Are You a Speciesist? (and How to Tell!)
Am I a speciesist?
This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves.
If you believe in the idea of equality, this question is going to be very important to you.
Just as our slave-owning forefathers were racist but did not examine their ethics long enough to realize they were not following the idea of equality, is it possible that we ourselves are speciesist and are not examining our ethics long enough to realize we are not following the idea of equality?
If you don't know what speciesism is, not only will this post explain what speciesism is, but it will show you if you are speciesist or not.
I was one of the worst speciesists. Thankfully, I have thought about this long enough to see why this was wrong and what I must do to change.
Speciesism is “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species”
When we ignore the most important interests of other species for the sake of the trivial interests of our own species, we are being speciesist.
Similar to how the racist uses non-morally relevant criteria of skin color to discriminate against others, the speciesist uses non-morally relevant criteria of species membership to discriminate against others.
It might be pointed out that almost all people of our generation are speciesist. There is almost no denying this fact. I must remind you that the status quo bias of racism and sexism were once majority viewpoints.
If we simply voted based on majority viewpoints, we would have to declare speciesism as perfectly legitimate. However, the exact same thing could be said for the racism and sexism of our forefathers.
So, clearly, public opinion is a very poor way of determining what is ethical. This also fails to mention that the people who would be voting, directly benefit from voting in favor of racism or speciesism.
If the slave owner can profit from slavery, why would he ever vote against it? If the speciesist can profit from speciesism, why would he ever vote against it?
Thankfully, justice does not depend on public opinion at any one specific point in time in the development of the human conscience. We are all poor judges of the moral validity of speciesism precisely because we stand to gain from exploiting animals.
It is only a person who has an unbiased viewpoint that can act ethically in any given situation. It is only a person who breaks down the barriers of race, sex, and species membership and gives equal consideration of interests to all members involved that can make a truly ethical decision.
When we ignore the interests of someone because they happen to have black skin we are being biased in our decision making. When we ignore the interests of animals because they happen to be an animal we are being biased in our decision making.
One might think that the negative consequences that result from racist viewpoints vastly outweigh the negative consequences that result from speciesist viewpoints. In reality, based on the sheer combined suffering that comes as a result of speciesism, speciesism is quite likely responsible for more suffering than racism and sexism combined(1)At the height of the slave trade there were a few million slaves. There are currently around 60 Billion (with a B) animals going through factory farms like this every single year. . Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history.
At the individual level, human suffering is more important than animal suffering, but when sheer cumulative suffering is looked at, speciesism is one of the most heinous evils the world has ever known.
Equality - Do You Really Believe In It?
Just about everyone living today believes in the idea of equality.
Most people would be offended to be labeled a racist or a sexist because they believe so passionately in the idea of equality. As we will see, these same people are usually completely oblivious that they claim to follow the tenants of equality and yet are some of the worst offenders.
It is literally impossible, from a logical standpoint, for a Christian to believe in equality and to also be a speciesist at the same time.
If someone said they were against sexism but they thought racism was valid, you would hopefully knock some sense into them and explain that the two concepts go hand in hand and that both use an arbitrary criterion to discriminate against others. The exact same logic applies to speciesism.
Logically speaking, we cannot be against racism or sexism and yet be in favor of speciesism. It simply is not logically possible. Yet this is world we live in.
We might be thinking to ourselves that racism and sexism apply to people while speciesism applies to animals and therefore they are not logically equivalent. We might be telling ourselves at this point that, since animals are different from humans, it is possible to be against racism and sexism and yet still be in favor of speciesism.
Yet as I stated, it is impossible to believe in equality and yet still be a speciesist. So why is it impossible to believe in equality and yet still be speciesist?
There are many humans who are not self-aware and yet we still include them in our circle of moral consideration. There are also many humans whose mental functions do not match that of a chimpanzee and yet we still grant the idea of “equality” to those human beings.
For example, infant humans are not self-aware and they do not have the intelligence or the language capabilities of a chimpanzee. In fact, a chimpanzee is much more intelligent than an infant human. Chimpanzees are also self-aware while human infants are not. The same concept applies to severely mentally challenged humans or humans with late stage dementia.
Going even further:
While some humans had the potential to become fully self-aware but simply did not become self-aware, there are also some humans who do not even have the potential to become fully self-aware.
We are therefore left with a dilemma; why do we include some humans in our moral circle, even though they do not meet the morally relevant criteria to be included in our moral circle, while we exclude some animals who meet the morally relevant criteria from being included in our moral circle?
In other words, some animals are capable of suffering more than some humans, and yet these same animals are treated as “things” while these same humans are covered in our circle of moral compassion.
At this point we are faced with a choice; we can either follow through with our belief in “equality” and start to include animals in our moral circle, or we can drop the belief in equality and claim that humans are just always more important than animals.
If we drop the belief in equality, then we are no different from a racist who discriminates against African Americans simply because they have black skin.
Since becoming a racist or a speciesist is not a morally valid answer to the dilemma, the morally valid answer to the dilemma is to start including animals in our moral circle.
If we are serious about the idea of equality, then there can be no excuse for failing to take into account the suffering of animals.
If we wish to protect children, the mentally handicapped, and those with late stage dementia from harm (which all Christians should), then we must also protect animals from harm as well.
To discriminate against the chimpanzee simply because he is a chimpanzee is just as morally disgusting as it is to discriminate against the African American because he has black skin. There is simply no morally justified reason for failing to take into account the suffering of any of God’s creation.
Since animals are capable of suffering just like we are, we must consider their like interests for our like interests. To exclude animals from our moral circle is to no longer believe in the idea of equality which is to put ourselves on the same level playing field as a racist and a sexist.
Are You Being Logically Consistent?
If you believe in the idea of equality, then it is a logical necessity for you to be against speciesism. If you are against racism, if you are against sexism, then you must be against speciesism. It is a logical necessity.
The only way around this is to either be illogical or it is to be inconsistent by choosing some arbitrary dividing line that is no less morally disgusting than what our racist and sexist ancestors did.
If we are being consistent, there is simply no way to be against sexism but to not be against racism. If we are being consistent, there is simply no way to be against racism but to not be against speciesism. They all stand or they all fall.
Either we do believe in the idea of equality or we do not believe in the idea of equality. As an enlightened individual and the fact that you are reading this in this day and age, I know almost certainly that you believe in the idea of equality.
It is time to start being consistent and to recognize the mistake our ancestors made and to prevent ourselves from making those same awful and excruciatingly painful mistakes.
There is absolutely no excuse for not taking into account the suffering of an animal. These are God's children just as much as we are God's children.
Are There Morally Valid Differences Between Humans and Animals?
It should be remembered that there are morally valid differences between humans and animals that make it so that humans are worth more than animals (Matthew 10:29-31).
The fact that humans are more self-aware than animals makes it so that if equal rights conflict, such as when the right of a human to go on living conflicts with the right of an animal to go on living, the right of the human might take precedence over the right of the animal.
This should be quite clear because of the fact that humans are more self-aware and have a greater ability to remember the past and to ponder the future.
On the flip side, it should also be clear that we cannot override the rights of an animal for trivial human interests. If I think a rabbit’s foot is lucky, I should not go and cut off a rabbit’s foot because his interest in having a foot and living is vastly more important than my interest in having a good luck charm.
I Was a Speciesist (and You Probably Are Too)
This should be fairly obvious but this starts to have some moral implications for how we live our lives. Without knowing it, we fail to practice the idea of equality on a daily basis. As a normal twenty-first century inhabitant, I was one of the worst offenders.
Just as my racist ancestors used the non-morally relevant criteria of skin color to discriminate against others, I was using the non-morally relevant criteria of species membership to discriminate against others.
In other words, with one hand I would pet dogs and cats, and with the other hand I would use my fork to cut into an equally sentient animal. What I did not know at the time is that I was personally responsible for sending animals that were just as sentient as our dogs and cats through factory farms.
As a normal twenty first century person, I saw no distinction between going to the grocery store to buy carrots compared to going to the grocery store and buying chicken. It takes an equal amount of effort to buy the carrots compared to the chicken.
From my old viewpoint, the only difference was that I dislike vegetables and I love meat.
Although speciesism may be defined as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species”, this is not actually the most common form of speciesism. The most common form of speciesism today is from people who love on dogs and cats and yet send equally sentient animals through factory farms.
The similarity is that we have an “in” group and an “out” group. Subconsciously we create two groups of animals; those we love, and those we use. Humans, dogs, and cats are all in the “in” group. Any animal that we can profit from using is automatically allocated to the “out” group.
Although there is no logical distinction between a dog compared to the animals we eat, we try our best to think there is. For example, pigs are smarter than dogs and yet we are sending pigs through factory farms.
If intelligence were morally relevant, it would be the dog that should be going through the factory farm before the pig should.
If we treated other animals the way we treat our own dogs and cats, then speciesism would be a minor issue. Unfortunately, the reality is that the way we treat our own dogs and cats is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from how we treat other animals.
Instead of speciesism being some minor issue, speciesism has turned into the greatest and most complex social justice issue the world will likely ever have to deal with.
The reason speciesism is wrong is because if I just happened to be born as an animal, I would not want to be discriminated against. The reason racism is wrong is becaues if I just happened to be born with black skin, I would not want to be discriminated against. It really is that simple.
Racists claim that if someone just happens to be born with black skin they should be discriminated against. Speciesist’s claim that if someone just happens to be born as an animal, usually a particular type of animal, they should be discriminated against.
Just as Caucasian male humans tended to get the luxuries of life while women and minorities were discriminated against, dogs and cats tend to get the luxuries of life while other animals are discriminated against. As people who believe in the idea of equality, Christians must fight even more strongly against discrimination.
Discrimination against God’s creation, including discrimination against animals, is just as unacceptable as discrimination is against humans.
Although racism was natural and commonplace to our ancestors (even though we are all humans which made it absurd), and although speciesism is natural and commonplace to our generation, like all God ordained things, racism and speciesism must come toppling down.
God's most precious creation (humans) must put an end to all forms of discrimination including racism and speciesism.
Are You a Speciesist?
We each must play our part in practicing what we preach. If we preach equality, which all people who believe that racism and sexism is wrong do, then we must practice what we preach by also speaking out against speciesism. By refusing to speak out against speciesism, we are making the exact same error in logic that our racist and sexist ancestors made.
Imagine that you lived a couple hundred years ago where everyone around you was extremely racist but you had the foreknowledge to know just how ignorant racism is. Would you do something to stop it?
What Would You Do?
What would you do?
Would you try to keep your mouth shut and just let the status quo continue with its racist ways?
Or would you scream from every roof top until every single person in the entire world understood the ignorance of racism?
This is the dilemma we will be faced with as we learn just how terrible speciesism is for God’s children.