Jews to the issue of animal rights is abhorrent." (Newkirk later issued an apology for any hurt it caused). Perhaps most controversial amongst politicians, the public and even other animal rights organizations is PETA's refusal to condemn the actions of the Animal Liberation Front, which in January 2005 was named as a terrorist threat by the United States Department of Homeland Security.
David Shankbone attended the pre-release screening of I Am An Animal at HBO's offices in New York City on November 12, and the following day he sat down with Ingrid Newkirk to discuss her perspectives on PETA, animal rights, her responses to criticism lodged against her and to discuss her on-going life's work to raise human awareness of animal suffering. Below is her interview.
- 1 The HBO film about her life
- 2 PETA, animal rights groups and the Animal Liberation Front
- 3 Newkirk on humans and other animals
- 4 Religion and animals
- 5 Fashion and animals
- 6 Newkirk on the worst corporate animal abusers
- 7 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
- 8 Ingrid Newkirk on Ingrid Newkirk
- 9 External links
- 10 Sources
The HBO film about her life
David Shankbone: How did you feel about the film?
- Ingrid Newkirk: [Laughs] Oh…um…I didn’t know what it was going to be. I had expectations because I did trust Matthew, but I realize there has to be a certain more interesting bent to it. Like my hate mail and my will. Getting naked for Times Square. Trying to draw me out so that I will cry. Those are the kinds of things I think HBO wants to have because those are the things that will hold an audience better than just the facts. So much was left out, and I didn’t know what was going to be left out, so that was interesting.
DS: You are pretty media savvy; was that okay with you that they crafted the film the way they did?
- IN: You have to make allowances, because you know you will not be directing and producing it yourself, so there is some give and take. I hoped what would be shown is the good of the behind-the-scenes PETA, and the footage, and giving a glimpse to people of why we do what we do. You have to take the bits that you wouldn’t necessarily put in your own film.
DS: Many people when they hear about PETA think they are an organization that is more concerned with the well-being of chickens than they are with the well-being of humans. How would you respond to that?
- IN: That’s like saying to an organization set up to help the homeless, “Is it true you are more concerned with the homeless than people with mansions?” Yes. Obviously we are set up to help the non-humans who don’t have anybody speaking for them because there are countless organizations set up to help humans. Humans can often invariably help themselves. They may have lower wages than they should or be disrespected; they may have all sorts of hardships, but they are not labeled chops or nuggets and doomed from the moment they are born to be cut up without anesthesia or used as test tubes. Once in a while you find the military used people against their will, and in the old days orphans were used in Tuberculosis experiments here in New York. But it doesn’t happen as a matter of being born getting a label as something you can cut up and deprive of life just for a fleeting pleasure.
DS: Jim Young, one of the lab people with the really red ears—
- IN: Oh, yeah, that was great! It was fascinating, something like a science experiment! Like radioactive ears.
DS: Everyone was looking at them. One of the things he had said was that you want to completely disassociate animals with humans.
- IN: No, I want to more closely associate humans with the other animals, because if we took Biology 101 we know we are all animals. It’s just that we decide we’re gods, they’re trash. That’s just invalid, wrong from every point of perspective: scientific, moral and everything else. I want people to relate to the other animals. It’s a matter of discrimination and prejudice to make us decide in the past that disabled people aren’t as important as we are, or somebody’s skin color was different and we could exploit them. Now it’s that we aren’t the same species so we can treat them like dirt. It’s not logical that we do that, because we are all flesh and blood and feel pain, suffering, joy, love and all those things. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we are all in this life, on this Earth, with lots of other different individuals. What was that, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
- IN: Yes! We go into space and we look for other species and we say we come in peace on the side of the space capsule...a bunch of hooey! If we find them and they are vulnerable, we’ll experiment on them; we’ll taste them and make things out of them. We’ll haul them back here as trinkets and trophies just as we do in Africa or India where we find bears and monkeys we put in the zoo. Animals we want to use for decoration. We have to come to grips with the fact that we are behaving peculiarly towards the others and they are part of life itself, with us. I don’t want to separate them. I want to bring us together!
PETA, animal rights groups and the Animal Liberation Front
DS: How do you feel when you hear other animal rights organizations coming out against PETA?
- IN: Oh, I don’t mind. I think somebody has to push the envelope. If you say something someone already agrees with, then what’s the point? So we make some more conservative animal protection organizations uncomfortable. They don’t want to be associated with us because it will be embarrassing for them. I understand that. Our own members write to us sometimes and say, “Oh, why did you do this? I don’t want anybody to know I’m a PETA member.” For some of us we agree cordially, like that Humane Society man. We exchange e-mails all the time and I nag him that he needs to take a stronger position on some things and stop mealy-mouthing, and he nags me in his e-mails that it’s about time I condemn such-and-such. “It doesn’t do any good for you to stick up for such-and-such.”
DS: What is something you have been asked to condemn?
- IN: He wants us to condemn illegal acts.
DS: By the Animal Liberation Front?
- IN: Yes, those getting the animals out of the laboratories, and I won’t do it because if it was my animal I would be happy. If it was Little Man [David Shankbone’s dog, pictured in the lead photo] I would be happy.
DS: So you are okay with ALF activities? Some of that was covered in the film.
- IN: It was only marginally covered. There was only so much you could focus on and in such a way. There weren’t rebuttals to many things, which was disturbing. Like when that woman said PETA is not doing any good, I would love to have seen the whole list of endless victories we have had, starting with General Motors switching to mannequins in crash tests—
- IN: All of it. There’s a huge huge list of everything.
DS: How do you feel about the ALF?
- IN: I wrote a book called Free the Animals, and it’s about the Animal Liberation Front since its inception in the United States. Not about the ALF overseas, where it began, but its inception here going to about 199-something. I talked about how I do support getting animals out in the same way I would have supported getting human slaves out, child labor, sex slaves, the whole lot. But I don’t support burning. I don’t support arson. I would rather that these buildings weren’t standing, so on some level I understand. I just don’t like the idea of that. Maybe that is wishy-washy of me, because I don’t want those buildings standing if they are going to hurt anyone. And the ALF has never hurt mice nor man.
DS: Is arson a lesser of two evils proposition for you, then?
- IN: Yes, absolutely. Because if the buildings are standing, if the slaughterhouse is standing, then the amount of pain and suffering—I mean, why would you preserve it just so someone can make a profit by continuing to hurt and kill individuals who feel every bit as much as we do?
Newkirk on humans and other animals
DS: A critic would say that there is no equating humans with animals. That by stopping research that saves lives based upon these animals you are valuing chickens or mice over people.
- IN: I think it hokum. Total hokum. First, you can’t have it both ways. They are either like us or not like us. You’re using them because they’re like us, then recognize the ways they are like us. They are afraid to be in the cages. The cages are tiny and uncomfortable and miserable. They are frightened. They are not treated well in the course of being experimented on. It’s not as if it is just a few of them being used in life-saving experiments. There are millions being used every year for fool things, including, still, nicotine and cocaine experiments. You know nicotine is bad for you. Every little single thing is done to them. But, on the other hand, they’re not like us physiologically in many ways that are important, which is what makes these tests invariably unscientific. You can’t extrapolate from a mouse to a man. They have a different metabolism. They have a very different physiology.
DS: Like the saccharine experiments, which were ridiculous because they showed it causes cancer in mice when you inject them with eight times their body weight daily with saccharine. We aren’t mice, and who consumes such amounts?
- IN: Yes! People are scared, and experimenters who still use animals are only a percentage of all the people who do research in the U.S. The other research fields are more profitable in terms of applicability; human clinical work, epidemiological work, computer mapping work, all those things where you use human data, all those researchers are doing more productive work. Cloning human skin, putting human DNA on the Internet. This is where the money should be going. Not doing things you did five hundred years ago by stuffing chemicals down animals’ throats, or performing some procedure that you later find out doesn’t even work on human beings.
DS: Do you think blocking stem cell research is something that harms animals?
- IN: Yes, absolutely, if it’s human stem cell research, we’re in favor of it. If you are religiously opposed to abortion, you do not have to take stem cells from the unabortus. You can take stem cells in other ways such as from the placenta or a live birth. You can do other things. You don’t have to violate your religious principles if that’s the problem.
DS: In your book Making Kind Choices you have a chapter on bees. Have you been following the recent development on the ‘Rapture of the Bees?’
- IN: It’s fascinating.
DS: What do you think is happening with the bees?
- IN: They think it’s a virus or a bacteria, don’t they?
DS: That’s the thing: they can’t find any bee bodies. Millions and millions have disappeared.
- IN: It’s always fascinating how animals go off somewhere to die. You don’t see a lot of dead birds anyway and there are birds in this city. I don’t know. Years and years ago I had not thought at all about bees and I went to a conference in upstate New York and there was a wonderful, gentle woman named Nermin Buyukmihci who talked about how violent bee keeping is. I never thought about or known about this.
DS: In your book she calls them ‘honeystealers’
- IN: She talked about the wire brush tearing off the wings and the smoking out. I thought it was fascinating that she could even care about bees. I thought to myself, “Well they make this honey and they make propolis and everything else for their own nourishment and typical we come stomping along and take it all for ourselves, give them cheap sugar and smoke them out and kill them.” I thought that I don’t need honey. It was just another thing where you think, “Why do I need this?”
Religion and animals
DS: The Bible talks about humans as custodians of the Earth, and the religious community is beginning to awaken to the notion that this means they need to be involved on environmental issues. What is the religious community’s relationship to animal welfare?
- IN: I think religion has departed so far from its origins that if you look at the root of all the large religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—that you find there is always an admonishment to be kind to animals. The Chief Rabbi of Israel says no one should wear fur, for example. There are other rabbis who say you can not keep kosher if you don’t keep away from eating meat. In Christianity, being aware of the smallest sparrow who will fall—
DS: Sam Brownback raised that exact same quote in my interview with him, that God cares even when the smallest sparrow falls—
- IN: Yes! Compassion! I think people have departed. Look at the Ten Commandments. How many people in organized religion abide by the commandments? They lie, cheat and steal; covet their neighbors’ wives. The fundamental root of religion is to be kind, compassionate, understanding; to reach out to others. Religion is often a big business, but there are some people like the Reverend Andrew Lindsay in the U.K. who conducts animal rights lectures, and there are people in this country who are speaking out to say we need to consider the animals, but I think it is difficult.
DS: In the movie they show PETA making a change in tactics from focusing on exotic animals to focusing on livestock such as turkeys. Exotic animals are things most people could support, but livestock is more out there for many. How would you respond to the argument that progress is incremental and by taking a leap from focusing on exotics to focusing on livestock you could be overreaching?
- IN: We work on all of it. It wasn’t as if we were stopping all investigations into exotics, it’s that we have a string of exposés on these exotic animal farms, from the people who caught these lions cubs for photo shoots with kids and take them to auto shows, and how they are beaten up behind the scenes and bullied. At one point I thought, ‘Here we are looking into an investigation into another one of these exotic animal places, and yet the biggest problem is that not everyone goes to a game farm, or a roadside zoo for a photo shoot with a bear, but everybody eats.’ I thought we really have to concentrate where everyone could do something, because three times a day you make that decision.
DS: A religious argument might be that they were put on Earth for Man.
- IN: You look at the Garden of Eden and that was a place where the lion lays down with the lamb and there is no slaughter. The fall comes when somebody kills and blood is shed, and then everything becomes chaos and violence. If you look at the true Garden of Eden, what were Adam and Eve eating? Fruits, berries. They weren’t slaughtering the animals but living amongst the animals and everything was peaceful. So if there’s a biblical sense, I don’t think dominion—if that’s the scripture you are looking at—I don’t think dominion means exploitation. It may come with a responsibility to look after and protect, the way the Queen had dominion over Canada. That didn’t allow for her to put electrodes in its citizens’ heads and test floor polish on Canadians. It was a protectorate, and isn’t that what we are supposed to be? Protectors and not big bullies.
Fashion and animals
DS: Did your protest at Jean-Paul Gaultier have any effect?
- IN: It’s hard to tell now because he’s such a bad boy, but recently the Gaultier Company decided they would meet with us and there is a meeting in Paris coming up shortly. We have been writing to him.
DS: You had mentioned earlier wool clothing in relation to Australian exporters. Are you against wool clothing or against how it is made and harvested?
- IN: That’s a great question, because there are two things and they really are in tandem. If I only could have one thing, it would be to end suffering. If you could take things from animals and kill animals all day long without causing them suffering, then I would take it. But I think there’s another question that underlies that. Everybody should be able to agree that animals should not suffer if you kill them or steal from them by taking the fur off their backs or take their eggs, whatever. But you shouldn’t put them through torture to do that. We should all agree on that since we really don’t care at all for suffering. But I think there’s this other question: Who are we that we have set ourselves up on this pedestal and we believe that we have a right take from others everything—including their life—simply because we want to do it? Shouldn’t we stop and think for a second that maybe they are just others like us? Other nations, other individuals, other cultures. Just others. Not sub-human, but just different from being human.
Newkirk on the worst corporate animal abusers
DS: When you think of companies—obviously Butterball would be one—
- IN: Smithfield Foods, yes.
DS: Who are some of the most egregious abusers of animals?
- IN: It’s a long list, but I would say at the moment it is people like Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier if you are talking about fur. If you are talking about wool clothing, there is Australian Wool Innovation that sticks up for all the wool farmers that export all over the world the majority of wool, and they are scurrilous. They will not stop live export where thousand upon thousands of these sheep die in appalling conditions on the way to the Middle East. They will not stop mulesing, which is cutting the flesh off the backsides of lambs when they are just a few days old without any anesthesia. We are fighting them. They need to change and come into the 21st Century. KFC; we have been after them for several years now. All we are asking is that they switch to Controlled Atmosphere Killing. We know they won’t switch to soy chicken overnight, although I have given them all kinds of soy chicken and said, “You know, broaden your market base—live a little!” I’m sure they throw it in the trash, which is a shame.
DS: “Oh God, here comes Ingrid Newkirk with her soy chickens again!”
- IN: [Laughs] There’s great stuff! There are even soy Buffalo wings on the market that are delicious.
DS: What is Controlled Atmosphere Killing?
- IN: Controlled Atmosphere Killing means they are gassed in the boxes when they arrive at the slaughterhouse so that that they are not conscious when they are hung up on the shackles and have their legs broken. So that they are not conscious when they go live into the scalding tank. We have Wendy’s—their egg production is just disgusting. They have battery cages for their hens, who are just crammed in. [Sighs]. Covance, which is the world’s biggest testing lab. You see them in the film. They are the ones shoving the monkeys into the Plexiglas tubes and the monkeys are screaming and they are holding their arms behind their backs. The universities who have grants from the federal government for animal research for the sheer reason that they want money for their football team and money for their President’s flowers in the office, they will not examine whether or not there are more sophisticated modern tests.
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
DS: Tell me how the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act impedes you, and what you are doing to defeat the Act.
- IN: Sooner or later we’ll have a test case. It was designed specifically to thwart our undercover investigations. That’s where it came out of. It’s a slap shoot that has been made into a criminal action. It’s a criminal action now in over a dozen states to videotape or audiotape inside an animal industry, which is just extraordinary protection for one particularly section of society’s pursuits. It also makes it a federal crime to remove documents, for example, even if those documents show wrong-doing on the part of the business. You can’t even Xerox them and take them out to give to a reporter. That’s a federal crime, now, in over twelve states. It’s all designed so that you can’t get the goods on an industry that is hurting animals in violation of the law, and to make that information public without facing a jail sentence and a hefty fine.
DS: Would you do a target investigation in a state where they have that act passed just to test its Constitutionality?
- IN: We might well. Because this is supposed to be a free country; there is supposed to be free speech and a public spotlight on what’s happening in our name with our tax money. At least if they are telling consumers, “Trust us, because we are being kind to the animals” because everyone knows now that a large percentage of consumers wants to know when they are buying something how animals are treated. If they are stringing the consumer along and giving them a false security that animals weren’t harmed in the making of whatever it is, then I think the public has a right to know exactly what is going on in those places. That is in the public interest.
Ingrid Newkirk on Ingrid Newkirk
DS: Did you and Alex Pacheco have a falling out?
- IN: No—well, we’ve had many fallings out in our years—
DS: Like a family—
- IN: Yes, yes. We’ve had many an argument, many a falling out, but he separated a long time ago.
DS: Are you still in contact with him?
- IN: Yes, he was in touch with the office a couple of weeks ago. I was on the road.
DS: Is he looking at becoming involved again?
- IN: I’m not sure what he wants to do at the moment and I’m not sure he does, either.
DS: How would Ingrid Newkirk twenty years ago look at Ingrid Newkirk now?
- IN: God, what a horrid question! [Laughs] Do you mean twenty years ago? Because we’ve had the group twenty-seven years.
DS: Just twenty years ago, the person you were then looking at the person you are now.
- IN: God, less wrinkles! I don’t know the answer to that. I really don’t.
DS: Do you think you’ve achieved a lot of the things you had wanted back then?
- IN: I’m never looking ahead. All I want is to reduce suffering and to get people to think of animals in a different way, and that’s as true then as it is now. Perhaps I was—I don’t know if I could say if I’m less or more optimistic, I really can’t. I think I was just me, only younger.
DS: Do you think other people would say that?
- IN: I think so…I think so. I don’t know, really.
DS: Do you have any regrets?
- IN: Professionally? Because that’s what we are talking about…
DS: Or personally.
- IN: I’m not going to talk about personally!
DS: Just in general—in your life.
- IN: These are just terrible questions! I think you can always look back and in hindsight, knowing the results of what you’ve done, think, ‘Maybe I could have been more strategic then’; or ‘If I had only known…maybe I could have pushed harder then.’ But I think in compromising sometimes, people may find it surprising, but I’m so anxious not to lose ground, but to gain ground so that we can move ahead, that I might take less than if I had known I could have pushed harder what I could have got.
DS: See. Sometimes terrible questions birth wonderful answers.
- IN: Oh, pwah!
DS: The nature of this interview is on a permanent encyclopedia—
- IN: Ah! God, help me, kill me.
DS: --so the questions are designed not just around your work, but also around who you are as a person.
- IN: I don’t know. In this business I am very easy to cubby hole. As someone said to me the other day—they had seen the HBO special—and they said, “Are you really a sad obsessed person?” And I thought, “No, I’m not really a sad person, except when I lie awake at night in winter thinking about all the animals out without shelter, and then I’m sad!” Who wouldn’t be? Wouldn’t anybody be sad if they have a heart? It’s just that I’ve seen so much. In Taiwan, standing in a slaughterhouse for dogs. You have to get through it, and to me, having foster-cared chickens; I know if anyone took a chicken in the way they took a dog in they would come to love that chicken and come to see that chicken had personality. That chicken would wait for you to come home in the evening. They can’t laugh this off, because it’s actually true! Chickens develop bonds with people the same way dogs do. They know you’ve rescued them if you’ve rescued them; they’ll sit on your lap while you’re watching TV. Having had those relationships it’s just as hard for me to stand in a chicken slaughterhouse. But if anyone had had those experiences they would feel the same way. I think it’s hard to pigeon-hole me as sad. I’m not. I’m joyous.
DS: I didn’t see you as sad in that movie.
- IN: Oh really? Oh, good.
DS: It’s interesting you brought that up, because a thought I had watching the film is that people always find something to criticize with a person. It’s not, “Okay, Ingrid just really loves animals and wants to help them” but “you’re obsessed and sad.” If you were taking a $1,000,000 salary every year and driving around in a Mercedes, they would say, “She’s not really in it for the animals, she’s completely stuffing her pockets with her cause.” But you are not doing that [Newkirk earned $32,000 from PETA in 2005] and the film makes that clear; so instead, the criticism is that you are sad and obsessed.
- IN: Right. Thank you. Thank you.
DS: You’re either milking it for all it is worth—
- IN: Or you are some weird ascetic.
DS: What do you think drives people to jump at negative spin?
- IN: It’s human nature. You see the thing at a silly level with celebrities. They love them, and then they tear them down. Or they are just salivating, hoping for somebody to trip and fall. I think it’s jut another nasty past of human nature. Especially if you think somebody has done something that makes you a little guilty, it’s very hard to overcome people’s guilt. I know I was the same way when somebody first suggested to me I should not eat animals. I was quite defensive about it. I remember that. There are many other things along the way that I have had to fight out in my own head and get rid of the defensiveness. I think people are defensive, and they don’t want someone to tell them what to do. They know a lot of their life is frivolous. I had an assistant once who wanted to leave for the evening, and I said, “Could you just finish this before you go home?” and he said, “I’ve got a life!” and I said, “Yeah, me too, but mine doesn’t consist of playing video games for five hours!” [Laughs]. But as you get older I think your perspective might change and whatever drives you it occurs you only have so much time, and you want to accomplish this.
DS: Where do you draw your strength from? What’s behind that question is when I was in law school I did a Chihuahua rescue and helped to save perhaps 15 to 20 dogs. I thought it would be a great fulfilling thing, and it would be easy to do to host these animals while I read my law books. Instead, it was grueling. It ended up tearing me apart—
- IN: It does.
DS: --watching your film I thought, “I would be a terrible investigator. I would be like the guy in the movie who simply couldn’t do it.” I saw a 14-pound dog that was raped by a man and her insides were torn up; I had a dog who almost died on me because it had been so severely starved and beaten, and the only thing I could do to get it to survive was to take a syringe full of blended dog food liquidated with heavy cream and feed it while it bit my fingers. It took its toll on me and it was one of the things that made me very down on humanity—
- IN: You’re a good man.
DS: But it was hurtful.
- IN: Yeah, it’s very painful!
DS: Where do you draw your strength to continue on and to not hate humanity?
- IN: I definitely don’t hate humanity, because I am one. I think we’re weak. I think our species loves to think of itself as all important and knowing and clever; and we’re not. Fundamentally, we like a chocolate soda and stay in bed late. We like some rubbish on TV. It’s just the way we are. If everyone could come to America from all over I think they would so they could all get fat and rich and do almost nothing, and collect unemployment. Anyway, whatever. Substitute something there. [Laughs] Anthropologists have said that it is only human conceit that has separated us from the other apes; for starters the apes. Really, there is no such thing as a hominid. They say there are hominids and pongids, and we’re probably all in it together and that we are probably all the same taxa. I see chimpanzees are very much like human beings, and they are very aggressive. The males will go out together and hunt, and they’ll take apart a Colobus monkey just for the fun of it, like a gang on the street. The males will beat their chest and are full of testosterone, and they’ll gang-bang the females, which happens every day if you read the newspaper. And they are lazy. If you put them in captivity they’ll throw their feces at you, but they don’t mean it! That’s just their nature; it’s not as if they sat there thinking this up. It’s their nature.
DS: Animals don’t scheme.
- IN: No! They are just angry, upset and agitated. I think that’s the same with human beings. We’re all a bit like that. We have to discipline ourselves and not going around saying how great we are. We have to have some discipline and not be brats and fat little kids. SO I don’t hate humanity, and I forgot what the first one was—oh, how do I get my strength! Where I get my memory is the next one you’re going to ask…[Laughs]
DS: You do have a great memory.
- IN: I obviously don’t—a selective memory, maybe. I don’t know that it’s strength so much as I am driven by if I see a cruelty in front of me, which I have many times, and I have the power to stop it, then something comes from inside me and I will try to stop it, and I will really mow people over to get to an injured animal, for example. Or move heaven and Earth to get something fixed. More than that, I have a strong sense of guilt. If I’m not doing anything I don’t know how I could forget that the cruelty is there, or that the pain is there. I don’t think I could just decide, “I’m going to the beach, and I’m going to live on the beach and be a beach bum for the rest of my life” and pretend it doesn’t exist and that it’s not going to haunt me. So I probably do it to ease my own pain, in part, in knowing that it exists and trying to do something. You know!
DS: Yes, I do know.
- IN: I’m so glad you did that. And you did not give that one away [referring to Little Man].
- Ingrid Newkirk's official website
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA, HBO page for the movie.