3 definitions of ‘speciesism’ plus a discussion and an infographic

What is speciesism?
What is speciesism? Image by MikeB based on images in the public domain as assessed. Click it for a larger version.
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The reason why I think the word “speciesism” needs to be discussed is because I’ve seen different definitions of it and one of those definitions I believe is misguided and it is the one which Google finds and places at the top of their search results (on December 7, 2022-things change!)

PETA’s definition

This is the one that I agree with. According to this animal welfare organisation which I admire, “Speciesism is a misguided belief that one species is more important than another. This toxic mindset is deeply ingrained in our society, and it results in all kinds of negative consequences”. I could not say it better myself.

Google search result definition

Speciesism (noun) “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals”. A narrower definition.

Peter Singer’s definition

Peter Singer is the author of the ground-breaking book Animal Liberation. He is a fine philosopher. He defined speciesism as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of another species”. His definition is a narrow one as well and I personally disagree with it as does PETA because they say that “it’s also speciesist to treat one animal’s life is more valuable than another’s.”

Discussion

In Google’s presented definition, humans (who are a species of animal, a ‘human-animal’) rate themselves as superior to other species of animal. This is therefore a much narrower definition than the one provided by PETA. It simply compares humans with other animals.

On my understanding of the word, speciesism is a form of animal racism. It is having a prejudiced attitude about certain animals and elevating other animals over those prejudiced species. And it treats humans as another animal species which I believe is correct. Humans need to take a chip of their inflated egos and realise that at heart we are another species of animal.

Let’s look at one are two examples. I feed the birds. When you feed birds and squirrels you attract pigeons. A lot of people don’t like pigeons. The LBC radio presenter, Steve Allen, hates pigeons as do many others.

He intimates that he has deliberately driven over them in his shiny Bentley, which he changes every 3 years, to kill them. He calls them the “rats of the sky”. This is a classic example of speciesism. He will no doubt love puppies and other animals, but he hates pigeons.

But they are both sentient creatures. Pigeons are actually quite intelligent, on a par with the corvid birds such as the crows and ravens. They are great navigators and good survivors judging by their numbers. There is an argument that we should admire them.

Certain species of animal are often the brunt of criticism by people when they are being ‘speciesist’.

As PETA says, speciesism can lead to animal abuse. It often does. Take cats. Some people hate cats and these people sometimes like dogs. Sometimes they will deliberately harm cats and cuddle dogs. Speciesism colours a person’s behaviour.

Speciesism is based on arbitrary human preferences. There is no science or logic behind. There is no fairness behind speciesism. It’s a human emotional response sometimes driven by superstition.

For example, in Africa to this day, a substantial number of people think the devil lives in the cat. And if a cat is black or has a can attached to their head because they been scavenging for food, they’re scared to touch it or go near it because the devil is there in front of them.

The superstition in the south of China that the cooked flesh of a domestic cat has some medicinal properties has resulted in horrible cruelty to hundreds of millions of domestic and stray cats over the years. That superstition leads to speciesism which in turn leads to gross animal cruelty.

Another form of speciesism is when we regard puppies and kittens as adorable companion animals and therefore friends but cows and chickens as food. And we regard rats as vermin and pests. Categorising animals like this is a form speciesism.

Cow farmer in deep emotional bond with one of his bulls

In writing that last short paragraph I can remember a fantastic farmer who makes friends with his cows (click on link above). I’m sure that he is not a very rich farmer 😊. However, for me, he is a fantastic person because he does not indulge in speciesism. He totally upsets that categorisation mentioned in the paragraph above.

Speciesism and how it can lead to animal abuse
Speciesism and how it can lead to animal abuse. Infographic by MikeB at PoC. This is free to use by anyone. Please credit me in the text to the article. Thanks.

It can take strength of mind to reject speciesism. And it certainly takes the ability to stand outside of oneself and look at what one is doing and thinking. You have to objectively assess yourself and your thought processes and ask whether they are logical, fair and moral.

When you do that and fight against any prejudice that you have against certain animals you begin to chip away at any inherent speciesism that you have inside you.

Anybody who is engaged in animal welfare work cannot be speciesist. They have to be completely neutral in their attitude towards all animals. This often not the case regrettably.

They need to treat the ugliest animals in exactly the same way that they treat the most beautiful. The appearance of an animal has nothing to do with how we interact and treat them. It takes self-discipline to get rid of any speciesism that may reside in our brains.

Normally these ideas have been taught to us by our parents. Handed down over the generations. We need to reject those thoughts.

And turning then to the Google definition of humans being superior to animals, this is the worst example of speciesism. The Bible indoctrinated hundreds of millions of people with this thought when it refers to “dominion” of animals.

Throw away that thought. Think of humans as equal to animals. Give it a try. Think of all the animals and humans as completely equal in respect of rights and how they are treated.

It might turn you into a vegan or a vegetarian but whatever does it will make you a better person and the world would be a better place if we all thought like that.

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