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Laird Shaw, ethical botanical fruitarian

Laird Shaw from withrespect.net.au has kindly agreed to give me this interview, even though he was considering to limit his online presence - I appreciate it very much. Please, enjoy Laird's in-depth answers to the 55 fruitarian questions.

I Introduction

1. Please, introduce yourself.

I'm a 39 year old vegan-fruitarian guy living in Australia - currently in Sydney, but I own a home in Tasmania. I became lacto-ovo vegetarian around twenty six years ago, vegan around five years ago, and shortly after, vegan-fruitarian (a diet which I describe as "ethical botanical fruitarianism" - more below).

2. How would you describe this stage of your life?

Stuck. I suffer from a psychospiritual condition which has brought me to the attention of the mental health authorities, and I find myself in and out of psych wards, rejecting the solutions forced upon me, but unable to discover a viable alternative for myself.

3. Tell us something about your background.

I was born in South Africa to parents who wished to see an end to Apartheid, and who actively campaigned for the rights of native Africans. We moved as a family to Australia when I was ten, at the end of 1987, due to the violence in our country of origin.

I have an academic background in computing, having finished about 2/3rds of a Bachelor of Computer Systems Engineering, before my existential problems overtook me. I still work from time to time as a computer programmer, mostly in back-end web development.

4. What inspires you in your future?

The possibilities of effecting positive changes in society, of coming to an understanding of my own condition, of an end to the abuse of plants and animals, and of humanity as a whole coming to accept, based on the evidence, that there is more to life than the physical; that we are spiritual beings in physical bodies.

5. What would be your best piece of advice to your 17-year-young Self?

Don't give up on your commitment never to take drugs, including alcohol and caffeine; the consequences of breaking this commitment are severe. Explore the world before you commit to a particular vocation. Take the time to travel, to see what's out there, and what is possible.

6. Would you like to live one thousand years, and why?

I don't have a particular wish either way. Based on the evidence, reincarnation is a likely reality, and I'm not sure whether it makes much difference whether I were to live a thousand years incarnated in one body or in multiple. I would hope, though, that if I were to live a thousand years in this body, I would be able to resolve my existential problems first.

7. What are your greatest passions?

Advocacy for the rights of non-human life, djembe drumming, computer programming and online debating.

8. What do you create?

Computer programs, websites, poetry, rhythms, essays and meals.

9. How do you construct your meaning of life?

By recognising that evil exists, and that a meaningful life is spent both in trying to combat evil, as well as in trying to live pleasurably in the face of that evil - which seeks to force us into *un*pleasurable lives.

10. Who are you?

I haven't quite worked that one out yet - if you know, please tell me...

II Ethics

11. How would you summarize your ethical position?

Respect sentient life: do as little harm as possible to both human and non-human life.

12. What do you value in people the most?

Kindness, compassion and intelligence.

13. To what extent your ethical principles motivate the changes in your life, considering your needs, wishes and resources?

To a large extent. I take seriously the fundamental rights of non-human beings in comparison to/with my relatively superficial desires. My superficial desire for a trimmed lawn, for example, is nothing compared to the fundamental right of a plant (grass) to grow unhindered and unharmed.

14. Do you have enough freedom to live the life you want?

In terms of ethics: yes, to a large extent (but I wish I could bring many more people with me!). In general terms, yes, too, although I don't have a lot of money, and am frequently sectioned to psych wards.

15. What energizes you in making such changes?

The positive effects that they have.

16. What was the simplest change in your lifestyle that might have benefited other living beings?

Going fruitarian, probably. Also: watching where I walk so as not to tread on insects.

17. How do you help yourself if you get discouraged?

I don't get discouraged from making personal changes; when it comes to advocacy, I remind myself of the hell that we need to save non-humans from.

18. What thought process do you use to make ethical decisions in complex cases?

I generally am committed to weighing up different fundamental principles on a case-by-case basis: principles such as harm avoidance, fairness, and respect for the free will choices of sentient beings.

19. What kind of life is not worth living?

A tough question. I'm not sure I know the answer, but maybe it is this: a life of suffering for nothing; the life of a martyr without a cause.

20. Would you agree that humans are superior to other vertebrate animals because only people can solve differential equations?

No. There is nothing particularly valuable (in general) about cognitive talents as compared to, say, the ability to fly unaided. We overvalue human intelligence, and undervalue non-human intelligence and other traits. Obviously, though, in particular situations, either trait may be more valuable.

21. If animals could experience no suffering of any kind, would it be alright to use them?

No. Suffering is only one part of the valuation; the other is the capacity to live a rich and satisfying life in which one's *will* is respected.

22. When is it appropriate to restrict procreation of animals?

Yet another tough question. I would say: never, except that this is predicated on "companion animals" being given the freedom they deserve, rather than being imprisoned in individual homes. Whilst their situation is so grim that without a home (prison) they are sentenced to death ("euthanasia"), it *might* be appropriate to limit their breeding. Otherwise, in the normal and desirable case of freedom, it is not.

23. Do you believe that mammal animals have the right to choose their sexual partners?

Very much so. As do *all* animals.

24. In what example situation you would not put a life of any animal over a life of a non-animal organism?

I can't think of one, though I'm sure they exist. I would value the life of a tree with a centuries-long life over the life of an animal whose lifespan can be measured in decades.

25. Would you agree that a life of a vampire bat is more valuable than one of a fig tree because the bat has central nervous system?

No. I believe that (1) consciousness is not generated by a central nervous system (CNS), but instead has a *relationship* with any relevant CNS, and (2) there are other physical systems with which immaterial consciousness can enter into relationship, which certainly includes plants and even microbes. There is much evidence that plants *are* conscious - evidence both in the realms of modern science, as well as in ancient spiritual systems, especially indigenous spiritual systems, and especially animism.

26. How would you compare the value of life of a fly and a pine?

They have equal fundamental value, but because a fly lives for a much shorter time, then, given the choice, I would chose the pine's life.

27. Do you think people should have reservations in using or destroying plants, and why?

Very much so, for the reasons given in answer #25 above: the evidence suggests that they are sentient beings.

28. Do you feel that an individual plant, which does not directly support other forms of life, deserves your protection?

Again: very much so, for the reasons given above - it is a sentient life in its own right, and should be treated as an end rather than as a means to an end.

29. If your neighbours decide to cut down an olive tree on their property because its falling fruits mess up their yard, what would you say?

I hope I would say that my neighbours' superficial preference (for a clean yard) is trumped by the tree's fundamental right (to a life free from avoidable harm).

30. How would you feel if an inexperienced gardener cuts all the branches from a blossoming bush?

Angry. Plants should be free from harm, whether they are blossoming or not.

31. Would you oppose to spreading disinformation if it serves a good cause?

Yes. I think people have a right to the truth; to provide them with anything less is potentially to abrogate their free will - they may have made a different decision knowing the truth - but is anyway wrong.

32. If badly hurting one sentient being would prevent from dying hundreds of others, would you let it happen?

An age old and very difficult question. I have pondered it a lot without being able to come to a definitive answer.

So, this is probably not going to be very satisfying as a response, but I would need to know more before making a decision. Here are some of the things I might like to know:

a. Is the choice forced: i.e. is it truly one or the other, with no other alternatives possible? If not, what are the alternatives?

b. Do all of the sentient beings involved (on both sides of the equation) have relatively equal moral impact on the world, i.e. are they all Christs, or all Hitlers, or all "ordinary" beings? If not, what are their various moral characters and effects?

c. Can we predict the future confidently for the purposes of this decision i.e. do we have very, very reliable knowledge that the deaths would occur were the one sentient being *not* harmed?  And on the other hand, do we have very, very reliable knowledge that the deaths would *not* occur were the one sentient being harmed? If not, how reliable are our predictions?

d. What level of culpability do the hundreds of sentient beings have for their predicted deaths? e.g. Were they all smokers who knew the risks and are now going to die of lung cancer?

e. What  level of culpability does the one to be badly hurt have for the predicted deaths of the hundreds? e.g. Was s/he a tobacco company chief executive officer who knew the truth but hid it?

f. Is this a case of blackmail, perhaps by (a) terrorist(s)? i.e. Has somebody *set up* the choice to force us into harm that need not otherwise exist?

g. Does the one sentient being to be harmed consent to that harm? *Can* s/he even consent?

h... Probably a bunch more that I can't bring to mind just yet.

33. If tormenting one child would seem to be the only way to protect humanity from a disaster, would you do it?

My answer (probably dissatisfyingly, again) is the same as above, although, because the level of harm on the one side is so much greater, I would be more willing to say "Yes" - but I doubt that I could perform any tormenting myself.

I don't think that these sort of scenarios are common in the real world though.

34. Where is the balance between accumulating wealth and helping others?

Great question! I think it's reasonable to set aside a pre-stipulated portion of one's income (or business profits) for helping others. Different people will have different ideas of how much this should be; 10% seems to be a common figure.

35. Could you give an example of something legal but immoral in your opinion?

Factory farming, and, in general, the slaughter of plants and animals for food when fruit, nuts and seeds etc are available instead.

36. What types of laws human societies should implement in the near future?

First, I think that the human societies of our respective countries (Australia and the USA) should restore effective sovereignty to the indigenous nations from whom they stole it. Should those nations choose to retain a Western system, then here are a few of the laws I think our countries should implement; i.e. those most important to me are:

  • Those implementing systems of direct democracy, so that the people can make laws and policies for themselves, independently of (or in conjunction with) political representatives.
  • Those legislating against the slaughter of plants and animals for food and resources.
  • That law which introduces a carbon tax or similar means of eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Those legislating against the development of automated (artificially intelligent) weapons, as well as those legislating global nuclear disarmament.
  • The right for the so-called "mentally ill" to refuse otherwise forced psychiatric treatment.
37. Should we try to restrict human population growth, why and how?

Yes, because unchecked human population growth is obviously unsustainable, and is already causing suffering and displacement to non-humans, as well as environmental destruction. The only alternative is populating space, which it seems will happen at a much slower pace than overpopulation, such that we ought to focus our efforts on reducing human population growth.

I don't know the best way to go about this, maybe by financial (taxation) penalties for bearing children oneself, and financial benefits for adopting children.

38. Should we do anything against climate change caused by humanity?

Yes. One interesting economic-based scheme that might achieve this fairly is the "Fee and dividend" scheme[1].

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fee_and_dividend

39. Do you think consumption of products with too much burden on the environment should be reduced - why and how?

Definitely. I am not sure exactly how, but one possibility is to tax products based on the level of externalities that an independent body assesses them (the products) to contribute.

40. What are the most important areas of scientific research, from your perspective?

Research into:

  • Alternatives to animal testing.
  • Psi, spirituality and the paranormal.
  • Anything that avoids negative environmental impacts, such as how to clean up toxic chemicals or waste.

III Lifestyle

41. How is your current lifestyle influenced by your environment and culture?

In an almost unimaginable number of ways! For example, had I lived in "Australia" three centuries ago rather than now, I would not have:

  • Had access to transportation other than my legs and small wooden boats.
  • Had access to any of the (especially communications) technology which we currently take for granted - but, on the other hand, I might have used more frequently/deliberately telepathic communication.
  • Struggled so much to put together a way of thinking about spirituality: this would have been an integral and integrated part of my culture.

In addition, I would not have had year-round access to fruits, nuts and seeds, and so my diet might have been different.

42. Is it easy for you to find people who share your views and your way of life?

No, but it happens when you put yourself out online.

43. Do your closest friends and family members support or respect your unusual choices?

Yes. Some of them have also been influenced by my advocacy, more of them not though, unfortunately.

44. How do you feel about spending time on re-purposing things, recycling, searching for alternatives to new purchases like new wooden furniture?

I feel that it is very important. Throw-away culture appalls me, as does the culture of exploitation of trees for wood.

45. Is it easy for you to adjust your habits? 

That depends on who the beneficiary is. I find it easier when the beneficiaries are others. My transitions from meat-eating to vegetarianism to veganism and then to vegan-fruitarianism were painless.

IV Diet

46. Please, describe your diet. 

The principle on which my diet is based is "Eat only that which detaches harmlessly from a plant, or which otherwise causes no harm (e.g. salt, in moderation)". I call this (for want of a better term) "ethical botanical fruitarianism".

This means fruit by the culinary definition (sweet fruit), as well as "vegetable" fruits like pumpkins and capsicums, as well as nuts, seeds, grains, cereals, legumes and beans.

47. What are your general principles for choosing food?

The main one is: choose that which causes the least harm.

48. How much do you rely on personal discipline to maintain the diet of your choice?

Only a little, and this mainly when I am gifted with foods which I otherwise would not purchase for myself. Generally, I don't find it difficult to stick to my principles: there are so many delicious fruitarian options!

49. How your diet influences your mind?

I haven't noticed any effect.

50. How much fresh fruit do you eat?

(Assuming you mean culinary aka sweet fruit) Not as much as I should!  It is probably at the moment less than 10% of my diet, but that's mostly because I find it hard to access in my current situation.

V Conclusions

51. If you had a possibility to be heard by most influential people in the world, what would you talk about?

The need for legislation which I canvassed in my answer to question #36, and for research which I canvassed in my answer to question #40. I would generally encourage influential people to put their influence into sustainable, ethical living.

52. If you had substantial financial resources, in what kind of project would you invest first, on a global scale?

Technology enabling online direct democracy on all scales: from the global to the national, state, and local, and including also businesses and NGOs. I trust "the ordinary folk" to make the right decisions by popular vote more than I trust our political representatives, who all too often are beholden to corporate interests.

53. What would you like to add, what important relevant topic was not mentioned?

It's testament to your question-crafting skills that I can't think of anything. Good interview!

54. What is the best way to communicate with you, and what type of messages are you welcoming, if any?

People can contact me on the email address which appears as an image on the contact page of my advocacy website: <http://withrespect.net.au/contact>. I'm mostly welcoming messages of collaboration or clarification.

55. What do you hope people will think, feel, or gain, learning about you?

* Be very wary of drugs, even "just" alcohol and caffeine - avoid them if you can; they can trigger ongoing, fraught psychospiritual states.

* Even if you are in a psychospiritually fraught state, you can still make ethical choices with respect to others. This can even help you through your difficulties - to know that you are having a positive effect in the world is therapeutic.

Warmly, and fruitfully,

Laird Shaw

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