What Is Speciesism?

Have you ever wondered how someone can be moved to tears by a news story about an abused dog yet feel no remorse over eating a bucket of chicken wings that caused multiple birds to suffer and die?

The answer is speciesism. 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.

From the time we are young, most humans are conditioned to view certain species as worthy of care and compassion and others as unworthy—all based on arbitrary human preferences. Intentionally or not, parents, teachers, the media, and other influences send children the message that puppies and kittens are “friends,” cows and chickens are “food,” and rats and mice are “pests.” Most children are also taught that human desires, needs, and interests always trump those of any other species.

As a result, we learn to ignore our own conscience, which tells us that it’s wrong to mistreat others. We convince ourselves that we have the “right” to imprison animals in laboratories, experiment on them, and kill them because it might help humans. We tell ourselves that it’s OK to eat ice cream made from cow’s milk because our desire for dessert outweighs a mother cow’s right to nurse and care for her calf. That it’s OK to steal sheep’s wool for sweaters and scarves and ducks’ feathers for pillows. That keeping orcas in barren tanks for profit and “entertainment” is acceptable and that the enjoyment we get from casting a baited hook into the water to catch fish matters more than the pain inflicted on them when they’re pierced through the lip and yanked into an environment in which they can’t breathe. Humans use speciesism to try to justify every kind of cruelty imaginable.

In his groundbreaking book Animal Liberation, philosopher Peter Singer defines speciesism as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” But it’s also speciesist to treat one animal’s life as more valuable than another’s. One particularly disturbing example of this is when animal shelters hold fundraisers to help dogs and cats by serving up the flesh of cows, pigs, or chickens. That makes about as much sense as running over a class of kindergarteners on your way to volunteering at a senior center.

Dog and Chicken Collage

All animals deserve equal consideration, regardless of humans’ opinions of them. While most of us have been steeped in speciesism throughout our lives, we can—and must—overcome this destructive way of thinking.

We can start right now, by changing how we speak about other species. Animals are thinking, feeling beings—so we shouldn’t refer to them in the same way that we refer to inanimate objects like old chairs or boots. Instead of calling an animal “it,” use “he” or “she.” And we can avoid using sayings that are derogatory toward other species or make light of their suffering. If you need ideas for replacing harmful, outdated expressions, check out PETA’s list of animal-friendly idioms.

Rejecting speciesism also means taking an objective look at our personal choices and changing the ones that hurt animals. One of the best places to start is by voicing our disapproval of animal testing by buying only products that are not tested on animals and donating only to charities that never fund or conduct animal experiments. Leaving animal-derived foods off our plates, by going vegan, is also fundamental, and PETA has plenty of resources to help, including our free vegan starter kit. When we start to view other species as fellow living beings and individuals, we won’t want to exploit them for their skin, fur, down, or wool, so we’ll choose animal-free clothing, as well as entertaining ourselves in humane ways instead of patronizing circuses or roadside zoos.

It’s time to recognize that all sentient beings deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. We can reject speciesism and act with integrity and consistency toward all living beings, and the first step is to recognize that every animal has the right to live free from human exploitation.

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