Michael Pollan Is a Speciesist!

from The Omnivore’s Dilemma: (Pollan is recounting his weird, self-imposed experience of eating a steak while reading Animal Liberation):

I put down my fork. If I believe in equality, and equality is based on interests rather than characteristics, then either I have to take the steer’s interest into account or accept that I’m a speciesist. For the time being, I decided, I’ll plead guilty as charged. I finished my steak.

This is a good example of how the charge of speciesism is not as damning as abolitionist vegans would like to think it is. They spend so much time trying to paint speciesism as being morally equatable to racism and sexism. In fact, if you tell them that you’re really sick of hearing the analogies, they will probably get mad at you and call you a speciesist some more (and maybe a racist and sexist, if they’re really frustrated). So it really blows their minds when someone can just casually admit to being a specieisist and still feel like a normal, moral person.

And just to be clear, I don’t agree with Pollan’s reasoning in this little snippet. I’m just making the point that the speciesism = racism = sexism etc. analogy that so many vegans like to use is not nearly as effective as they think it is. You can tell someone all day long that speciesism = racism = sexism, but if there is just a little part of them that rejects the idea of species equality, they will reject what you’re saying and feel justified in munching down on some flesh. You will have to to try to find another way to (not so) subtly imply that they’re racist or sexist or that they approve of rape.

– – thanks for reading – –


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5 Responses to Michael Pollan Is a Speciesist!

  1. Marcus says:

    Yes, that’s why you (people) need to explain it in more details rather than simply saying that sexism, racism and speciesism are exactly the same. It doesn’t mean they aren’t, it just means that people are further away from understanding it than just being able to make them get it via that sentence alone.

    If there was a justifiable reason for assigning less value to specific other species of animals than humans it wouldn’t be speciesist – the point is that my experience with people in general is that they cannot think of any rational reasons for discriminating non-human animals in the areas that they do. There might be some reasons for differences in treatment in certain, theoretical circumstances, but for all the people trying to justify differences in treatment know it might as well be discrimination on par with racism and sexism. I have at least never heard a rational justification for their concrete differences of treatment or idea of what is acceptable from anyone yet, and so many people I hear that accept themselves as speciesists always accept it either on the basis of “appeal to [their own] tradition” or that they think there are in fact differences, which, if true, would not be speciesist reasons. But the problem is they never actually back up this “there are differences” with anything substantial. Until they know that substantial foundation, I’d say they’re acting on the basis of speciesism, which to me is the same as saying that they’re acting illogically, which in many cases results in unfair treatment.

    I hope this might help bridge the gap between yourself and the antispeciesist vegans (like myself), but you probably thought about these things already…

  2. I’m confused by your first paragraph, because I am not saying that sexism, racism and speciesism are exactly the same.

    I don’t agree with what you’re saying about how there are “reasons for differences in treatment in certain, theoretical circumstances” but that those reasons don’t amount to speciesism. I think that’s a “have your cake and it eat it, too” situation. I explain why I think so in more detail here in my reply to Aeolus’s comment.

    I don;t have a problem with people being speciesist. I have a problem with them using speciesism as a rationalization for dominating/eating/abusing animals. It’s a logical leap to go from “animals deserve less moral consideration than humans” to “animals deserve no moral consideration and I can do whatever I want to them.”

    I don’t really think that there is much of a gap to bridge between me and antispeciesist vegans because in this case what *I* care about is behavior, not so much theory. Theory is important, no doubt, but antispeciesist vegans are still vegans, so I personally don’t feel the need to try to “get through” to them. They can be antispeciesist if they want. I disagree with the view, and I think that it leads to a lot of facets of vegan culture/argumentation that turns a lot of people off from veganism, but I’m not on a mission to turn antispeciesist vegans into speciesists per se. I would like to see them give more thought to how their views shape how non-vegans receive their message, though.

    I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m being dismissive of what you’re suggesting. I just don’t really see that there is a gap to bridge. And you’re right, I have thought of these things before. I appreciate what you’re saying. I just think that there are exceptions to speciesism as an inviolable rule, therefore, I have to admit that, at least sometimes, I act (or would act) in a way that is speciesist.

  3. Fiona says:

    I don’t see why having a preference for our own species is such a bad thing – it just seems innate in humans to me. I may not be understanding anti-speciesism correctly, but it seems to me that with anti-speciesist logic, it would be relation-ist or families-ist (can’t think of a good term) if you had to choose between your mother dying and a human stranger dying and you chose your mother. If you had to choose between saving the life of your mother or a stranger you would pick your mother even though you may know logically that there isn’t anything about your mother that makes her more deserving of being picked than the stranger. But most people accept that they would choose their mother and accept that (even if they’re sad the other person had to die). Preferring our own species or our own family members is just the way humans are wired and we needn’t feel guilty about it. Even people who claim to be anti-speciesist would choose their mother. Just because we prefer our species doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care at all about different species.

    • “Just because we prefer our species doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care at all about different species.”

      Absolutely. Speciesism only becomes a problem when people use it as an excuse for poor behavior. But some hardliners claim that speciesism IS the root problem, and that is a view that I vehemently disagree with.

  4. Corin Radd says:

    I’ve read lots of Peter Singer’s work including Animal Liberation and he is unquestionably a speciesist and he gives several logical reasons to justify valuing some species over others (including finding little reason to avoid eating shellfish). In light of that, this comment by Pollan makes no sense.


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