Given the title of my blog, I should probably try to explain why I am a vegan that identifies as speciesist, right? Okay, so here I go.
It’s not that I actively identify as being a vegan speciesist. I don’t introduce myself at parties in this way. But I needed a provocative title, so I went with it. It’s more accurate to say that I am not dogmatically anti-speciesism as so many other vegans are. I just have a different take on the whole matter. This post will definitely not explain my position entirely, but it will get some of the main points out there and hopefully someone will comment and we’ll get a discussion going.
One problem that I’ve encountered is that a number of people that I consider to be at least somewhat receptive to AR/veg*anism claim that they don’t “believe” in animal rights. They think of rights as something unique to humans and they don’t believe that animals deserve the same moral status as humans. So I think it’s lamentable that the very thing that so many people in the AR movement claim is fundamental to making people go vegan (i.e. the preaching of AR) is the very thing that seems to be an obstacle to veganism for so many people.
I firmly reject the idea that theory is more important than praxis. I am interested, first and foremost, in getting people to become vegan (or at least to get people toward the vegan end of the spectrum). I think it is absolutely ridiculous that some AR activists say that they would not want a world full of vegan speciesists (you know you’ve heard it). “Fuck that” is the only thing I can think of to say to that.
I don’t buy into the concept of speciesism, at least not as it’s commonly framed/discussed by vegans. I don’t believe that it is always wrong to favor one’s own species over another. I don’t believe in equality between all species.
Furthermore, I don’t really think that antispeciesist vegans do actually fully believe in the unacceptability of speciesism. Just see the hundreds of ways in which most vegans avoid giving a definitive answer to the baby and the puppy in a burning building question (and its many variations). Either that or they give what we all recognize as the morally correct answer, but they do some bullshit moral gymnastics to explain how species has nothing to do with it. Non-vegans see through this dreck and it turns them off.
So I see it as a problem that so much of vegan activism and argumentation is predicated on an outright rejection of speciesism. It’s not uncommon to hear/read a vegan berate omnivores, vegetarians and even other vegans as “speciesist.” It is taken on faith by many that since racism, sexism, heterosexism etc. are always wrong, that it then clearly has to be the case that speciesism is also always wrong. And then this leads them to conclusions such as meat is murder, Smithfield is like the Gestapo, a dairy farm is like a slave plantation etc. This kind of argument by analogy frustrates me greatly and I don’t think it’s a very effective argumentative tactic for anyone outside the initiated, vegan fold. It just doesn’t sit right with most people.
I’ve had many conversations with non-vegans where the non-vegan says something along the lines of “I just can’t buy into a philosophy that says that humans and animals are equal.” I don’t blame them.
When I’ve brought my concerns about the baby/puppy thing to fellow vegans, I usually get a response to the effect that “such extreme, hypothetical cases are irrelevant.” Yes, they are extreme cases, they are very unlikely to occur, and they are certainly not reasons to reject veganism. But they’re not irrelevant to the question of whether a strict anti-speciesism stance is the correct, honest, effective one. I think that adherence to a strict anti-speciesist philosophy is rigid, dishonest, and, ultimately, detrimental to the cause of spreading veganism.
Peter Singer is arguably the person most responsible for spreading the idea of speciesism. The dude has basically made a career out of it. He’s still respected by many people in the vegan/vegetarian/AR movement, but he’s also maligned, even despised, by many vegans, especially those of the Francione Fold (ohhh, how “rights” people love to hate utilitarians). But many, if not most, of these same vegans will still stridently defend the concept of anti-speciesism that he trumpeted some 30 years ago. I think it’s time to let it go.
Speciesism as a concept can be a useful way to talk about how we should treat animals and what we “owe” them. I think that in most cases, denying “rights” to a sentient being based merely on his or her species is pure folly and ethically unjustifiable. But to defend it as an inviolable concept, as many vegans do, is misguided. In this blog, I hope to give examples of when a strict anti-speciesism stance is unjustified and detrimental.
One thing that I also find problematic with the idea of anti-speciesism is that it seems to make the case that animals deserve rights/protection etc. because they are like us, like humans. Why do we feel that only things that are like us have value? Yes, there are many similarities between us and other animals, but in the same way that we say that the differences don’t warrant poor treatment, isn’t it also folly to argue that the similarities are what should warrant good treatment/rights? Why can’t we just decide that they have value because they have their own interests and just leave similarities and differences out of it?
I think it’s enough to say that it is ethically wrong to regard sentient beings as objects or property because they are sentient and especially because (with some exceptions) using/regarding them as such is completely unnecessary.
Rigid anti-speciesism can lead one to some very bizarre, unpopular and, frankly, ethically troubling positions. What we need to do is challenge the idea that animals having certain basic rights needs to be predicated on being similar to or equal to humans. People have argued that only humans can have rights, and I think that some people feel that anti-speciesism is a way to counter this idea because, if there are no morally relevant differences between humans and non-humans, then non-humans should have the rights that humans have. But this is unnecessary. We need to argue that veganism is a morally laudable, supererogatory choice because 1) raising animals for food causes harm 2) it is (usually) unnecessary, therefore it is ethically unjustifiable. It’s really that simple. Talking about rights and personhood just confuses the matter.
Aside from the principled objections that I have, is rigid anti-speciesism actually an effective argumentative tool? Is it likely to get people to go vegan? My feeling is that in both cases, the answer is no. Given the fact that the vast majority of non-vegans respond poorly to genocide and slavery comparisons, shouldn’t that be a pretty good indication that the average person doesn’t believe in equality between species? But I guess it’s our job as vegans to make people see the error in that way of thinking, right? Yeah, how is that working for us? Has a non-vegan ever said “wow, that makes SO much sense!” after hearing your answer to the baby/puppy question?
I think most vegans, if they’re being honest, will admit that they, and most vegans they know, came to veganism FIRST and THEN they started parroting and supposedly believing the idea of equality between species. Yet this does not stop tons of vegan/AR activists from arguing that the best way to go about convincing people to go vegan is to first get them to believe in species equality. They’re putting the cart before the horse (to use a non-vegan turn of phrase) and, what’s more, the cart never needs to be involved at any point anyway (in case my analogy got too confusing, the cart is the idea of species equality).
I am a vegan speciesist not because I believe that humans are superior, but simply because I am a human, and not some other type of animal. If a puppy and a baby are in a burning building and I can only save one of them, there is no ethical dilemma for me whatsoever. Some vegans and AR people will tell you that there is. The twisted logic that they often display in their answer (or avoidance) of such questions is telling.
Preference for one’s own species is not wrong. However, this does not mean that I think we should exploit other species if it benefits us as humans. Far from it. I believe that, whenever possible and reasonable, we should just leave animals alone. Just let them be animals (call in “animal libertarianism” if you want). If there is not a demonstrable reason why failing to exploit a non-human animal would cause humans significant harm, then there is no justification for exploiting, killing or harming a non-human animal.
If, as a strict anti-speciesist, you encounter someone that believes firmly that animals are outside the moral community, what do you do? You can’t convince them that they’re wrong by calling them a speciesist. That only works on people that buy into that logic, and they clearly do not. But, you may still be able to convince them that it is more ethical to be vegan than not to be vegan.
Similarly, what if you encounter a religious person that believes that God has given them the moral authority to kill and eat animals? Short of turning them atheist (good luck with that), you will NEVER convince them that animals and humans deserve the same rights, but you may be able to convince them that it is more ethical to be vegan than not be vegan. After all, God saying that it’s okay to eat animals does not imply that it’s wrong not to eat them, does it? Both of these types of people may abhor a position that equates humans and non-humans, but can someone really be abhorred by the thought of NOT killing an animal? I don’t think so (although this guy might disagree).
So, is it more important that you convince them of your convictions? Or is it more important to try to convince them that being vegan does not contradict their beliefs and that they can become vegan without believing in species equality? This latter approach does not even require YOU to change your mind if you do believe in species equality. It just requires that you put real-world results (convincing people to become vegan) over the temporary satisfaction that you get when expounding on speciesism and your supposedly superior answer to it.
I’ll have plenty more to say on this topic.
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