Speciesism is a set of practices based on the idea that some species of animals are morally more relevant than others and deserve more rights. Like other forms of discrimination, this idea translates into the domination and exploitation of individuals who are considered inferior or less worthy of consideration simply because they belong to a group, in this case, a species.
The term was coined by the English psychologist Richard Ryder, who used it for the first time in a private document for the University of Oxford and made it public in 1971, in an article on animal experimentation in the book Animals, Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans.
Later, the term was popularized by the Australian Peter Singer, philosopher and professor of bioethics, who used it in his famous book Animal Liberation published in 1975. There, Singer defines speciesism as “a prejudice or bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.”
Although in many cases it is not exercised consciously, speciesism is widely extended in daily practices. The fact that billions of land animals and thousands of tons of marine animals are killed every year to be consumed by humans who have access to a wide variety of foods from plants, fungi, algae and others, and have no need to consume animals to meet their nutritional needs, is an example of this. Another example is in the psychological experiments and the testing of pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, cigarettes, cleaning supplies and others, which are practiced on non-human animals precisely because they are so cruel and invasive they are not allowed in humans.
Thus, although in many cases it’s not exercised consciously, consuming products of animal origin or tested on animals, as well as attending entertainment events with animals or any other form of consumption that involves the exploitation of animals is speciesism.
The most privileged species in a speciesist world is the one that exercises it, that is, the human being. However, speciesism also implies the favoring of some species of non-human animals over others. In any case, speciesism is sustained on arbitrary grounds.
For example, in the West, it is usually considered an aberration that dog meat is consumed in some Asian countries, but the massive exploitation and consumption of cows, sows, chickens, fish and goats, among others, is considered justifiable, despite the fact that all these species share basic characteristics such as the ability to feel pain, fear, sadness, joy, pleasure and other emotions, both positive and negative, as well as consciousness and a complex nervous system. Likewise, many often worry about the danger of extinction of striking and aesthetically admired animals such as panda bears, whales, elephants or jaguars, but not about the mass extinction of insects and amphibians, to give a few examples.
Feeling greater empathy for a species for the simple fact that it is closer to oneself or for aesthetic reasons, is speciesism.
Although speciesism is culturally naturalized, it is a social construct, which means that it is susceptible to change. As has happened historically with other forms of discrimination, awareness of the injustice that speciesism implies can lead to a change in perception and practice. Being so entrenched, putting it aside is not something immediate, but we can take steps towards the elimination of speciesism with the decisions we make every day.
By stopping consuming meat, milk and eggs and other products of animal origin, opting for products not tested on animals, stopping attending entertainment activities with animals and positioning ourselves against the exploitation of any animal, regardless of its species, we contribute to social change.
Against discrimination, against injustice, against speciesism, go vegan.