Veganism is inherently against speciesism. But what does the term speciesism actually mean and how can we overcome it? In this post, we will explore the definition of speciesism and how it pervades our culture.
What is speciesism?
The term speciesism refers to the belief that one species is of greater importance than another. In practical terms, this is when members of one species are treated as morally more important than members of another species.
An example of speciesism in practice is when an individual finds the abuse of dogs abhorrent but feels no remorse when eating a beef burger which caused multiple cows to suffer and be slaughtered for its production.
Why vegans are against speciesism
Vegans are against speciesism because it is irrational and leads to all kinds of negative consequences. Speciesism is analogous to all other forms of irrational prejudice and discrimination such as sexism, racism and ageism. Let’s consider why…
Rational thinking individuals these days would agree that it is morally wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of certain characteristics such as age, race and gender. Amongst rational thinking individuals, there is a general consensus that humans should be treated equally by virtue of our common qualities which make us worthy of moral consideration.
Qualities such as skin colour, age and gender, for example, are not considered to be morally relevant when making ethical decisions. This is because it would be irrational to make ethical decisions on the basis of arbitrary preferences.
One of the essential qualities for consideration when it comes to weighing moral decisions is sentience. In simple terms, this is the capacity to experience feelings such as pleasure and pain. This forms the basis of our interests – i.e., having the interest of avoiding pain.
Because animals of all kinds have been scientifically proven to be sentient beings, it is the vegan argument that their interests should be considered equally alongside those of human beings when weighing moral decisions. Anything other than this is speciesism.
Vegans believe there are no justifiable grounds on which the interests of humans can be considered above those of another species. This is because there are no other morally relevant characteristics that would justify favouring the interests of humans over animals.
One might argue that rationality sets humans apart from animals. However, this is indefensible both because there is plenty of evidence of rationality being demonstrated in various other species and because this argument would suggest also that intellectually disabled humans were less worthy of moral consideration.
How speciesism pervades our culture
Speciesism is deeply ingrained in our culture and is manifest in a number of ways. From childhood, humans are typically conditioned to believe that some species are worthy of compassion and care while others are not.
While chickens, cows and pigs are food, mice and rats are pests and dogs and cats are pets or friends. This is entirely based on arbitrary human preferences which even vary across different human cultures.
These beliefs are spread, whether intentionally or not, by parents, teachers and the media. As such, most people come to believe without questioning it that the needs, interests and desires of humans outweigh those of other species.
Speciesism leads to many irrational and harmful behaviours in our society. One example is when the flesh of chickens, pigs and cows is served at fundraisers aiming to raise money to help abandoned cats or dogs. This just doesn’t make sense. From an ethical perspective, it is analogous to pushing a toddler over deliberately in a rush to help an elderly person cross the road.
How can we overcome speciesism?
The first step to overcoming speciesism is to become aware of it. Then, one must make a conscious decision to treat all humans and animals equally, with compassion, dignity and respect. Animals have right to live free from human exploitation and cruelty.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle is fundamental in overcoming speciesism as an individual. Collectively, we must spread knowledge and awareness of speciesism so that we may one day rise above these beliefs and practices as a society.