For thousands of years, we humans have been murdering animals for fashion, food, and sport. First for survival, but now in the 21st century, is this really necessary? With the growth of social media and accessible internet and news outlets, our actions against animals are being widely questioned. We believe animals were placed on this earth for our exclusive use; to satisfy our hunger and carnal desires. We continuously murder over 56 billion land animals per year and, heinously this number does not include marine animals. But why is it that even with the advancing technology and knowledge we have gained about the possibilities of living solely on a plant based diet and our ability to create faux fur and skins, that we choose to steal the life of another sentient being?
Speciesism. First coined by animal rights activist, Richard Ryder and later popularised by Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, the word speciesism is the assumption of human superiority ultimately leading to the exploitation of animals. This is also condemned by animal activists as the same social bias manifested in the form of sexism and racism ; just as racists don’t take notice of the interests of the members of the group they oppress, speciesist’s do not consider the interests or moral worth of nonhuman animals, holding an irrational bias against nonhuman animals and in some cases valuing some species over others. For example, some may favour a dog over a pig simply because it belongs to a different species. However, it is important to note that those who oppose speciesism do not strictly believe that we should treat all animals in the same way. The main point is that we give equal consideration to their interests on the grounds that nonhuman animals are subject to lives that are experienced and lived[i].
Speciesism is a prevailing occurrence and often arises without notice; a learned, and aberrant bias. For example, a baby and a cat are trapped in a house fire. You can only save one, which will you choose to save? Most people will not even consider the relative moral status of the cat and the child relevant to their choice. Our brainwashed view on this would be to immediately save the child as it is human like us; society would condemn anyone who delayed this reaction in order to consider the correct moral choice.
Although, isn’t it only normal for a parent to favour their own child? Well yes, most parents hold a bias towards their own children’s interests against that of another. For instance, a child is competing in a javelin competition, a parent would want their own child to win even if that meant consequentially the other children fail. This sort of ‘favouritism’ feels correct and natural, and thus society would be more than concerned about the child’s welfare if the parent were to wish good over other children rather than to their own. If you are willing to accept that concern over our own children is morally acceptable, then you may feel inclined to favour other humans, unrelated to you rather than members of other species. However, what if we were to look at the burning house through analogy again, but this time the baby has severe brain damage and the cat has normal mental capabilities. Most would maintain their previous decision to save the baby as they have strong inclinations towards their own species and would still continue to say it would be immoral to save the cat over the baby. However, we are asking ourselves all of the incorrect questions when facing this analogy, as said by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, “A fully grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant baby of a day, a week or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would avail? The question is not, Can they reason?, nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?“.
When there is a choice between species, indeed it always seems that the intuitively right answer would be to save a human being, even if the human were to have extremely restricted mental capabilities. Although, our intuition is, to a degree, misguided due to our nature of holding an irrational bias towards our own species. Thus, the cats’ interests in continued existence need to be given adequate consideration, and if one is willing to kill a cat in such a situation, they should be absolutely crystal clear why they would not treat a baby with inferior or equal mental capacities in the exact same way.
Often in attempts to justify speciesism, the argument that animals do not respect each other is used. This concept details that clearly animals do not show respect to each other as they hunt, kill and eat each other. Wolves kill sheep, so why should we be concerned about killing the sheep? Animals such as wolves are not rational beings and are not in the position to pause and think through the decision to kill the sheep; they act on survival. We, however, are rational beings and can make rational decisions. Through science and technology, we have learned that we can survive without fish, meat, eggs and milk. We can live solely and healthily survive on plant-based foods as we have the digestive system for such foods; an animal like a wolf or lion cannot.
Animals are not rational beings, however, we as humans are. It is not appropriate that we adopt their actions to justify our own. Surely, if we are using their actions to justify our own, we should consider every one of their traits and actions to be able to properly justify our argument? If they are eating other animals then we should. If they are abandoning, or eating their unwanted offspring, then we should. If they are physically fighting over a mate then we should. If they are lying under a tree in the rain then we should strip off our clothes, sell our houses, get rid of all of our possessions and lie under a tree too. It is only when we do these things, that we can rightfully ‘justify’ killing other animals to eat and compare ourselves to non-rational beings.
The interests of nonhuman animals are crucial to an anti-speciesist as they clearly have interests. A rabbit has an interest in not feeling pain, unlike a stone, or dirt and therefore anti-speciesist believe that consideration of others interests doesn’t depend on the ability the animal has, but simply that fact that they have interests. The most prevalent being their capacity to feel pain and their ability to suffer; a precondition to having interests at all. Given that we know all non-human animals have this capacity, it hints that we should, therefore, all be vegetarian or possibly vegan.
A vegan diet and lifestyle have been scientifically proven to have multiple health benefits for humans. A study published in the Journal of Urology showed that men with early stage prostate cancer who make intensive changed in their diet and lifestyle may stop or, in some cases, reverse the progression of their illness. Moreover, animals fats and proteins have been shown in studies to raise a person’s risk of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a number of other life threatening conditions and illnesses. In fact, scientists have found that the proteins and fats in cows milk are very different to that of a humans milk, thus leading some experts, such as nutritionist Bethany Eaton, to believe that adult mammals are simply not made to consume milk, especially from a different species. It is neither normal or natural to be doing so. Professor Jonathan Brostoff, a leading authority on allergies and food intolerance further supports this point and has said that humans are not ‘programmed’ to drink milk past infancy, ” It is only in Western Europe that we can tolerate milk as adults, due to a genetic mutation.” Additionally, he has been quoted stating that we do not need milk in our diet and that we do not miss vital nutrients without it in our diets, ” Animals do not drink milk after being weaned, and they manage without it. You can find calcium and the vitamins in milk in other areas of the diet or by taking a supplement.”
Again, leading a vegan lifestyle not only benefits our health, but it prevents mass murder; individually saving up to 95 animals per year and thousands more throughout a lifetime. In the US alone, 100 Billion marine animals are murdered for food per year; more than 10 times the human population of the earth. Moreover, the raising and keeping of animals until slaughter is extremely disgusting, cruel and inhumane. Often the animals are given so little space that they cannot move comfortably, consequentially leading to the animals having to live in filthy, faeces ridden pens or cages. Factory farm animals are fed with antibiotics with the intent to biologically force the animals to grow much faster than they naturally would in order to slaughter them quicker; therefore, increasing profit. Research has shown that factory farms’ widespread use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria that could, therefore, threaten human life. Additionally, the manipulation of growth can cause some animals to grow so large that their legs can no longer support their weight, thus leading them to suffer from starvation or dehydration as they cannot reach the little food and water that is provided. After this torture, heartbreakingly, animals are packed up and shipped off to the slaughterhouse where they will have their throats unmercifully slit, often while still fully conscious. If we were to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle, the likelihood of an antibiotic resistant bacteria growing decreases drastically and allows thousands of innocent lives to be freed.
Along side being beneficial for both humans and animals, a vegan lifestyle is extremely helpful and constructive in regards to the most important aspect of our lives, the earth. With rising temperatures, rising sea levels and melting polar ice, climate change is the most important but difficult challenge facing the future of the human race. The livestock industry contributes a massive amount to the increasing degradation of our earth. According to the United Nations Foods and Agricultural Organization, livestock contributes an enormous 18% of all greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere and an even more staggering 64% of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rains and the acidification of our ecosystem. Furthermore, the livestock industry is a key factor in the worlds increasing water use; accounting for over 10% of global human water use, mostly for the irrigation of feed crops. It also accounts for the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, ‘dead’ zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and many other environmental issues. The major source of a plethora of these issues being the sheer amount and potency of the waste produced by livestock, as well as the antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilisers and pesticides used for the feed crops. Without the gluttonous desire for meat, these issues would be drastically improved, and in turn, would postpone or even slowly reverse the damage we have already inflicted on our earth.
In conclusion, speciesism is unjust and leads to a plethora of issues for both humans and animals and the environment. It is clear that animals have the capacity to feel pain and suffer, just as humans. By eating animals we are purposefully inflicting pain and torture on innocent beings and, subsequently, are damaging ourselves and the environment we live in. The obvious answer to this on going, the controversial argument is upholding a vegetarian or vegan diet and lifestyle. This would not only eliminate speciesism, but would save countless innocent lives, human and animal, and also heal the world we demand life from.
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[i] Warburton, N. (1999) Philosophy: The basics. 3rd edn. New York: Routledge.