Speciesist and Vegan


The title of this post is not a contradiction.

Let me back up a minute. According to Wikipedia, there are different uses of the word “speciesism.” In one sense, it’s the idea that value (or moral consideration) for living creatures should vary depending on their species membership alone. Thus, we may treat a mosquito differently than a dog, and a worm differently than a bat. I’ll refer to this as “membership speciesism.”

Another use is nearly identical to anthropocentrism: the belief that humans ought to reign supreme, that the interests and desires of our species come at the exclusion of all else. In other words, it’s not that humans matter more than animals; it’s that animals matter not at all. This is what I term “zero-sum speciesism.”

The other side of the coin is the belief held by many vegans that all creatures’ interests are equal with one another. Many ordinary folks believe that all vegans fall into this category, but one needn’t believe in this hippie nonsense to see reason to not eat animals.

This is to say that someone can be vegan and a membership speciesist. Never mind that people believe that in order to be vegan you have to prioritize animals over humans. Not so. In fact, one can still believe that humans are more important than all other species combined yet still understand that such a belief in no way justifies killing and eating that which you believe to be inferior.

Here’s where I get to make my favorite analogy. If believing that humans are superior to animals justifies doing whatever you like to animals — including killing and eating them — then believing that the Red Sox are superior to the Yankees would also justify …. (I’ll let you fill in the blank). So “zero-sum speciesism” is truly pernicious in that it affords supremacy to one species to the exclusion of the interests of all others.

However, I think that discriminating in some ways based on species is reasonable. The most important organ in any animal is the brain. If a species does not have the neuroanatomy necessary to experience pain and suffering, it does not make sense to afford a member of that species the same moral consideration as a member of a different species which does have said neuroanatomy. Because species membership predicts brain characteristics, this form of speciesism is not only far less heartless, it’s actually the only reasonable approach. Some vegans disagree.

Nevertheless, I think all of us agree that the most harmful view is zero-sum speciesism. People must understand that the fact that meat and animal products feel good on tongue does not negate the fact that that animal did not want to suffer and die to end up on their plate. We should aim our sights there.

Feel free to use the same analogy…

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