Tag Archives: speciesism

Speciesism and Veganism: Transcending Politics and Religion

I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World — a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

This article was originally published November 10, 2011 on Care2.

Although this may come as a surprise to some, there are ethical vegans across the political spectrum and in every major religion. Veganism transcends politics and religion because it is based on the simple matter of rejecting a particular form of prejudice: speciesism.

Speciesism, racism, sexism, and other prejudices rely on a morally irrelevant criterion (in this case, species) as the basis on which to deny the interests of an individual belonging to a different ‘group’, even if those interests are more significant than one’s own. As such, speciesism is simply a different form of the same underlying wrong at the foundation of all prejudices. It really doesn’t matter which morally irrelevant criteria we base our prejudice on – sex, race, skin color, age, sexual orientation, species – it is ethically wrong to use such arbitrary criteria to deny the rights of others.

Despite the cultural evolution that has brought humanity a long way from the ‘kill or be killed’ mentality of prehistoric times, the world today remains profoundly speciesist. The extreme prejudice of our cultural speciesism reaches far beyond disregarding an individual’s right to avoid persecution. It extends as far as absolute indifference to the right to be free from unjust imprisonment, mental and emotional torment, extreme physical violence in the form of mutilations and the infliction of injury and death. Owned as chattel property, with no laws to protect their most fundamental rights, those who are not human are condemned to a life with no protection against the brutal and unremitting oppression from those who control their world: Us.

Animal exploitation is perfectly legal and socially acceptable everywhere in the world, despite the emergence of satisfactory alternatives to virtually all uses (not to mention those yet to be developed, once our society rejects our current speciesist practices). Although there is a growing movement drawing attention to the many brutal rights violations routinely carried out against nonhumans being used for human gain, we continue to confine, injure and kill animals of all kinds, maintaining unnecessary, antiquated exploitative practices for food production, research, fashion, and even entertainment.

The ubiquitous nature of this extreme cultural prejudice explains why speciesism (and the proper moral response to it: veganism) is unrelated to political leaning. Although social justice movements generally arise from the left, there are some political conservatives who are principled vegans, while some on the political left, sadly, continue to scoff at issues of animal rights. In fact, it is remarkable that the vast majority of those on the political left choose to remain uninformed and to deliberately ignore these glaring justice issues, including their own participation in practices that would be rightly abhorred by anyone in touch with their conscience.

As it is with politics, so it is with religion. Christians were strongly divided over human chattel slavery in antebellum America, with slavery proponents using Bible quotes to defend their “God given” right to own slaves. Opponents of slavery used different Bible quotes to point out that slavery was condemned by God. And so it is with regard to animal rights today. Those on both sides of the issue use quotes from religious texts either to justify unnecessary killing, or to validate the vegan ethic of nonviolence.

Eastern religions are no exception. Many of today’s Buddhists attempt to justify animal use, unnecessary killing, and speciesism by pointing to loopholes in the various contradictory writings about the Buddha’s teaching of universal compassion for all sentient beings. Other Buddhists choose instead to practice and promote veganism as the rational response to the essential Buddhist teaching of nonviolence. Presumably, having been liberated from their own speciesism, vegan Buddhists are able to see through such prejudiced rationalizations, and recognize the higher authority in the truth the Buddha was apparently trying to impart to his students.

(In other words, if the Buddha wasn’t a vegan, as some people claim, then he wasn’t living up to his own teachings, which state very clearly that reverence for sentient life is a fundamental principle of a spiritual existence.)

In any case, it is clear that politics and religion are irrelevant to rejecting our common prejudice against fellow sentient beings. Regardless of whether we are conservative, liberal, leftist, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or fall under any other category, we have the choice to acknowledge and reject the underlying cultural speciesism that we have all been conditioned to accept.

In fact, one might say that a deep-seated awareness of the essential rights and needs held by all sentient beings is the common ground that we every one of us shares.

Despite our many differences and divergences, underneath religion, politics, worldviews, interests, personalities, shape, size, sex, color, and even species, underneath it all, every single one of us is made from flesh and blood. Or, as the Buddha himself is said to have taught:

“All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?”

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Filed under care2, politics, religion, speciesism, Veganism

BANNED from The Atlantic Monthly

I posted the following comment (in italics below) on this linked article. The Atlantic Monthly deleted it and blocked me from posting on the site. Just more evidence that speciesist prejudice is just as strong today (at least at The Atlantic) as racial prejudice was in the 1700s and 1800s in the US.

A reasonable acid test as to whether you, regardless of your race, would have freed your slaves in the antebellum South is to ask whether you’re vegan for moral reasons now, or, if you’re not vegan, whether you would consider going vegan for life.

If you’re not an ethical vegan and wouldn’t even consider it, you almost certainly would not have freed your slaves in the antebellum South. It is very easy for most people to go vegan today. It was significantly more difficult (much more of a sacrifice, anyway) for most slave owners to free their slaves prior to 1865.

If you are an ethical vegan or would seriously consider it today (especially after learning why and how!), then you *might* have freed your slaves prior to 1865.

I look forward to the day when we’re as disgusted by speciesism as any other prejudice.

Edit to add: Someone asked if this comment was the only reason I was banned, or were there contributing factors.  The answer is yes, it had to be the only reason; and no, there were no other possible contributing factors.  It was the first and only comment I made in at least a few weeks (if not several weeks) on The Atlantic.  When I have commented on Atlantic articles in the past, the comments have certainly been no “worse” than this one, and I’ve never had a comment deleted by The Atlantic in the past.

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Filed under racism, speciesism

Banned from The Huffington Post

Update: As of Monday, June 28, 2010, my account has been reactivated at The Huffington Post. See this blog post for more details.

Interestingly, The Huffington Post banned me from commenting on their site this morning, June 26, 2010, after I signed up last night to post two comments in the article entitled, Meat or No Meat: Tell Us What You Think and Why.

I am re-posting my comments here to let readers see what apparently qualifies at “HuffPo” for “abusive, off-topic, excessive foul language” or other violations of their comment policy.

My first comment was the following:

An argument against human chattel slavery:

99.999% of our uses of human slaves are unnecessary by any coherent concept of the word necessary. 99% of our uses of human chattel slaves harm them. Unnecessary harm is morally wrong. Therefore, 99% of our uses of human slaves are morally wrong.

The same argument against nonhuman chattel slavery:

99.999% of our uses of animals are unnecessary by any coherent concept of the word necessary. 99% of our uses of animals harm them. Unnecessary harm is morally wrong. Therefore, 99% of our uses of animals are morally wrong.

All of the arguments for animal use can be applied with equal force and cogency to the use of human chattel slaves. When we defend animal use, we necessarily defend human chattel slavery.

Human chattel slavery benefitted many people greatly throughout human history, but 99.999% of it was not necessary; therefore morally wrong. The exact same argument holds for animal use.

Go vegan.

To which a user named “SusanElizabeth1949” replied:

Your straw man argument that equates use of animals with humans slavery is based on the idea that animals are equal to humans, I think you discover that few humans will buy into that notion.

Most of us find the notion that “A Rat is a Dog is a Boy” to be utterly preposterous.

To which I replied:


There is no straw man fallacy in the argument by analogy, since I am not interpreting or countering a previous argument (the straw man fallacy is an attack on a weaker argument than was presented by an opponent).

Animals are equal to humans in sentience, which is the only characteristic that is relevant to an interest in not being owned as property, enslaved, exploited, harmed, or killed. So for the purposes of the argument above, equating the use of animals with human chattel slavery is valid.

Finally, racism and speciesism are both the same wrong of ignoring morally relevant characteristics, such as sentience, in favor of morally irrelevant characteristics, such as species or race membership. Just as racists find it very difficult to see anything wrong with their racism, speciesists find it very difficult to see anything wrong with their speciesism.

But let’s face it here, logic and consistency hold no weight when there is personal gain to be had from the status quo. We are repeating history: 200 years ago it was human chattel slavery and racism; today it is animal use and speciesism. Slaveholders ignored consistency then as animal exploiters ignore consistency now.

These are the only comments I have ever made on HuffPo. Apparently, one or both of these two comments caused me to be banned from the site without warning.

Although the comments are quite direct in comparing speciesism to racism, and therefore by implication, comparing speciesists to racists, and that might be offensive to people who are not aware of the similarities between the two prejudices, I did explain how they are similar, and the similarity explanation is cogent. Further, the argument I made is highly relevant to the topic, so a claim that the comments were “off-topic” is false. Perhaps they didn’t like the accusation of a lack of clear thinking caused by the perceived opportunity for personal gain, but that is simply another reasonable, and very likely true, point in the argument. I cannot think of how else these comments may have violated HuffPo’s comment policy. Therefore, I cannot understand how these comments, taken together or separately, would trigger such a strong reaction as a banning without warning.

There is one other possibility. Perhaps I was banned because the combination of the cogency of the arguments set forth in the above comments with how deeply prejudiced the moderators and average readers are at HuffPo generated such irrational resentment that they would no longer tolerate the bright light of a cogent and simple argument exposing their ignorance, self-centeredness, and prejudice. In other words, one of HuffPo’s unwritten comment policies is “if the light is too bright, we shut it off”.

One might wonder why I would complain about being banned from commenting on a site when I do not allow comments on this blog. The primary reason I don’t allow comments is that I do not have time to moderate and reply to them adequately. Further, this site is an animal advocacy site in an extremely speciesist society, the purpose of which is to publish a perspective on animal ethics that is widely and intentionally censored in mainstream media. Therefore, if I allowed comments, I would moderate the comments to clearly favor the view that animal exploitation should be abolished. I make no apologies for being “one-sided” for nonhuman animals in a human-dominated world that is so one-sided and downright bigoted against animals.

Back to the comments, if I’m missing anything regarding a legitimate reason for a ban without warning, please send me an email.

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Single Issue Campaigns, Speciesism, and Compartmentalization

Speciesist Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization is the separation of persons (including nonhuman persons), things, ideas, attitudes, or behavior into categories or compartments. Sometimes it is epistemically rational to compartmentalize (e.g. biology); other times it is epistemically irrational to compartmentalize (e.g. race or species prejudice).

Speciesism (like racism, sexism, and heterosexism) is the epistemically irrational prejudice of favoring one or more species over other species without a morally relevant characteristic providing justification. From the standpoint of irrational, unjustified prejudice, ignoring the morally relevant characteristic of intelligence in preventing certain classes of humans from obtaining an education is the same as ignoring the morally relevant characteristic of sentience in exploiting and killing nonhuman animals for food, clothing, research, and entertainment (all of which are unnecessary).

Speciesism is one form of irrational, prejudiced compartmentalization. An example of speciesist compartmentalization is when we pet and love a dog while a pig’s full body and head rotate over a fire pit. Why isn’t it the other way around? Better yet, why don’t we pet and love both the dog and the pig?

Other examples of speciesist compartmentalization are single issue campaigns. Why do we protest and publish “open letters” about fur, but ignore leather? Why do we have high-profile protests against seal “hunts”, aerial “hunts”, and canned “hunts”, but quiet down significantly about fishing and so many other “hunts” (all of which are unjust, one-sided, and cowardly)?

Since single issue campaigns are cases of speciesist compartmentalization themselves, such campaigns obviously reinforce prejudiced compartmentalization. Because of this alone, we should avoid them. If we insist on protesting an animal circus or a fur shop, we should make unequivocal vegan education front and center of the protest. If we publish an “open letter” to Johnny Weir, it should be an open letter to go vegan and reject the exploitation of all animals, not just cute furry ones.

Diseases and Symptoms

In addition to single issue campaigns being counterproductive by strongly reinforcing speciesist compartmentalization and confusing the public (most of “the public” sees the inconsistency better than the activists do), they are useless in that they address the symptoms of speciesism without addressing the disease  of speciesism itself. As such, single issue campaigns, when they are at their “most effective” (a pathetic scene to be sure), act as temporary relief from one of the many symptoms of speciesism. As soon as the campaign is over, things go back to “normal” because there was never any treatment of the underlying disease of speciesism.

The only way to address speciesism as a disease is through vegan education. When people take animal interests seriously enough to embrace veganism, speciesism has been at least mostly eliminated in their case, and they no longer contribute to the thousands of varieties of symptoms. To use a metaphor I used in a far more comprehensive essay on single issue campaigns, Picking the Low Hanging Fruit: What’s Wrong with Single Issue Campaigns?, the tree of speciesism has been cut down for vegans and it no longer produces the “low hanging fruit” that single issue campaigns address: fur, foie gras, animal circus attendance, zoo attendance, and on and on.

Two Paradigm Shifts

There are two paradigm shifts people experience, each one reducing speciesism: first, embracing personal veganism; second, embracing abolitionist principles. Embracing veganism means rejecting speciesism in attitude, thoughts, speech, and behavior. At a minimum, it is avoiding the exploitation of animals and use of animal products in one’s life. Embracing abolitionist principles means rejecting single issue campaigns and welfarism and engaging in vegan education instead. Veganism is the personal manifestation of a commitment to eliminate speciesist prejudice and take animals’ interests seriously. Abolitionism is the public and political manifestation of a commitment to eliminate speciesist prejudice and take animals’ interests seriously.

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Filed under compartmentalization, Single-issue campaigns, speciesism