Speciesism, as I understand it, shares similarities with anthropocentrism, the definition of which is explained by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson in his book, “When Elephants Weep:The Emotional Lives of Animals”
Anthropocentrism treats animals as inferior forms of people and denies what they really are. It reflects a passionate wish to differentiate ourselves from animals, to make animals other, presumably in order to maintain humans at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy and the food chain. The notion that animals are wholly other from humans, despite our common ancestry, is more irrational than the notion that they are like us.
I understand this to mean that we must not confuse differences in appearance, language, behaviors, natural habitat with inferiority. Other species are not inferior, but rather different than the species to which we belong…the species of humans. Human interests and progress can never be used as a justification for treating other species as “less than”. The moment we believe that other species are inferior and here for our own purposes, is the moment we open the door to all manner of abuse.
We can also say that a dog has different characteristics than a cat, or a lion or a fish, or a bird…… but none is superior or inferior to the other. Any member of one particular species may prefer the characteristics and behaviors of a pig over a cow, or a turkey over a wombat or a beaver over a horse, but that does not mean that said preference automatically bestows either inferiority or superiority on any particular group of animals.
Speciesism, however, does differentiate between dogs and pigs, between kittens and lambs. Speciesism includes favoring some nonhuman species over others. This is evident in the language we use to describe other species. A dog is loyal and a pig is lazy. Cats are clean and birds are dirty and disease ridden. We refer to chauvinistic men as pigs and women as bird brains. It is no wonder that we cannot disabuse ourselves of the cruel notion that farmed animals, for instance, have no redeeming value and therefore are unworthy of our respect, our attention and our help. In other words, it is okay to eat them, even though we have no nutritional need whatsoever for their flesh and secretions. And if it is A-okay to eat them, then why would we, as humans, need to consider the undeniable truth that we have no right to use them for any purpose, let alone torture them as we do? Let’s not look at the man behind the curtain because it might offend our sensibilities and cause us to acknowledge our complicity in said horror.
Based on this observation, it is easy to understand why Animal Rights Activists are campaigning for the end to what is referred to as speciesism. In doing so, we acknowledge the rights of other species and we seek to return to them, agency over their own lives. We advocate for an end to callously using them for what passes as food, for clothing and furniture, for household accessories and cleaning products, for personal care products, for entertainment, and medical research. We demand nothing less than letting them be by not breeding them, by not imprisoning them, by not stealing their families from them, by not abusing them and by not murdering them.
World Day for the End of Speciesism Vigil held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This past Saturday on August 22nd, in many cities around the world, animal rights advocates attended the World Day for the End of Speciesism. In my hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mouvement de Libération-Liberation Mouvement organized this day long event which included various lectures given by experts in the field, a vigil at the Mont Royal Metro, a march to Parc Lafontaine, followed by plant based food and a movie under the stars. I was fortunate and honored to bear witness at the vigil and march with some very good vegan friends of mine. Thanks and kudos to Karen Messier, Mélanie Bernier and Jimmy Videle and new friend Damian Kube. Other vegan friends who could not attend were there with us in spirit.
What can I tell you about the atmosphere, the mood, the energy at this 100 or so strong vigil which took place in a little square between the Mont Royal Metro Station and Mont Royal Avenue? I am not a religious person, but if I were I would say that the little square felt like a holy place. Among the advocates there was reverence for the animals who suffer incalculably at our hands, as well as sadness for those we could not save. There was determination to pave the way for a better world for those not yet born. And yes, there was even compassion and respect for the crowd of unseeing people.
It was the perfect place to hold a vigil because there were many passersby, some coming out of the subway station, some walking along the streets and others filing off buses. Some were curious, some bemused, some seemingly uninterested as they passed by with blank looks on their faces, either looking directly at us or with their heads down, as if the sidewalk beneath their feet held the answer to life. And of course there is always the odd defiant comment, “Vivre le Boeuf” (Long Live Beef) from those who do not want to acknowledge what, in their hearts, they already know.
Occasionally there is a light that shines upon the consciousness of people who really do not know of the abuse suffered by animals in all of our various death for profit industries. It is then that a picture is truly worth a thousand words. On the faces of these people watching a video, we see reflected in their eyes, their expressions and body language, the very real horror farmed animals endure from the moment they are born until the day they die.
Annie’s Vegan View
The lives of other species are as precious to them as our lives are to us.
Other species are not inferior to us simply because they have different characteristics.
Species who enjoy special status in various human cultures around the world are not superior to those who don’t.
Equality means fairness and is, in essence, humble.
Human humility can lead to freedom for all species and, by extension, for us.
May all beings be happy and free.