Campus Conversation

New College Professor Discusses Our Relationship with Animals

Dr. Nicolas Delon will give a talk on Nov. 21 at New College in the Cook Hall Living Room; the public is invited to attend.

By Shelby Schwartz November 21, 2019

Image: Staff and Shutterstock

Dr. Nicolas Delon

How many times have you walked by a squirrel in the park without giving the animal a second thought? Dr. Nicolas Delon thinks you should. Delon is a New College of Florida assistant professor of philosophy and environmental studies and works in the field of animal and environmental ethics. Today, Nov. 21, from 5:30-7 p.m., he will give a talk in New College’s Cook Hall Living Room,  300 College Drive, Sarasota, about the complicated relationship between humans and animals.

We chatted with Delon to learn more about his work, his talk and what he hopes listeners will take away from it.

What is the talk about?

The animals we don’t think about enough. Most of the animals we use are factory-farmed animals, and we rarely give them consideration. We also don’t tend to think of coyotes, possums or pigeons when we think about animals we care about. I want to explore the tensions, contradictions and blind spots in our relationships to our fellow creatures and those we know we’re having a significant—and, in many cases, detrimental—impact on. 

Why is the subject important?

Most Americans will say they support animal rights or love animals. And yet most Americans routinely eat meat and animal products that have been produced in the worst possible conditions, both in terms of animal suffering and environmental impact. We also tend to ignore, and even sometimes hate, animals that live in our midst but seem out of place or don’t fit a neat social space. Farm animals and research animals fit a certain space, and so do our pets, but feral and stray animals that live in urban and suburban areas seem like they don’t, so they don’t trigger the same kind of moral concern, compassion or interest as other animals. But these animals populate our lives as meaningfully as others. For many people, they’re the only animals they’ll interact with regularly. Take pigeons and squirrels, but also those we see more rarely, like possums, raccoons, coyotes, black bears, big cats, rats, and so on. These animals are no less capable of suffering and enjoyment, of emotions and complex social relationships, than cows, pigs and chickens, let alone cats and dogs. Why do we claim to love animals if the only animals we care about are cats and dogs—who I love, too?

What do you hope people get out of the talk? 

If I could get people to consider a little more creatures they’re not naturally prone to considering in their daily lives, I would have achieved something. Consider the lobster, to borrow from David Foster Wallace’s wonderful essay; also consider the billions of chickens we kill every year, the millions of rats we use for unnecessary research, and the wonderful variety of creatures that populate our urban lives, hidden in plain sight.
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