Mainstream media has become saturated with social justice movements in recent years. From the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter, and Occupy movements to the Environmental Justice movement and Animal Rights activists claiming speciesism is discrimination. The connectivity brought about by the internet and social media has connected people in an unprecedented way. Naturally, oppressed people use this connectivity to bring attention to their plight.
These movements are typically connected by a common thread. If one were to find the thread and pull it they’d find discrimination, such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, and political prejudice. These are some of the driving forces behind social movements. Another form of discrimination finally making the headlines is Speciesism.
Humans are not born with naturally-occurring discriminatory feelings toward people of another race, creed, gender, or species.
Discrimination of all kinds is a learned characteristic. Parents and society as a whole teach children who they should care about and who they can disregard or despise. Most people are familiar with racism and sexism, and most people strive to rise above such antiquated perspectives. They’ve either experienced discrimination, witnessed it or been subjected to it.
But what is speciesism and how does it differ from other forms of discrimination? Speciesism is discrimination of one species in favor of another. Whether that is placing more moral value on the life of a human over an animal, or valuing the life of a puppy more than that of a cow.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Speciesists believe, for various reasons, that animals can be exploited to some degree without a moral cost. Many people have never been confronted with the idea that discrimination against animals exists. People use animals for food and clothing and other needs and that is just the way it has always been.
People are taught from a young age that humans occupy the top of the food chain. Most people are satisfied with their place at the top and never question further. The truth is, human superiority is a man-made myth. It’s time for people to realize they’re an emperor walking naked through the streets.
Speciesism is a form of discrimination that doesn’t differ from other forms of discrimination; discrimination is discrimination. In fact, speciesism could be described as the root cause of discrimination. It’s easy to make a case against racism, sexism, or ageism. Discrimination on the basis of race or sex, for example, is not based on any logical or scientific reasoning.
From a biological perspective, humans are all equal. People have various traits that make them unique, but no differences between the sexes, races, intellectual capacity, or sexual orientation, morally justify discrimination. All humans are sentient beings who experience emotions and the capacity for suffering.
New Science Brings New Understanding
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that “races” are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European conquests beginning in the 15th century.”
Essentially, the Declaration of Independence got it right when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal.” Jefferson wasn’t referring to monetary or societal value, he was referring to the inherent moral value of human life; the right to live free from harm that should apply to all people of all races. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Obviously, Jefferson wasn’t only referring to men, he was referring to Mankind. But, why stop there?
Human Monopolization of Sentience
Animal lives have historically been excluded from possessing an inherent moral value as that afforded to humans. Countless excuses have been made for this injustice. Some examples are the myth that animals aren’t sentient, religious justifications, dietary necessity, biological differences between humans and animals, and even evolutionary justifications.
The plethora of logical fallacies used to justify exploiting animals is as vast as it is illogical. These fallacies rely upon a key factor, the quantification of the moral value of the life of a sentient being.
Scientifically speaking, animals are undeniably sentient. Like humans, non-human animals have a central nervous system allowing them to feel physical sensations such as pain. They have a brain allowing them to interpret that pain into suffering.
Humans are animals, it is illogical to assume that non-human animals do not possess the same intrinsic moral value and desire to live free from pain and suffering as humans. Assuming the intelligence or emotional level of a sentient being is justification for exploitation also has significant implications that lead to other forms of discrimination.
Speciesism assumes the conclusion that non-human animals aren’t as intelligent as humans. This leads people to believe their suffering and desire to live does not matter morally in the way that human suffering matters morally. This is a false assumption which compares animal intelligence and ability to human intelligence and ability, as opposed to making the comparison relative to their own species.
According to a report by NBC News, experiments in the 1990s showed that pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts to identify images they had previously seen as opposed to images they were seeing for the first time, this is an ability which is outside the skill set of young humans and some individuals with mental impairments.
When quantifying intelligence, humans should be compared to humans, pigs compared to pigs, cows to cows, and so-on for a legitimate understanding of intellectual and emotional ability.
However, it is illogical to withhold ethical considerations from individuals on the basis of ability, or whom we assume think or feel differently than we do. Fortunately, in a civilized society, the basic rights of all people are protected, including those who are disabled or incapacitated, because we acknowledge their sentience. It’s only logical that humans should uphold these rights for all sentient beings.
Following the speciesism assertion all the way through to its logical conclusion, one could justify exploiting people with low IQ or mental impairment. This is because the assumption asserts that intelligence and emotional capacity exist on a linear scale, where insects occupy one end and humans occupy the other. Animals reside somewhere in-between.
It is illogical to place sentient beings on a linear scale.
This is because all sentient beings display different talents and abilities relative to their evolutionary development, necessity and environmental influences. Comparisons between humans and non-humans on the level of intellectual capacity or talent have no relevance to sentience.
For example, dolphins can communicate with clicks and beeps humans cannot understand, and bees communicate through elaborate dances. It would be immoral to consider humans who cannot communicate through clicks, beeps, and dancing as having less moral value than bees and dolphins.
This circles back to racism and sexism. These archaic perceptions of the value of human life are based on this way of thinking. When people place others on a scale of moral value based on intelligence and abilities, or differences in appearance, they begin to feel justified in discriminating against those who are different. Historically, oppressed people have been compared to animals in an effort to dehumanize them, making the public more comfortable with mass-discrimination.
Intrinsic or Extrinsic Value
Continuing to follow this speciesism logic, one could justify exploiting humans as if one were more morally valuable than the other. For example, one could assume that the life of a politician has more intrinsic moral value than the life of a politician’s assistant. While it could be argued that the politician is doing more for society than the assistant, one could not logically argue that the politician deserves a life free from harm more than the assistant.
The value one provides to society is extrinsic, however, all sentient beings value their own existence intrinsically. All beings recoil from pain, avoid danger, and want to live, humans and non-humans alike.
Hypothetically assuming that an intellectual criterion could be considered justification for exploiting a sentient being, no scientific basis exists for the claim that a lack of intelligence relates to the capacity for suffering. Actually, quite the opposite is true.
From a psychological trauma standpoint, evidence suggests that because non-human animals experience greater suffering because they do not possess the cognitive ability to place their suffering in context as humans do. Non-human animals don’t understand why they are being abused, or why their child is being taken away. They experience pain, confusion, and terror with no way to reconcile those feelings.
Humans are capable of higher reasoning.
This cognitive ability should make people more sensitive to the morality of their behavior toward animals, as well as each other. While humans are capable of killing and eating animals, and currently within their legal rights to do so, it isn’t necessary for survival or health.
In conclusion, morality and legality are not one and the same, as evidenced by the slave trade. Humans can no more morally justify taking the life of a sentient being for personal dietary preferences than they can justify enslaving another human for the purposes of work or profit. Cognitive dissonance has separated animals into an illogical category in the human mind. It is up to each individual to break free from cognitive dissonance through education and end speciesism, vegans are here to help.