Thursday, 17 October 2013

Speciesism: The Forgotten Discrimination

I often get good left-wing activists tell me that speciesism isn't a real thing and that it's used as a bullying tactic and that it's actually offensive to human-centric struggles. A lot of people have never heard of speciesism, or don't understand it and even get offended by the use of the term. I'd thought I'd clarify what speciesism is all about in this blog post. Hopefully this will help some people to understand speciesism.

To everyone who accepts speciesism as a genuine term, and especially to those who are anti-speciesist speciesism is one of the general forms of discrimination. Just like sexism is discrimination based on sex, racism is discrimination based on race, speciesism is discrimination based on species. It is the belief that your species is superior to other species. Some people have argued that discrimination can only be applied to people and therefore speciesism is not a general form of discrimination because in their eyes only human beings can be people. This way of thinking is in and of itself speciesist. Some definitions of discrimination do not use the term people, but instead use the term individuals, and that would class all non-human animals as open to discrimination in the form speciesism.

Like all forms of discrimination, the use of the term speciesism has often been wrongly used by both speciesists and anti-speciesists. In my view people discriminate on 2 different bases, through ignorance and through the belief that some individuals or groups of individuals are superior to others. Take racism for example, some people discriminate against immigrants because they wrongly believe that immigrants are taking more state benefits than the taxes they pay. This is factually incorrect, and is ignorance. In my eyes this does not make those people racists, but it does make those individual acts of discrimination racist. If they knew that most immigrants work, pay taxes and might not even be eligible to claim state benefits then they would be less likely to discriminate. A true racist, I would argue, is someone who continues to discriminate even though they are aware of all of the facts because they believe their race is superior to other races. They could (but not always) be persuaded to change their beliefs however. I apply this thinking to speciesism. Just because someone takes part in speciesist acts, it does not automatically make them a speciesist. There is a lot of ignorance about speciesist issues, and the ultimate solution to speciesism is a difficult one (veganism).

All forms of animal exploitation are in fact acts of speciesism, from meat eating to zoos, from animal testing to the fur and leather trades. If you believe it is okay to treat animals in this way, or even that they were put on this earth for this purpose, then you are being speciesist. If you are reading this and you are a meat eater, don't worry I am not calling you a speciesist. The meat industry is a speciesist industry and you are supporting that industry, but how am I to know why you are a meat eater? In a society where from the moment you were born to the day you die animal products are pressured and even forced upon every human being, it can be difficult to know any better. One example of ignorance about a speciesist issue is how the dairy industry hides forced impregnations (in my view, rape) and tearing a calf from it's mother 2 days after the calf is born. I didn't know that even when I was vegetarian. Another example is that some people believe that greyhounds or horses in the racing industry are looked after well, but this is not true - over 300 horses are raced to death every year in the UK, and more than 15,000 greyhounds are put down every year because they are not good enough to race. The speciesist industries put an awful lot of money into advertising to make you unaware of these issues. When you get handed a burger at a takeaway or when you buy a leather jacket you weren't informed of how they were produced, weren't shown footage of the screams of the animals. Ever seen an advert for cheese or milk where they show (often cartoon) cows actually wanting the product for themselves? There is a lot of money put into creating a false image that animals are happy to be exploited for our own indulgence, when the reality is very different.

When people state that the term speciesism is offensive to human-centric struggles I get baffled. I have heard the claim that all struggles have to be fought and won by the groups that are oppressed, (I.E. women's struggle fought for by women, class struggle fought for by the working class, etc.), and that only oppressed groups can liberate themselves. I wonder if this would apply to child abuse, where children usually cannot stand up for themselves, or with other oppressed groups that are not able to liberate themselves. Should we not try to liberate oppressed groups who are not able to liberate themselves? I'm not advocating that people should get involved in direct action and smash up animal laboratories, animal liberation can take legal forms such as vegan outreach as well. In fact, all you have to do to be a part of the anti-speciesism movement is to be vegan, boycott animal industries and value all animals are morally equal to humans. This does not stop you from being involved in human-centric struggles, nor does it stop you from being further involved in the anti-speciesism movement. Often when I take part in animal rights actions I get asked why I am not campaigning about human issues, or even if I care about humans, I question them why they aren't at that moment themselves campaigning on human issues, and that I do in fact also campaign on human issues as well. It is often the person who accuses anti-speciesism activists of not caring about humans that does not campaign on any issues at all.

There is often a hypothetical scenario given to discuss speciesism and animal issues in a philosophical way. Imagine you are on a boat which is sinking due to being too heavy, and that there's a dog and a human on the boat and the only way to stop the boat from sinking is to throw either the dog or the human overboard. Which would you choose? Let's say for arguments sake that it is a young puppy and an elderly human, both of whom have around 10 more years to live. As both species are sentient it is speciesist to favour one species over another in this scenario. Both have the ability to enjoy life and to suffer. Neither are superior to the other, nor more worthy of life.

Here, watch the film Earthlings. It's about our relationship with animals. Vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix (from Gladiator, Walk The Line) narrates it, and vegan musician Moby does the music.

For further info:
Wikipedia page for speciesism:
Speciesism: The Movie:
Earthlings film:


  1. Another excellent article, Jake.

    There are those that argue that non-human animals are people or persons too (see the section on this at but I don't think its necessary for us to regard them as people in order to believe it is wrong to harm or exploit them.

    I would use the term "human supremacist" to describe a true speciesist, i.e. someone who continues to discriminate against other animals, even though they are aware of all of the facts, because they believe the human species is somehow superior to others. In moral and political terms, I don't believe human supremacism is essentially any different, or should be regarded any differently, to white supremacism, male supremacism etc.

    Regarding your last paragraph concerning the boat scenario, I think it could be argued that the dog would be more worthy of life than the human in many circumstances. Say the human in question was David Cameron or Owen Patterson, forinstance!

    1. In that sense you could argue that a vicious dog that attacks every thing that comes near it might be less worth saving than a human who is vegan and kind to all living creatures. I don't know about that.

  2. I think the difference between a vicious dog and someone like David Cameron is that the dog doesn't have the same moral responsibility for its own actions that Cameron does and is likely to have become vicious through illtreatment by humans.

    The "which one would you save, a human or a dog?" story is very often used by speciesists to try to catch animal liberationists out. However, the probability that most people would choose to throw the dog overboard doesn't mean that humans are intrinsically more important than dogs. If I was in that boat and had to choose, forinstance, between my mother and another human being whom I didn't know or wasn't so close to, and I threw that other human over, that wouldn't mean necessarily that my mother was intrinsically more important than the other human, but just that I was emotionally more attached to my mother.

    I would actually like to think though, that if I was in a boat, with a dog and another human, which was sinking due to being overloaded, I would be altruistic enough to throw myself over in order to save both of their lives. There are plenty of humans I know or know of, though, that I would not sacrifice myself to save!

  3. You're right of course, Jude, although it does become rather cumbersome to continually be saying "he or she" in relation to non-human animals that we don't know the sex of.
    With humans it's easier because we can use the word "they" when we don't know the sex of an individual, but, for some reason, that doesn't sound right when used to describe an individual non-human animal. Maybe if we started to use it though, it would become part of the language as it has with humans.