An updated e-edition of Karen Dawn’s Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals comes out tomorrow – Tuesday, May 20. With the support of many vegan companies and restaurants, Karen has organized an outstanding, one-day promotion, for either edition (print or e-book) – but ONLY IF YOU BUY IT ON AMAZON ON MAY 20! The impressive swag you will get for supporting this campaign would, by itself, make it worth it for you to do so by purchasing the book on May 20, but the real gift is in the book itself.
Writer Ken Swensen had the pleasure of interviewing Karen for Our Hen House.
Ken Swensen for Our Hen House (OHH): Your book, Thanking The Monkey, has the look and feel of a casual and breezy overview of the animal rights movement and the ways in which we abuse animals. On closer look, it is deeply researched and covers an astonishing amount of ground – both technically and ideologically. What can you tell us about the research and writing process?
Karen Dawn (KD): The cartoons, jokes and colorful art are the sugar that makes the medicine go down. They make it possible for people to give this book to friends and family with it seeming like a gift rather than an assignment. But it is indeed packed with information, gathered over the ten years prior to the book’s release when I worked on my DawnWatch e-list. DawnWatch follows major media coverage of animal rights issues, so when I was writing Thanking the Monkey, I could use my own website as a major resource and thereby source the information in my book from reputable media such as the New York Times and Scientific American.
OHH: I feel like informed animal rights activists would find many areas of interest in the book, learn little known facts (they catch exotic fish with cyanide?), and get drawn into the ethical questions you pose. Yet the book also seems to address a general reader who is open-minded but somewhat uninformed about animal issues. What feedback have you had from either audience? Has any of it surprised you?
KD: Thanking the Monkey was designed for people who think of themselves as animal lovers but have been unwilling to look at what their lifestyle actually supports. I did everything I could to design and write a book they would be willing to look at and even read. And the positive reviews from mainstream media have reflected that. A consistent theme has been to note that my tone is not didactic or preachy. The Washington Post review noted that’s why “she is so darn persuasive.”
The “surprise” response to the book is beautifully exemplified by the words of Persia White (an actor most recently seen on “Vampire Diaries”) in our little May 20 promo clip, which, incidentally, I hope people will check out to see all the great gifts they get if they buy Thanking the Monkey on that day. Though Persia is a long-time vegan activist and one of the producers of Earthlings, she notes that even she learned things from Thanking the Monkey. I was also gratified when Marisa Miller Wolfson, the producer and director of Vegucated, told me that what she got from Thanking the Monkey was great answers to the tough questions she gets asked on ethical issues. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the book is so useful to seasoned activists.
OHH: On one level, Thanking the Monkey is a compendium of the variety of abuses we heap upon animals. It must have been painful for you to explore so many specific crimes against our animal brethren. How do you cope with carrying the weight of those abuses?
KD: I was once standing next to Ingrid Newkirk, the head of PETA, when she was asked how she coped with all the horrors she sees. She replied, “Alcohol helps.” Indeed I look forward to my glass of cabernet and hour of HBO at the end of the day. More productively, I read self-books that teach me to control my thoughts and emotions. I actively choose never to dwell on the horror because the animals desperately need powerful advocates, and the most effective advocates are upbeat and energetic, not angry and depressed. So, ironically, the more I care about what is happening to the animals and wish to help them, the less I can afford to focus on how hurt I am by their plight.
OHH: Your philosophical explorations were some of the most appealing parts of the book. You take the reader through a continuum of choices on various issues, but then ultimately ask, “Where do you stand?” It’s a gentle technique, and yet one that almost demands a reader’s response. How did you come to that approach?
KD: I stole at least part of that approach from Matthew Scully. I interviewed him on KPFT radio in Houston just after his beautiful book Dominion came out, and was struck by his commitment to refrain from pushing his values on other people, but rather, to ask people to examine their own values. If we give people information about abuse that offends their own moral code and then ask them to note whether their shopping or eating habits might support that abuse and might therefore be out of step with their own values, it gets them thinking. And getting them thinking is the first step.
OHH: Your closing section on effective activism is worth the price of admission. You have years of experience with the media, a background in journalism, and a degree in psychology to bring to bear on the issue. What thoughts can you leave us with that can inspire us to accomplish more for animals?
KD: The only way we can make a significant difference for the animals is by persuading other people to join the cause, or at the very least persuading them to refrain from running interference. It is true, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, that a small group of committed people can change the world, but they cannot do it as long as the world is passionately against them – and that’s the backlash we get when we attack the world. It is easy to discount joyful, fun activists as not really serious – but we are deadly serious. We are strategic. We know that we will not gain animal rights via a military coup. And revolutions only succeed long-term if they have at least basic support from a good number of the people. So at this early stage of what is still a fledgling movement, let’s do all we can to garner support for this crucial social justice cause. Let’s invite people to join us in a tone that makes them want to say “Yes!”
Remember to buy Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals– the new e-edition or the print edition – on MAY 20, through Amazon! Spread the word!
Ken Swensen turned into an animal advocate while watching the movie “Amazing Grace.” He volunteers for ACTAsia for Animals in support of their humane education and anti-fur campaigns. He likes the Our Hen House style of highlighting the good works of individuals and groups devoted to helping animals. A lifetime New Yorker, Ken runs a small business and has an MBA from NYU.