What is Speciesism?
Though it has been around since 1970, how many people have heard of the term speciesism? Are you a speciesist, or possibly someone you know? If this is not a term you are familiar with I strongly suggest you continue reading. Some believe it to be the first form of hatred we are taught as children, the catalyst for all other forms of hate.
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“I use the word ‘speciesism’ to describe the widespread discrimination that is practiced by man against other species. Speciesism is discrimination, and like all discrimination, it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against.” – Richard Ryder
Have you ever stopped to consider how you view a dog, cat, or a horse compared to how you view a pig, chicken or a cow? If you are in the United States that analogy should make you curious. In some countries it is quite common for people to eat dogs and cats, but here in the United States they are commonly regarded as companion animals. What makes them any different from other animals, have you ever thought about it? When you become a vegan one thing you realize is that all life is equal, regardless of the species. This may upset some readers. Many of you will say that humans are the dominant species, that we deserve special consideration based on our superior intellect and abilities. Why is it that we believe our intellect alone makes us more special than any other species on the planet, that the others are below us and do not deserve compassion? The concept of assigning different values, rights, or considerations to individuals based on their species is speciesism.
Listen as Richard Ryder briefly discusses speciesism:
Can’t see the video? Click here.
The word speciesism came to Richard Ryder while he was lying in a bath in Oxford. He compares it to racism and sexism. Though that comes as a shock to some, regarding the life of one non-human animal as more valuable over another is a prejudice based upon morally irrelevant physical differences, just like racism and sexism! Humans tend to justify their treatment of non-human animals because of our ability to rationalize, our complex languages, and our social abilities. However, some humans lack those very same characteristics used to cast judgment, yet they are extended the same rights and consideration simply because they are part of same species membership.
We would never want the pain and suffering of a human to continue, regardless of their race, sex or nationality. Naturally, we would want to help end the suffering, or resolve the situation causing the suffering. We should then extend that concern toward all other species that feel pain, just as we do, for we can assume with confidence that the pain and suffering is just as intense, regardless of species membership. Non-human animals feel pain, joy, and fear, just like us. Their nervous systems are similar to ours and contain the same biochemistry. In certain areas of the world people are outraged by the abuse of whales, or dogs, but in those same countries they allow the abuse, violent slaughter, and rape of thousands of non-human animals on a daily basis. We exploit non-human animals simply because we are more powerful than they are. Why does this make it acceptable? This is absurd when you stop to truly consider the ideology backing these behaviors.
The gateway to hate…
My mentor, Gary Yourofsky, once said he believes speciesism is the first form of hatred we are taught as children. Consider the child that grows up on the farm. The child spends his or her life tending to the pigs, cattle, chickens, horses, and likely a few dogs and cats. Over the years the child observes the pigs, cattle, and chickens being raised up, and once grown, slaughtered for their meat, or exploited for their milk. Meanwhile, the dog and the cat are fed scraps from the family dinner table, allowed to be inside when the weather is bad, and live out their entire lives in the best comfort the family can provide. The child has learned to discriminate without ever realizing what has happened. In this example, when this child matures and encounters humans of a different sexual preference, skin color, or nationality, he or she is said to be more likely to place them into a different category than their own, thus prejudice is born.
What matters most?
What matters most is pain and suffering. Humans and non-human animals alike feel pain, and we can both suffer. This should be the guiding compass for morality, not our intelligence, or our abilities. We do not give special rights to the smartest among us when it comes to pain and suffering, so why would it make sense for us to do it to other beings just because they are of a different species? We shouldn’t, it doesn’t make any sense at all. We should stop exploiting, hunting, scientific testing, slaughtering, raping and all other forms of pain, suffering and enslavement, inflicted by the human species upon non-human animals. If we can bring non-human animals into the same moral and legal regard as humans, then we will no longer be able to exploit them for our own gain. As a vegan I regard all life as valuable and make it my goal, daily, to cause the least amount of harm to other life on this planet, and to the environment. This should be our goal as activists, this should be our goal as a compassionate species. Allow your heart to change today and go vegan! Resources to help you along your way are available here for free.
Learn more about Shannon by clicking here or by visiting SharingVeganism.com.