Ask a Vegan : Just what is speciesism?

by Annaelle

#1 : Don’t bother with the Wikipedia page, which is problematic for a number of reasons, most notably, the appropriation of some people’s oppression for the sake of winning an argument. Don’t do that. Just don’t. Trust me on that one.

Speciesism, like many words ending in «ism», is an ideology. But it’s not just any sort of ideology – it’s an hegemonic ideology : an ideology that has the particularity to be present in our mind without our knowledge, to affect the framework of what strikes us as normal and, from there, affecting our actions in everyday life.

My goal is not to convince anyone to reject speciesism – my goal is rather to make the reader think about how speciesism, as an hegemonic ideology, is affecting us all and making us do things out of habit without even thinking about it.

Specifically, Speciesism is the ideology that one master specie has the right to evaluate, judge and rank the value and worth of beings of other species – and that all other species have value only relative to their use for the master specie, which has value of its own.

Three guesses as to which specie is the master specie according to speciesism.

As such, challenging speciesism is a form of self privilege-checking. We can check this privilege by an exercise of self-questioning. When we interact with an animal, we ask ourselves :

(only you can answer these questions)

– Am I considering this animal like an autonomous being?- Does this animal have goals of their own ?
– Is the way I am acting with this animal affecting this animal’s ability to achieve their own goals?
– Do I have this animal’s consent to interact with them? Have I given this animal the opportunity to opt out of the encounter we are having?
– Am I presuming to know better than this animal what’s good for themselves? If yes, what evidence do I have to support that presumption and is this evidence really conclusive?
– Am I having, with this animal, an encounter that is respectful of this animal cognitive and motor capacities? Did I take the time to consider what this situation looks like from the perspective of this animal and am I adapting my behaviour in such a way that I look non-threatening? Am I giving this animal enough time to understand and assimilate what’s going on? Are my expectations of this animal’s reactions realistic? Am I communicating in a way that is consistent, coherent, intelligible and predictable to the animal?
– Do I consider this animal like an individual? Am I trying to adapt to the specific individual in front of me, or am I trying to adapt to animals in general? Am I trying to get this animal to adapt themselves to my own mental conception of what an animal should behave like?

Only the reader knows the answer to these questions, and the response often changes depending on the instance of the interaction. It is also possible, and, even, probable, to not know the answer to a few – or many – of these questions. And that’s okay and normal.

My goal is not to convince anyone to reject speciesism – my goal is rather to make the reader think about how speciesism, as an hegemonic ideology, is affecting us all and making us do things out of habit without even thinking about it. It is my belief that we tend to take better decisions and be generally better people when we understand why we do things. Also, understanding why we do things makes us own our own decisions, which is never a bad thing.

However, should anyone wish to diminish the impact of speciesism on our own behaviours, there are some questions that we can ask ourselves :

Is any of my habits directly caused by an underlying assumptions that animals exist for my own benefit?
If I held the opinion that animals own their own lives and their own bodies, would I change any of the habits that I had?

If yes, is there any of my habits that I can change…
– Immediately?
– In the short term?
– Over time, with work and support?

And, lastly, does the hegemony of speciesism strike me as a problem – as something profoundly unjust and am I interested in taking action to subvert it?

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