Speciesism refers to the discrimination people make towards the rest of the, non-human, animals, always depending on the society they grew in and their culture.
For instance, in India cows are considered sacred animals and no one is allowed to hurt them. Indian people, not only consider preposterous to feed themselves with cow’s meat but, also, the slaughter of a cow is forbidden and punished by up to 10 years imprisonment.
On the other hand, in China, as well as in other countries, people eat dogs’ meat. In Greece we find it disgusting to eat dogs or cats, but a cow, her baby calf, her milk and its derivatives are considered delicacies.
This is beyond unreasonable.
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The term “speciesism”
The term was coined by Richard Ryder, a British writer, clinical psychologist and animal rights advocate, who used it for the first time in a personal leaflet, in 1970. He made a second reference on speciesism in his essay “Experiments on Animals”, in 1971. However, the term “speciesism” was popularized by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, after 1975, through his book "Animal Liberation" .
Richard Ryder used the term “speciesism” intending to describe the insane discrimination people make among different animal species (humans included). According to Ryder, this discrimination leads to some animals being more, and others less, protected from being tortured and slaughtered.
Characteristically he mentioned that, according to scientists, humans are no different from the rest of the animals, biologically. Therefore, we shouldn’t make any moral distinction either. Since animals have a nervous system, just like humans, that means they can feel pain. So, they suffer just like we do or at least in a similar way.
An even stronger argument against speciesism from Richard Ryder is that the reason science widely uses some species as laboratory animals for experiments is exactly that their nervous system is similar to humans' nervous system.
That being said, it is completely unethical and selfish to treat them inhumanly (oh the irony!) and torture them for our possible benefit.
Are speciesists also racists?
Technically maybe not, but speciesism can easily be paralleled with racism, sexism, fascism, Nazism. In all cases, there is discrimination, prejudice and the perception that one is superior to another. As a result, the former ("the strong") has the right to abuse and exploit the latter ("the weak") for his own benefit (or even for fun).
Speciesists believe that humans are superior to the rest of the animals. Thus, on the other hand, anti-speciesists believe that animals are equivalent to humans. This means that they do not have the right to torture, exploit and kill them.
Speciesism is the result of social and cultural influences
All animals feel. Pain, sorrow, despair, fear. Thousands of animals "living" on farms and science laboratories (if that's actually considered living) can have those feelings, and maybe others we don't know. Cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, mice, chimps, and many more experience unspeakable situations and spend their whole lives in horrible conditions.
Why do we find it difficult to accept that farm animals actually feel all these emotions, while it's easy to accept it for the dogs or cats we care for at home?
Why do we understand the joy of our pet whenever he sees us, or his sadness when we are separated, and not the despair of a mother cow, pig, goat, whose babies are taken away just a few hours or minutes after their birth?
The answer is speciesism.
And it's a result of social and cultural influences. Like all our habits, the food we eat and the clothes we wear.
In one part of the world people decide that an animal is food, while in another that it's a family member, which they care about and love, like they do with their children.
So, are animals different from each other or not?
Of course they are. Regarding their color, voices and sounds they make, height, length, weight, eye color, and countless other physical characteristics. Just like humans have.
But what is common in all animals (as in humans) is that they have feelings.
Feelings we must not ignore. Because the bottom line is that we, humans, have more similarities with the rest of the animals than differences.
The problem is that most of us are so distanced from our natural environment, causing imbalance and disconnection from it. But if we were trying to get to know more about other animals and their nature, and what they are capable of, I'm sure we would admire them more and feel a greater connection with them.
We will be glad to read your own opinions on speciesism in the comments below.