30.7.07

Thanks Neil. R.I.P.

Neil Lea (1958-2007).

For those who did not know Neil Lea, see THIS LINK


Neil’s work with an online database "Is it Vegan?" and Vegan Buddies is central to the abolitionist approach in terms of promoting veganism as the baseline position of animal rights advocates.

I first knew Neil as he latched on to the fact that he found in me someone who would agree to read and review the books regularly sent into Arcnews magazine which he edited. In all his dealings, he was a straight-down-the-line sort of guy. As someone said at Neil’s funeral on the 28th of July there were few pleasantries (apart from some talk of Manchester City and the philosophy of Star Trek as I recall) when Neil Lea wanted assistance. He’d ring me and say "have you received the book I sent? I need a review asap." Two days later he’d want to know if it was finished and ready to be sent as an attachment.

It was mentioned at the funeral that Neil was a great motivator. I agree – "constructively pushy" might be the best term. I think he was a born editor too – he knew how to get people to drop everything and work on what he wanted them to be working on. Of course, it was always obvious that Neil wasn’t asking for any of these things for himself – we all knew he was endangering his health by the sheer amount of work he was doing.

Neil was keen on education – vegan education obviously but education in general too. He would phone me to tell me about the latest academic essay he’d written for a course I was never sure he was ever doing, was about to do, or was about to finish. I think he concluded just about every text with a statement that the solution to the world’s problems was global veganism and human co-operation and peaceful living. I would say I thought his conclusion was fine but perhaps (turning on as much diplomacy as I could muster) he ought to make at least some reference to the fact that the essay might be on Marxist views on poverty and class struggle. I’d have liked to be a fly on the wall during any time some middle class academic told Neil he hadn’t adequately addressed the question!

One thing I’ll always be grateful to Neil Lea for is his reminders to me that I should keep my feet firmly on the ground and not lose all contact with the grassroots vegan activists who make up the heart of the animal movement. Whether I succeeded to his satisfaction is debatable but I hope I have. In fact, when I wrote my PhD I took the potentially risky decision to state openly in the text that some parts of it were deliberately written for such activists, and I referenced several non-academic sources such as Arcnews magazine. Animal activists do not tend to read sociology - and why should they – and yet there is a great deal they can learn from a sociological understanding of human-nonhuman relations, even if it is only in the negative sense of "know thy enemy." On the more positive side, however, sociology can show vegan advocates the depth of the cultural embeddedness of the norms and values they must seek to transform if any real progress for nonhuman animals is to be made. It also contributes to the on-going discourse about animal welfare and animal rights. The extent to which people like myself have not persuaded others of the importance of this latter issue might well go some way to reveal that disconnect that Neil was concerned about.

Thanks for the guidance, Neil, R.I.P. and, yes, I know, I will try harder.


3 comments:

  1. Roger, you made me laugh out loud with recognition. I was on the other end of the phone on many occasions when Neil was asking you where the review was... If it is any help to you, Neil only nagged people to get the work done when he knew they were up to the work. You were one of his stalwarts, and he always knew he could rely on you. Thanks for the memories.

    Mary

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  2. Thanks Mary.

    As we saw from Neil's funeral, the importance of his work is appreciated and will leave a lasting legacy. In particular, in terms of the abolitionist approach, his vegan outreach work is very important to mark veganism not vegetarianism as the baseline position of advocates of animal rights.

    Just as it would be a scandal for a human rights movement to recommend the 'humane' use of, say, trafficked humans, the same applies to the 'humane' use of nonhumans in appalling notions like cage-free and happy meats.

    Best Wishes
    Roger.

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  3. The single thing that most annoyed Neil was when people wouldn't say "vegan." The whole idea of vegan buddies, and the free food fairs is to encourage people to be openly vegan, in a way that anyone can understand. I remember Neil spending a few hours on the phone to a campaigner, giving them loads of advice on how to run a big event. He was so disappointed when the event came up, calling itself "veggie."

    Yes, all the food was vegan, but the campaigner had misunderstood the power in words. Vegan is central to animal rights, it IS animal rights. The word doesn't scare the public away, it is simply honest, and straight to the point.

    Recently on a demo I met a man who is a dedicated anti fur campaigner, who is afraid to tell his colleagues at work that he is a vegan. Because of this peer pressure, he is not able to even be vegan... his unecessary fear of standing out in a crowd has meant that he bends his principles, so that his colleagues won't think he is extreme.

    As Neil always said, it's not extreme... it's consistent.

    We will get there, we just need to be honest with the language we use, and consistent in our lives. We have to walk the talk, and talk the walk. If we fail to do either, we'll find it much harder to creatively change the world for the better.

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