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Dec 7, 2015: Speciesism, the dos and don'ts

Speciesism as a concept has been gaining popularity of late, mostly among folks like myself who are into animal rights and/or veganism. The concept, as you can probably guess, refers to discriminating on the basis of an animal's species - ie. having one set of rules for humans, and another for other animals, or having one set of rules for cats or dogs, and another for cows. Many speciesists believe that it is OK for some animals to suffer simply because they happen to be cows, pigs, chickens, fish, etc. Many also believe that the above-mentioned animals' sense of pain, emotion, etc. is not as strong and/or important as ours, so it's ok kill them for food, or that, to put it bluntly, their lives simply matter less than say our pets' lives or our own. These days, whenever someone online makes excuses for animal suffering, there will most likely be someone who calls that person a speciesist, and, for the most part, rightfully so.

In my mind, there are two issues worth mentioning regarding speciesism, - the first is how we as human beings see ourselves in regards to other animal species. At this point I'd have to confess, that using a strict definition of the concept, I too could be considered a speciesist. Yes, the "effa" in "effaism" stands for "equality and fairness for all animals", but this does not mean that I believe that humans and the animals we share our planet with are exactly the same. For better or worse, it is much more special to be human. Although you'd never guess it from what's going on in the world right now, humans are (generally) more intelligent than other animals, and only we have the capacity to change our planet for the better, or, if we continue down the path we're on, to destroy it completely. This is a lot of power, a lot of responsibility. Unlike other animals, we are the guardians of this planet, - and it is up to us to create a harmonious world in which we can all coexist.

The keyword here is "guardians", not abusers. This is a very important distinction, as it prevents the arrogant abuse of animals that has been part of our daily lives for centuries. Those who feel that we have some kind of right to do with animals as we see fit should be reminded of the following: Yes, we are very different from other animals, but the things that we have in common are so important, that they are reason enough to respect these animals' lives, and to find ways to harmoniously coexist with them, instead of using and abusing them for our benefit. Cows, pigs, chickens, etc., although not human, have emotions, can get depressed, feel fear, and wants to live just like we do. It is therefore unethical (and, for most of the world's population, unnecessary) to kill these animals and to make them suffer. While someone might not embrace the concept of speciesism, they will most likely be able to understand this simple reasoning. This is how we build bridges to empathy. At least for some people.

The second issue worth contemplating regarding speciesism is why we value our pets more than we value other animals. This, in my opinion, is true speciesism. We, as a society, have chosen some animals to be on our "do not harm" list, - ones that we have gotten to know, and to love, and to share our homes with. There is nothing wrong with putting animals on the "do not harm" list, but we should indeed question why dogs or cats are on there, while other animals that can be equally caring, and as intelligent (or in some cases even more so), end up on the unfortunate "eat or ignore" list. While we can hypothesize until the cows come home, the truth of the matter is that this is fairly random. The thing to remember is that it really is easy to get as attached to a loving pig, a calf, a rat, a turkey, etc. as it is to a cat, for example. If you need proof of this, just do a simple Youtube search and you will see that there are plenty of people that are very happy sharing their lives with these animals. While you don't necessarily have to join their ranks and adopt a baby pig, this will hopefully make you realize that it is as unacceptable to kill these animals as it is others we have grown to love.

The last thing I want to mention is how some animals rights activists use racism and sexism as the logical precursors to speciesism. I have done this myself. When doing this, however, you can't just throw all these concepts out there and expect people to magically make the connection between them. You have to walk people through it, remembering that most people will initially NOT get the connection between the first two and the last concept. The fact that racism and sexism still exist proves that many people in the world can't even get around treating their own species well, let alone other species. Empathizing with the latter can be pretty hard for some, especially when someone still sees certain animals as food instead of sentient beings. This is why it becomes doubly important to 1) make people aware that animals do suffer, 2) that a lot of this suffering is because of our diet, clothing, and entertainment, and, most importantly, that 3) there is a healthy meat-free diet that we can easily embrace to stop this suffering. Even if someone believes that humans are (in whatever way) superior to other animals, they can still embrace the above mentioned concepts and do a lot less harm.

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