Why I Am a Speciesist (well… sort of…)

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.

– – thanks for reading – –

SV

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27 Responses to Why I Am a Speciesist (well… sort of…)

  1. UrConfused says:

    It seems that you are seriously, deeply mistaken. My best guess is that you don’t understand the concept of speciesism due to too little familiarity with Singer. Have you read ANYthing by him?

    Anti-speciesism is not the attitude that we have the same duties towards humans and other animals. It is the attitude that says we cannot have different duties BY MERE VIRTUE of species.

    Here’s the analogy for you. Hypothetically speaking, in a war-scenario, African-Americans are far more suited to camouflage at night-time. Perhaps this may make them more valuable for the war effort, and more worth saving if we had to choose between a black or a white guy. Is this racism? Not at all – the reason we have different obligations here is not by virtue of the race, but by additional factors.

    If you understood the first thing about the standard vegan position (inspired by Singer’s own views), you’d know better than to presume most vegans think our duties to humans and other animals amount to the same. Clearly, there additional features involved, namely, how much each may value their future existence, etc.

    Finally, your misunderstanding makes you seem like the equivalent of a racist. Sure, you could save the baby rather than the dog, but the second you say I’ll save the one that’s more similar to me, you’ve become just as bad as the white-supremacist who would save a white guy instead of two blacks.

    I think the best way forward would be to recant what you’ve said in this young blog, and open a new leaf elaborating on a lot of the very positive, constructive, and I think useful suggestions that I’ve seen from you in regards to how pragmatically to advance the cause. This despite my hesitation regarding your ‘supererogatory’ stance.

    • Recant, sinner! Recant, heretic! Really, this is how you want to approach this debate? Okay…

      I think I understand speciesism just fine. I don’t have to accept Singer’s exact definition of it just because he was the first person to bring it to a mass audience.

      Listen, I dont buy the “additional features” argument (how much each may value their future existence, etc.). As I explain here (in the comments), I just don’t think these arguments hold water. Non-vegans will admit that they would save the human BECAUSE it’s human. Vegans find a way to save the human (well, most of them do, anyway), but they have all these stupid arguments about why it has NOTHING to do with species. I find this explanation very unconvincing. It allows them to do the morally correct thing (and we all know that it’s morally correct to save the human) and still be able to hold onto their “speciesism is ALWAYS wrong” view. Well, I’m an admitted speciesist, so I don’t have to do that little song and dance. You can keep doing it if you want.

      My supererogatory stance is just the best I’ve come up with so far. I don’t think it’s the perfect way to argue for veganism. If you have a better suggestion, I’m all ears. I just can’t do the whole anti-speciesism/moral obligation/moral baseline thing anymore. I just don’t believe it.

      I’m just going to ignore all the race-baiting crap you said. Pretty childish, bro. I’m not racist, and I would save the baby BECAUSE it’s human. Deal with it.

      Thanks for saying that some things I say are positive, constructive and useful. We don’t have to agree on this one thing to be friends, now, do we?

      • UrConfused says:

        I now think I got a better read on what’s going on. You’re someone who hasn’t gotten too much of a chance to acquaint yourself with animal rights philosophy, and were instead exposed to veganism via the very small minority of self-proclaimed ‘abolitionists’ who may just know slightly less about it than you do.

        Saying that you don’t have to accept Singer’s definition is just very, very, very weak. That’s like calling myself a ‘Racist Civil-Rights Person’ and claiming that I’m racist, just not in the sense that I believe white people to be inherently superior to black people in any way. Furthermore, your ‘definition’ is just plain silly. In addition to reading Singer, I would strongly recommend a basic introductory course to ethics to understand why that’s the case. (Side note: as I would to the majority of vegans you have likely interacted).

        All of this makes it rather odd that “you don’t buy the “additional features” argument”. Not only are there many versions of it put forth by a large number of ethicists, it doesn’t seem to me you have a grasp on what any of them are.
        Finally, I stand fully by the equivalence of your position to racism. Don’t get too offended on your behalf before understanding what speciesism really is.

        • Wow, you are really good at condescending!

          You’re basically just engaging in ad hominem by insisting that my dissenting view arises purely from ignorance. It doesn’t. I’ve read a good amount of ethics and philosophy (and taken a course in ethics). I’ve also read some Singer (Animal Liberation and random other things, not sure what exactly). So what do I need to know about the concept of speciesism that isn’t contained in that book? What else do I need to read? Please be specific (like, page numbers), because I’m not going to read a whole book to satisfy a condescending, disgruntled commenter.

          Here’s an idea: if you actually care about changing my mind, why don’t you explain these concepts rather than just mentioning them and insisting that they make sense? If you don’t say anything specific, I have nothing to ague against, and this just becomes a contest in who read more books.

          Tell me what the qualities and attributes are that allow for more moral consideration for humans. Furthermore, explain how these qualities and attributes aren’t just a way to give more moral consideration for humans and then claim it’s not speciesism (hint: if these are qualities and attributes that are unique to humans or that we possess to a greater degree, doesn’t it kinda seem like the “rules” are sort of “stacked?”). Explain to me how considering these same qualities and attributes will sometimes lead to animals deserving more moral consideration than humans. If you can do that, then tell me how OFTEN it would come to pass that the animals would be more deserving of moral consideration. If you can’t answer these questions convincingly, then I must conclude that it’s not really about qualities and attributes divorced from species considerations – I must conclude that the two sets of considerations are really one and the same and that it really is a decision based on species, hence it’s speciesism. If you can’t answer these questions convincingly, don’t just tell me to go read a book.

          Just because a whole slew of books have been written on the subject doesn’t make me wrong about this. There are plenty of smart people that don’t agree with the concept of anti-speciesism and the ethical framework that supports it (and especially all these little “exceptions” that allow supposed anti-speciesists to have their cake and eat it too). If you’re of the mind that all people opposed to this concept are either ignorant or evil, then you, sir, are an ideologue and I don;t really have much interest in conversing further with you.

          And why must everything you say somehow be related to racism? In case you haven’t noticed, I reject the speciesism = racism = sexism etc. analogies, so these little games don’t work on me. If you want to call me racist, just do it (I’d like to see your evidence that doesn’t rely on analogies).

          Please try to tone down your condescension this time as well. These are things that reasonable people can disagree on. If you can’t be a little more respectful in your tone, I will have to conclude that you’re not reasonable.

          • UrConfused says:

            I’m surprised to hear that you have read AL. It is not at all condescending to voice my opinion that this doesn’t reflect in your writing.

            If you understood speciesism, you would realize why the analogy to racism is not only fair but necessary. Let me give you a brief reintroduction.

            Racism is when someone believes we have different duties to individuals merely based on the color of their skin. Speciesism is when someone believes we have different duties to individuals merely based on (roughly) the ability of their genetic code to combine with that of specific others to produce fertile offspring.

            It is not racism when we save the black soldier in the example above. It is not speciesism when we save an adult human over a chicken.

            It is racism when we choose to save one white person over two blacks. It is speciesism when we choose to save an orphaned an-encephalitic human infant whose existence is a secret over a chimpanzee.

            This ought to begin to give you some idea of what the notion of a morally-relevant feature is, and what some differences in these may be between current non-human animals and most human beings.

            Finally, I am most definitely of the mind that those who defend racism are either evil or don’t understand what racism is. If this marks the end of your replies, so be it – but it ought to be a little clearer to you at this point why the same holds for speciesism. This is also why you are mistaken re: “plenty of smart people that don’t agree with the concept of anti-speciesism”.

            • Thanks for toning down the condescension. I feel better about continuing the conversation now.

              So, are you saying that if I’ve read something that I have to agree with it? If that’s the case, I’m REALLY glad that I’ve never read Mein Kampf! I found much that I liked in AL (most of it, as I remember), and some stuff that I didn’t agree with. What is reflected in my writing is my dissatisfaction with how people use the concept of anti-speciesism to argue for veganism. I don’t think it is a concept without exceptions. I don’t think it’s fair or honest to equate it to racism, sexism etc.

              Please explain why it “is not speciesism when we save an adult human over a chicken.” Based on what? Did the chicken decide this? Did a council of chicken ethicists get together and decide that the human has more moral worth?

              Thanks for the first-grade explanation of what racism and speciesism are, but I don’t need that and didn’t ask for it. What I asked was for you to answer a series of questions. In my opinion, you really didn’t answer any of them directly (except I guess you did give a few examples of morally relevant features).

              In case you just can’t be bothered to actually answer those questions, the gist of the questions earlier was this: WHO decides what is and isn’t a morally relevant feature? If humans decide that humans, on average, just happen to have more morally relevant features, on average, than essentially all other animals, what does this say about us? What does it say about our (im)partiality? Your example of the chimp and the baby born with extremely severe mental impairments only proves this: that in order for the scales to be tipped in favor of the non-human, the human basically has to be really, really messed up i.e. they need to lack some sort of ability or capacity that we normally think of as being uniquely human. Can you give a situation in which a normal human deserves less moral consideration than a normal animal? If so, what qualities or attributes justify this? Don’t you find it interesting that in the vast majority of cases, humans deserve more moral consideration? That’s just a coincidence, though, right? Wow, lucky for Singer (and you), because otherwise, he would sound like a psychotic misanthrope!

              I understand that you equate racism and speciesism. If you’ve read anything on this site, you’ll understand that I don’t. I feel that humans (normal, average humans) have more moral worth than animals (normal, average animals). This makes me speciesist. It does not make me racist (or sexist, or heterosexist or anything of the sort). But keep implying whatever you like – it doesn’t make it true.

              So, anyway, despite your assumption that you have all the facts and knowledge on your side and I’m just under-informed, you’re really not telling me anything I’ve never heard. I’m familiar with the ideas and I find them unconvincing. But try more if you like. I’ve changed my mind about things before. And I’ve even told you how you can convince me! If you can give convincing answers to the questions that I laid out last time, that would be a good start in the right direction. Because MY reservations are MY reservations. I’ve figured out why I don’t find these arguments convincing. If you just keep telling me why YOU do find the ideas convincing, well, I don’t see that doing much for me.

  2. UrConfused says:

    I think it is clear what the problem in communication between you and commenters is. It is two-fold, and involves entering deeply into confusion. On the one hand, you operate under a self-made definition of speciesism which allows you to use language deceptively to make claims you do not believe in. And secondly, operating under this background, you allow yourself to make claims which actually ARE speciecist, in the serious sense of the term, but which don’t shine out quite as clearly under the fog of the reasonable claims you make after they are understood with adjusted language. But these latter ones are not as bad as actually being very-speciesist, they are only bad in that they pave the path to that.

    What this leads me to conclude is that, first, it is a shame that your good ideas will be drowned out by these mistakes. Second, your deceptive claims will further complicate the ideas of others who read your blog, which is also a shame. And third, they will be used by your (our) opponents. I’m not sure if I care much to change your mind so much as to clarify what you are saying.

    So to begin, you ought to decide which you will save in the anencephalitic scenario, and why. That is, what is it about that situation which makes it different. Given your answer to this question, you will key in on morally-relevant features. This will also answer your question why to save the human over the chicken. The truth is that very few people actually believe that skin color or ability to combine one’s genetic material with specific others to make fertile offspring are in themselves relevant. And I don’t think that, deep down, you believe this either. But you are a little bit speciesist by allowing your confusion over the term cloud your unjustified pro-similar-to-you bias.

    I feel bad about speaking in these terms, but some of your questions just don’t reflect too much philosophical sophistication (e.g. was it humans who decided why humans are worth more, etc.). I will not respond to these.

    A few points to help you understand the philosophy better. Impartiality means that equivalent features in different individuals ought to be treated equally. And you are deeply confused about what moral consideration means in relationship to Singer. It is precisely the point that all individuals are given equal moral consideration, in that equal interests matter equally, regardless of whom they are present in.

    This is a typical example of your confusion. This statement of yours:
    “that humans (normal, average humans) have more moral worth than animals (normal, average animals)”. Yes, that is speciesist, but I don’t think you believe it quite in the way you think you do. You believe that there are features which make it that we have different, and stronger, obligations towards humans (normal, average humans) than to animals (normal, average animals). And this is NOT speciesist. Most vegans believe this. You also, in relationship to your bias which is unjustified, believe that by mere virtue of being human one’s equal interests receive stronger weight. I believe that upon reflection, you would realize this view cannot be defended. And yes, this view most definitely makes you ‘like-ist’, which is no different that racist, etc.

    This whole notion of ‘lucky it’s so’ that I’ve seen in other comments of yours too is far off mark. An ethical theory precisely tries to account for which of our moral judgments are correct. It is a feature which makes a theory more plausible, or at least more palatable, that it conforms to out intuitive judgments. And at the very least, it is not a downside. You asked for reading recommendations. You urgently need to read the sections in practical ethics on killing humans and non-human animals. Reading these will give you additional much needed clarity.

  3. Wait, how am I using language deceptively? Are you still mad that I would be so arrogant as to use a definition of speciesism that I think makes the most sense? I am in no way bound to use your “have your cake and eat it too” definition. I think it’s a dishonest definition that allows one to say “I’m not speciesist” but then come to conclusions that I think clearly fit the definition (yes, MY definition). Where you see dishonesty, I see honesty.

    But if you want to “win” this, I’ll just say that, sure, under YOUR definition (which I reject), yeah, I’m not speciesist, I guess. Or maybe I am. I don’t know – you tell me. I don’t really care. After 30+ years of a really small group of people yelling “speciesist!” at other people, the term has essentially ZERO currency outside of AR circles and philosophy departments, so I really don’t care if you think I am or not, or under which definition. I am speciesist under my definition (and so are you, by the way – which is why you reject it), and under yours, you’re not. The jury is out on me (but I’m sure you’ll tell me). I think my definition is more honest, you don’t. Oh well. I’m sure everyone will go vegan after we can sort this out.

    We’ll see if any of my good ideas are “drowned out” or not. If they are, it’ll be by abolitionist vegans, not by “our opponents.” Non-vegans and speciesists are almost one and the same, and they don’t care that I’m speciesist. It’s only anti-speciesists that care. As I’ve said before, me being speciesist is not a liability in that way. It’s actually probably a boon. Most people just can’t get with the logic of speciesism being equivalent to racism, or a dairy farm being equivalent to human slavery. They just can’t. But I’m sure they’ll all be made to see the light some day, one stubborn non-philosophy major at a time.

    No, you’re wrong. Most people on this earth DO think that merely being human (i.e. being in the human species) is WHY humans deserve more moral consideration. Most people don’t read (or care about) anti-speciesist philosophy, so they wouldn’t phrase it this way, but they do think it. They really, really do.

    Yes, I believe that humans (normal, average humans) have more moral worth than animals (normal, average animals) and yes, it is speciesist, and I believe it in exactly the way I say I do. I believe it in the same way as all non-vegans do. We’re not all into ethics, but we know that humans are more important! YOU are the one that needs to explore anti-intuitive logic to explain why your favoring of humans over nonhumans in almost all instances does not qualify as speciesism. Humans almost ALWAYS come out on top, but that’s just because of our interests and qualities, right? I’m sure animals take a lot of comfort in that, in the fact that it has NOTHING to do with species considerations.

    Okay, so you will not respond to my questions that “just don’t reflect too much philosophical sophistication.” Oh, okay! Wow, nice avoidance technique! What’s that one called, the philosophy nerd bailout? The condescending egghead ditch? There’s gotta be a name for it! If you’re going to give such a weak reason for not answering my questions, then I see no reason to answer yours. I think you don’t want to answer them because you can’t think of a slick way to quote Singer to get you out of it.

    The list of morally relevant features is basically just a list of features that humans possess more than animals (or that animals don’t possess at all). That’s just a big ol’ mishap, just a freak occurrence! I just don’t buy it! It’s very clear to me that the list of features is what it is BECAUSE that’s the list that allows people to make the choice that favors humans. You’re blind to this because admitting it would force you to see that it makes YOU fit the definition of a speciesist, and there is no way you’re going to admit that (so I’m going to stop trying).

    Imagine if these ethicists (that you apparently think are incapable of species-centric motivations), were to, I don’t know, ACTUALLY act as if the interests of each species were all truly as important as the interests of humans. Then you’d be in trouble. If we truly gave the interests of other animals equal weight, why can’t we just assume that an animal would NEVER choose to die instead of a human? Why is that not a reasonable assumption? Or is it more reasonable to think that the animal would just defer to our superior judgment? So, if we decide to give more weight to the human’s interests (because we decided that the human has more important interests – we did this “fairly” of course, so don’t worry!), aren’t we simply just ignoring the fact that an animal would never consent to its own death instead of a human dying? Aren’t we discounting the animal’s interest when we can pretty easily infer it? Why is that okay? How is that not speciesism?

    Listen, thanks for playing. I’m still speciesist, I’m still vegan, you’re still in the minority (people that deeply, sincerely believe that anti-speciesism makes sense) of the minority (vegans). Oh, and I’m still not racist!

    • UrConfused says:

      Well, it seems to me we have reached the end of productivity here. You seemed to imply you were open to reading things about what you are saying, and I think the best course for mutual understanding would be to read those two short sections in practical ethics I mentioned. Perhaps we would understand one another better then. This will also answer many of your questions regarding comparing interests, and morally relevant features. If you were honestly interested, you would just read them – would take you less than an hour.

      What I think you’re more interested in is the appropriation of a word, while what I’m interested in is clarifying what you actually believe. Little headway will be made this way. Instead of expressing juvenile disdain for the works of moral philosophers who have been discussing these questions for decades, perhaps you’d be better off acquainting yourself more with some of them, since many of the claims you are trying to make are precisely in that intellectual domain.

      • You’re right, I think we have reached the end of productivity here, at least for now.

        And I didn’t imply anything – I said it. I AM open to reading things, and I probably will seek out what you mentioned eventually, just not now.

        You, on the other hand, have convinced yourself that I could not possibly have anything relevant or new to say since some philosophers (for whom I do not have disdain, and for whom I also lack the reverence that you seem to have – they’re just people, after all) have been discussing this stuff for decades and writing books about it and I haven’t. So you ignore my questions that would get us to the heart of my problems with the “morally relevant features” aspect of this whole question. And how we come up with what is morally relevant really is central to the question, isn’t it? If you can’t entertain the possibility that our very selection process for what is a morally relevant feature is influenced by species-centric motivations (and a desire to make an otherwise problematic moral theory “work”), then there’s not really anything else I can say. If you can’t even discuss it with me, I don’t have a chapter of a book that I can recommend to you, so I guess that’s just a dead end.

        And I don’t think it’s the fact that I’m trying to appropriate a word that bothers you. It’s the fact that, under my definition of a speciesist, YOU are a speciesist (as is basically everyone), and anti-speciesism as a framework for arguing for animal rights and veganism falls apart. So of course you don’t like my definition. You have too much riding on the stilted definition with all these ifs and buts and exceptions where species plays no part in a system that clearly favors humans (and you KNOW it favors humans). And if a system invented BY humans also FAVORS humans, to me that just equates to speciesism (and I’m okay with that). To relate it to your favorite thing, racism, what would you think of a theory of anti-racism that’s made unilaterally by ONE race and the theory ultimately ends of favoring that race? Would you find it to be truly anti-racist or not? I sure wouldn’t!

        Seriously, why would you care if I call myself a speciesist? Because then it would show that one can be speciesist AND vegan AND just pretty pro-animal in general? How terrible! This is what bothers me about the arrogance of anti-speciesists, this idea that there is just ONE WAY to doing right by animals and it all starts with a theoretical, moral framework based on speciesism being exactly like and just as bad as racism. The complicated, anti-intuitive nature of the theory is its greatest weakness. It clearly favors humans, but of course it’s not DESIGNED to favor humans! That would be speciesist! (We humans are just so lucky to have the most morally relevant features of any animal on this planet – purely by chance, of course). That kind of contradiction doesn’t sit right with me, nor hardly anyone else, which is why anti-speciesism has failed to make any real inroads outside of the AR movement and philosophy departments. But keep beating that drum. I’m sure absolutely everyone will find the time to read a bunch of philosophy books so that they can understand the nuances of a theory that they don’t agree with and that they don’t think requires nuance.

        So, maybe we can pick this up again after I seek out those readings, or once you feel like actually answering my questions from before.

        ta ta til then

        • UrConfused says:

          I’m glad to hear that you’re not all talk, and are open to reading about the ideas you discuss. It is a merit that not many people share. The questions you posed previously will be well answered by your reading. To give you the two-sentence version: Singer makes a strong case that humans and some non-human animals have different interests; not in strength, but in kind. If we accept this empirical claim, and take ethical impartiality seriously, it will yield different duties towards different individuals, not based on species, but based on interests.

          The only reason I care about what you say, is because I believe it’s misleading to most people who read you, and will further cloud their thoughts on the matter, which in fact is not altogether too complex, and very understandable outside of academic philosophy. As I’ve said I also think you have some relevant and new things to say, it is just a shame that you have chosen to put them out in a form that over-strives for originality at the expense of clear accuracy.

          Best of luck developing the constructive, pragmatic things you say, and enjoy your reading.

          • I should have the book from the library in a few days and I’ll try to read the relevant parts in the coming weeks. Is this really any different from what he lays out in AL? I’m still very skeptical of it all, but I’ll give it a go. The worst that can happen is it’s just a bunch of stuff that I’ve heard before that I don’t find convincing.

            I don’t think I over-strive for originality when it comes to philosophy. I’m not saying things for shock value or BECAUSE they’re new or different. I’m saying what I think is true and what I think might be helpful to the goal of getting more people to take animal use seriously (even if what I say doesn’t lead to full veganism or a belief in animal rights). Yes, I’m trying to have a more unique style of writing (because even I tend to nod off when reading a run-of-the-mill vegan blog), but please don’t mistake that for an intentional attempt to “jazz up” my philosophy for “originality points.”

            I think we do a great disservice to the pursuit of truth (and risk offending people) when we tell people that they don’t believe what they say they believe. I try really hard not to do that. I will try to convince someone that they’re wrong about something, but I don’t think it’s productive to tell people that they don’t believe what they say they believe, even if I doubt it myself. Tell them why you think they’re wrong and hopefully they’ll change their belief.

          • UrConfused says:

            Yes, it’s different. And don’t be so skeptical – Singer may be just a human, but he is widely recognized as the most prominent human on the subject, and the grand majority of ethical philosophers accept or take very seriously his work.

            The sections I’m referring to are in chapters 3-5, under 80 pages in length.

  4. I was skeptical of “speciesism”, at least the way it came to be understood by most animal-rightists, decades ago. I wrote & published a booklet around 1987, 88, where I criticized what I termed “inter-species egalitarianism”. (I know that’s a rather cumbersome choice of words.)
    I don’t know if you’re anti-religion/secularist, but at least part of my inability to subscribe to the prevaling idea of speciesism, is that, as a Buddhist, I don’t believe all animals/life-forms/beings are equal. Indeed, on many levels, even different people aren’t equal. A good human being is superior to a good dog (which isn’t by any means to dogs, which I love, sometimes better than people, are worthless beasts undeserving of life, freedom and respectful treatment.) A social democrat is better than a Nazi. A Jain saint is better than the leader of that anti-gay hate church. And so on, and so on, and so on. I think such statements can be made from a secular-ethical perspective as well.
    Personally, I don’t have any problems with animal “rights” or “personhood”. My motto is “animals are people.” I find them very useful, especially the latter. I don’t quite see how they relate to the concept/definition of speciesism that you and I have problems with, though possibly for not identical reasons. To me, even an earthworm has “personhood”, that is, is a “person”. By this I mean, every “individual”, even very primitive ones, are infinitely important “to themselves”. Each is a universe unto itselt, and hold’s it’s life, however “low”, to be of incomparable value. Compassion and respect are the enlightened and ethical response to this realization.
    I’m not sure how this relates to your critique of speciesism, but if I could only save a human or an animal from a burning building, and it were a sweet, loving, loveable little dog,like my late dog and animal friend, Tippy, or Josef Mengele, it would be Tippy without a hearbeat’s hesitation. Not that I’m a hateful person, even toward monsters like Dr. Mengele, but Tippy is clearly the “superior person”. Now. What about Tippy or a baby I’ve never known? Oh. God. Don’t put me through that torture!
    I like what you’re doing, along with a growing number of other thinking vegans. I was very alienated from the animal-rights movement decades ago, and felt very alone in it. I still do a little. But it’s nice to see so many likeminded, critical-thinking vegans coming out of the woodwork. I wish we could meet, talk and share some meals face to face. Maybe that’ll come.

  5. Wow, so much to respond to, James. Thanks for the comment.

    I definitely know the alienation that you speak of. A lot of the reason I started this blog is because I felt myself slipping into apathy regarding veganism. I didn’t feel much kinship with “typical vegans” philosophically and I didn’t see veganism becoming more prevalent (although vegan food options have gotten more prevalent even in the four years that I’ve been vegan), so I was starting to get that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. It just felt pointless to be doing it when, in a lot of ways, I didn’t even have the same motivations as most vegans. Now that I’ve put my ideas out there and gotten some positive responses, it’s been validating for me. It’s like “okay, I can have a different take on this and other people can read it and actually see the logic of it, even if they don’t necessarily agree with all of it.” I think there does seem to be a growing movement of vegans that are willing to buck the system and speak out against the more dogmatic aspects of veganism that just don’t make sense to them. Or maybe this is just my perspective because I’m paying attention and actively trying to engage with like-minded people. Either way, I’m happier as a vegan now for having done this.

    I’m not religious, but I’m not anti-religious either. I say believe what you want. I only start to have a problem if people try to excuse/rationalize things that I disagree with by using religious arguments which are inherently unfalsifiable and not open to discussion. That I find to be very problematic. I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I’m surprised to hear you characterize it as the reason why you believe that different forms of life have differing value. I would have assumed the opposite, actually, but again, I don’t know much about Buddhism.

    As for Tippy (we actually used to sometimes call my old dog Tippy, even though his name was Jimmy) vs. Mengele, I see your point, but I guess to me, all I think that particular opinion demonstrates is that you’re pro-death penalty for heinous crimes against humanity. I mean, there’s a reason you chose one of the most vile people ever to go with that scenario. But I get your point. It’s not ALWAYS the human that deserves more moral consideration. But I just feel that when it’s an anonymous human vs. an anonymous dog, I’m saving the human. I suspect you would agree.

    I don’t disagree with your argument about certain human individuals being better than other certain human individuals. I don’t think most people that think of themselves as egalitarians would have a problem with that, either. It’s not a problem to say that person A is better than person B. It only becomes a problem if you start saying person A is better than person B BECAUSE they’re Asian, or BECAUSE they’re Swiss, or BECAUSE they’re female or tall or beautiful etc. etc.

    As for personhood, and calling animals people, I just don’t see the point, and I find the conflation of terms to be unnecessary at best, and perniciously distracting at worst. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I just don’t think that a being has to me like me, like a human, for me to respect its desire to just live. I don’t have to assign it personhood, or moral status, or whatever, to be able to just say “let’s leave it alone to just live its life.” It’s really a very “hands off” approach to animals. One commenter here
    dubbed my attitude “animal libertarian” and I kinda like that, because it gets to my attitude pretty well: unless there is some compelling reasons why we should be using or engaging with this animal in some way, let’s just try to leave it alone.

    I’d like to read that critique of “inter-species egalitarianism” that you wrote if you have it in electronic form. Sounds interesting. In any case, I’ll try checking out the Libertarians for Animal Rights page. I don’t identify as a libertarian per se, but I’m sympathetic to a lot of the views that many libertarians seem to have on social issues.

    • Speciest Vegan,
      I’m afraid i have to stick by language of animals as people, as having “personhood”, though I don’t take any strong offense or objection that you find it unnecessary or pernicious. When I see an animal, even an octupus, even a fish, I see an “individual” therefore a “person”. Perhaps our difference on this is semantical. I don’t have a really sophisticated defense of this—it’s largely intuitive—but maybe I’ll mull over your objection and see if I have some further thoughts on it.
      How does your rejection of anti-speciesism affect your stand on vivisection? Obliquely, I’ve gotten the impression, “between the lines”, that some otherwise ethical vegans condone its rare practice as a necessary evil. I can only say there are agonizing situations that may make anti-vivisectionism a hard stand to most people. (My current position is “technical” opposition, but I realize it may be a tougher issue than meets the eye.)

  6. Will says:

    Maybe the question of speciesism/nonspeciesism is more a sliding scale than a clear yes/no – i.e. a scale of “how equal or unequal the interests at stake on both sides have to be before you favour one over the other”?

    On one end is the pure speciesist, who thinks the most momentary and trivial whims of humans justify any amount of pain and death to animals; on the other is the pure non-speciesist, who would never favour one over the other even if the interests of the human and nonhuman were absolutely balanced (as in the “dog and puppy” example, where both stand to lose their life). Most people fit somewhere in the middle, with vegans closer to (and sometimes on) the non-speciesist end.

    To clarify where you’d fit on the scale, ask yourself: Is it worth killing a nonhuman animal to save a human’s life? To prevent a human being severely hurt? Being marginally hurt? Being slightly inconvenienced? Being deprived of the indulgence of a questionable whim?
    Or, on the flip side: Are your momentary whims or cravings worth upsetting an animal? Causing harm? Killing?

    I haven’t heard anyone mention this model before, it just came to me, because I think speciesist discussion has a bit of a problem: I think there is a huge difference between the “slightly speciesist” vegan who will save the baby, and a person who eats and uses animals for nothing more than pleasure. Calling both of them simply “speciesist” as if they were equivalent seems wrong – maybe we need a new terminology?

  7. Will,
    Good points. Wasn’t it Singer who invented the word “speciesism”. From what I understand of his philosophy—it’s been decades since I read Animal Liberation—his concept of speciesism seems to be more qualified than, say, Francione’s. I guess some people have taken a word/concept he invented and modified it. (Not that I’d necessarily object to that. Many philosophical concepts undergo revision in the course of debate and discussion. Even “veganism” may have, rightly or wrongly, undergone some “revision”, or so I’ve gathered from recent discussions.)
    It’s been a while since I read Regan’s Case for Animal Rights too. Wouldn’t some of the ethical scenarios he wrote about, life-boat situations involving humans and dogs, be “speciesist”, by the anti-speciesist purists?

  8. Reader says:

    “Non-vegans and speciesists are almost one and the same, and they don’t care that I’m speciesist.”

    Yo, what about vegans who eat that way for other reasons? Also, what about meat-eaters who say it’s OK for them to eat meat because it’s OK for other animals to eat meat (and heck, anyone else who wants to get away with hurting someone because animals don’t go to jail for hurting other animals and cites “law of the jungle!!!” or “survival of the fittest!!!” or whatever)?

  9. Brandon says:

    Hey, I just read this and wanted to say how much I appreciate you bringing this point of view into my toolbox of wisdom.
    I too, am a vegan. The more research and soul searching I do, the more I find myself holding onto ethics and biology vs. animal rights. Being vegan is great for spiritual health and development, because of many reasons from basic ethics to the transfer of energy. From a biology sense, Homo sapiens is a vegan species, so it’s an optimal health decision, and seems like common sense. Your point of view agrees with biology and science, which is solid in truth and reason (it can’t be argued by any sensible person), and I respect this. Too many people base their decisions purely on emotion. I’m also huge into nature. I love animals, plants, and everything natural about this world. After reading this, I understand that anti-speciesism is sort of an extreme example of what it means to respect our mother earth in a very egotistical, and kind of illogical way. I suppose I just never cared to look at them (anti-speciesists) that way because we’re on the same side of this meat industry thing, but I see maybe thats wrong of me to judge, maybe I should more closely observe all points of view in all things, even if they’re agreeing with my beliefs to an extent, they may be making it worse off for me and the rest of the vegan community.
    So, I don’t want to ramble on too much, because all I’m really doing is agreeing with you. Just wanted to say thank you and to let you know you’re not alone in this world! It’s not everyday I get to read stuff like this so it’s much appreciated. I will share this page with all my vegan and vegetarian friends! 🙂

    • just a reader says:

      Breast-fed babies are human too, and they’re not going against biology when they drink and digest the milk produced by their mothers or wet nurses who are mammals instead of plants or fungi.

  10. People who talk about how speciesism is OK – you even go so far as to act like it’s morally superior – sound the same to me as people who talk about how racism is good. Or violent homophobia. Just different ways of saying that it’s acceptable to treat someone with violence if, for some reason, you’ve gotten the idea that they deserve it, or that they don’t deserve better. Your notion that people who give actual THOUGHT to the puppy/baby thing are somehow morally inferior to you disgusts me. It’s fine (obviously. your life, not mine) that you’re a human supremacist, or think that humans ought to be, or whatever, but to act like anyone who isn’t is somehow brain damaged or immoral seems way out of line. I just got done reading a white supremacist group’s posts, and they sound way too similar.

    • Lindy says:

      If speciesism is to species as racism is to race, then what about non-violent acts like excluding caterpillars and whale calves from schools that welcome human children? That is to species as excluding black children from schools that welcome white children is to race.

    • THIS right here is why radical vegans are completely fucking incapable of ever taking vegetarianism or veganism mainstream. You think I sound like a white supremacist? Wow. Everything, absolutrly everything, gets boiled down to an argument by analogy to racism. Give it up, it’s tired.

      Yes, if you would save the puppy instead of the baby, you’re fucked in the head, man. You just are. You hate the question because it belies your claims of being truly anti-speciesist. You aren’t, deep down you KNOW it, you just don’t want to admit it.

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