What is Speciesism?
Speciesism is “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals.” The term was coined in 1970 by psychologist and animal rights advocate Richard Ryder, who described speciesism as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s species and against those of members of other species.”
In short, humans generally consider themselves the dominant species and, therefore, more important than the animals we share this planet with. Because of this, we believe we have the right to use animals in any way we see fit, be it for food, fur, or research. We even regard certain animals as more important than others. How else would we have decided that a cow is for food and a dog is for companionship?
Speciesism allows us to disassociate ourselves from the suffering of animals. If our needs or desires are more important than theirs, then there is no question of whose interests come first. Our thirty minutes enjoying a savory steak is worth more to us than the life of a cow. Their lives are considered insignificant.
Why is Speciesism Prevalent?
From birth, humans condition each other to view or rank species by importance or significance. Humans regard some species with compassion or care; others are not considered worthy of our time. We learn what animals are “for” in relation to our needs. We learn that some animals are friends, some are food, and some are just pests that are disposable. Children learn that their needs and desires come before the interests of any other species.
These beliefs allow us to set aside our kindness and conscience. They cause us to neglect the “Golden Rule,” which is to treat others as we want to be treated. We are told from an early age that it is wrong to mistreat others, but speciesism lets us off the hook by telling us our wants and needs are the only priority.
These beliefs can also spill over into our interactions with other humans. “Studies increasingly suggest that people who support animal exploitation also tend to endorse racist, sexist, and other prejudicial views, which furthers the beliefs in human supremacy and group dominance to justify systems of inequality and oppression.”
Sentient Beings Deserve Peace
“Regardless of the differences between species, it is clear that all sentient beings are equal in their capacity to feel pain.” Humans and animals have a deep-seated desire to live, avoid pain, and lead a long and happy life. An animal may have a different idea of what defines a happy life, but that does not mean their life is not essential. Human and animal lives and happiness are not identical, but they are equally important.
Animals have their desires and personalities. Their intellect may not always match a humans, though some come amazingly close, but intelligence is not the determining factor of worth. An infant may not display their mental abilities, but we still value them and acknowledge the need to care for them. The same is true of animals. They cannot defend themselves or speak up for themselves, but they are still important and valuable. They deserve our respect and care because they are living, feeling, sentient beings like us.
Solutions to Overcome Speciesism
Our responsibility as animal advocates is to reject speciesism and cultivate compassion instead. We should speak kindly and respectfully of other species. We should refer to animals as “he/she” instead of “it.”
We can also reject speciesism with our daily life choices. We can refuse to buy from companies that participate in animal testing and withhold our support from charities or organizations that fund animal experimentation. A vegan diet is, without a doubt, the most compassionate choice for animals. Additionally, we can choose animal-free clothing, products, and entertainment. There are plenty of options that do not exploit animals
World Day for the End of Speciesism
August 27, 2022, is the eighth annual World Day for the End of Speciesism. Animal rights organizations worldwide will host events to bring attention to speciesist discrimination and demand complete protection for animal interests. Some are online. Some are in person. If there is no event near you, perhaps you can announce an event of your own.
We hope our voice and example will reach others and spread compassion. When you view all creatures as worthy of life and happiness, it becomes much harder to mistreat, kill, or exploit them.