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Dismantling Speciesism

February 14, 2022

Source Medium

By Graham

Speciesism is a form of prejudice that involves treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species. It is deep rooted in a socially constructed anthropocentric moral hierarchy that positions humans as superior and all other animals as inferior. Within this the right to dominance is implied, considered justified and enacted without regard to ethical or moral consideration. It is based upon distortions history, religion and culture have created around our difference, distortions which separate us from fellow animals and deny commonality & compassion. These distortions are further embedded within our schools, in literature, art, media and advertising. We can understand it as the underlying principle behind the organizing of human life built upon indifference towards, or vehement negation of all other species. It’s a form of ‘othering’ that creates a strict division of ‘us’ and ‘them’. A way of convincing ourselves that we matter and have greater importance because we are not them. It fuels a profoundly violent worldview that is used to legitimise abhorrent cruelty towards fellow animals. Speciesism is the ideology that justifies the subordinating of animal welfare to the interests of human beings. The enactment of this privileging of human-only interests permeates our existence and as Dr. Corey L. Wrenn states “Because speciesism is systemic, a human cannot exist in this society without indirectly benefiting from nonhuman oppression.”

Due to the power difference within speciesism and the wielding of that power uncoupled from accountability, we could surmise that speciesism is in line with a far right political orientation, and summarise it with the vile maxim “might is right”, the idea that the mere ability to subject others to our will is automatically a justification and a given right. It’s a sly and base form of fascism aimed at fellow animals and the oldest, most enduringly pervasive form of brutal tyranny. We can further argue that this abhorrent ideology is the root cause of the greater percentage of social injustices, and destructive consumption of the world’s finite resources.

Some may argue that due to our cognitive and creative abilities, humans may try to legitimately claim a sense of superiority over other species who seem to be lacking these exact same traits, and then further argue that this is a rational argument for violent oppression. Humans may have the capacity for rational critical thinking or considered ethical actions, but the choice to oppress others is no expression of this. As well as our more honourable tendencies, conversely we are also capable of irrational behaviour, misguided thought and grossly unethical actions, and as we know the latter has brought catastrophic consequences. We are prone to believing that we are an essential cog or even the driving cog of the planet’s existence, when in reality we are only a dispensable & unnecessary part in a hugely complicated & interconnected system of living beings. A species that has only been in existence for an insignificant fraction of time in the lifetime of the planet. However, our increasing capacity for destruction, especially over the last three hundred years has ensured that our existence has become more of a threat to the world than a force for good. Our actions stemming from our supposed notions of superiority have made our presence a malign force & we now stand upon the precipice of mass extinction. Our extensive & damaging actions have brought about a proposed new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, dating from the beginning of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems and climate. So due to these self defeating behaviours, we might regard our claim to superiority as questionable, even misplaced & arrogant. Our regard for ourselves as the “pinnacle of evolution” has engendered an overestimation of our importance. We equate our inflated sense of significance with moral worth and that perceived status is understood as righteousness. We conflate our self-appointed importance with merit. As Bakunin noted:

“Power corrupts the best. . . . Two sentiments inherent in power produce this demoralisation:

1. Contempt for the masses (for our purposes fellow animals)

2. Overestimation of one’s own merits.”

I’d argue that anarchist theory, the seeking and identification of systems of power, questioning their legitimacy, and subsequent dismantling of all unjust modes of domination, authority and hierarchy, is the antidote to human supremacy. As Rocker observed “Power by its very nature seeks to bring everything under one rule and subject it to its will.” We see this enacted in our plundering of the world’s finite resources & industrialised violent exploitation of fellow animals. Every argument for animal exploitation is an argument for violent oppression. Every argument for violent oppression is an argument for hierarchical power. Every argument for hierarchical power is an argument for subjugation. Every argument for subjugation is an argument for your own oppression at the hands of a tyrant therefore an argument for your own disempowerment. Our interests are not served by the systems of oppression we support.

To turn away from the violent exploitation of fellow animals is merely another way of preserving ignorance & the power of our unaddressed complicity in oppression, unquestioned & intact. It preserves & reproduces oppression & violence. To paraphrase the band Crass “How well we’ve been taught to support our own oppression.”

If we wish to rid the world of speciesism then we cannot employ the same prejudicial hierarchical frameworks to do so. We should not use stratified nor comparative measures to argue the worth of fellow animals in attempts to raise their status. To paraphrase (* see footnote), Audre Lorde, “we cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the masters house.” Therefore any dismantling of this hierarchical paradigm must avoid any valorisation of traits, intelligence, ability, aesthetics, sentience, cuteness or utility etc. of any living creature. It must never posit any shared or indeed unshared cognitive or behavioural attribute as a marker of moral relevance or worth. To me it’s this simple: if you exist you automatically & unquestioningly have worth and inviolable rights. I need no quantitative nor qualitative criterion to come to this conclusion, because that’s just imposing an anthropocentric measurement upon a vastly diverse and incomprehensible array of different species. It can therefore only be reductive, arbitrary and grossly generalised. That lens can only be narrow, myopic and human centred. It’s not mine nor anyone’s place to evaluate the moral worth of any living fellow creature. To believe so is in and of itself speciesist.

“The unfortunate reality is that by focusing on similarities we are still promoting a hierarchy of value – one in which human abilities are the only abilities given worth.” (Sanuara Taylor)

“In our magnanimous embrace of the other, we end up reconfiguring a dualism that will inevitably find some ‘other’ to exclude.” (Lori Gruen)

So a non-hierarchical approach is the only rational response to oppressive hierarchies. A horizontal framework that as far as possible doesn’t place any species above any other.

I am vegan because I believe all fellow animals have inviolable rights and because I have empathy and compassion. I am an anarchist because I believe in freedom and equality for everyone. No compromise, no concessions, total liberation for all. To me these ideas are not mutually exclusive, they are symbiotic and indispensable to one another. Until we end our violent oppression of fellow animals we will never learn to create societies that do not run on the violent oppression of fellow humans. The key to human freedom and equality lies within ending speciesism.

Veganism is one aspect of a collective justice movement to end speciesism & change our condescending attitude towards, and relationship with other fellow animals. This justice movement seeks to create new ways of relating to animals that include them as a category of power and equal consideration. It challenges the pervasive capitalist structure that alienates fellow animals and renders them invisible, removed from consideration, reduced to mere objects, to commodities that exist to serve needless human consumption. When we acknowledge that our relationship with fellow inhabitants of this planet has been distorted & dictated through the lens of capitalism, rather than one of individual needs, mutual aid, common purpose and collective survival, we can recognise that we’re all in this together and move towards modes of cross species solidarity.

Evidently most non vegans view the idea of giving up their dominion over other species as an infringement upon their rights. Selfishly they perceive not consuming the products of intrinsically violent animal exploitation only as a sacrifice, an infringement upon their liberty, regardless of the fact that it is for the greater good and justice for all. Any gain for our fellow animals they understand narrowly only as a loss of power. To paraphrase Paolo Freire “Any loss of privilege to the oppressor will be received as oppression”. This thwarted sense of injustice, being only a consideration for the self at the expense of others may therefore be dismissed.

When planning a new alternative worldview we can conceive of this as a space of reflecting where all species & voices are welcome and heard and differences are valued. Every nation, every species must be considered in the planning and implementation of those plans. Not all those voices may speak my language but as bell hooks says, “absent identities” need not be excluded. We can still consider others even if they aren’t present in the room. To me, just like with human diversity, rather than imposing exclusionary oppressive mythical norms, it’s about acknowledging & valuing differences in a non hierarchical manner, for therein lies our collective power. We can endeavour to come at life with curiosity rather than judgement. When we look with the eyes of a child, with wonder & investigation, we are open to experience and learning. When we judge, we split a complex reality into only two polarising dimensions “good v bad”, “right v wrong”. We shut out experience & become impervious to new knowledge. An awareness of our own conditioned bias and resultant prejudice may be the key to interrogating and challenging that bias. We can ask ourselves how our attitudes or words are actually contributing to the subjugation & oppression of fellow nonhumans and humans alike.

Bakunin argued “The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of god. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will all be slaves on earth”. So by extension & in our context, the belief in the supremacy of humans will always result in tyranny for fellow animals. Humans, perceiving themselves as masters will always subjugate every other species to their will without regard to accountability or consequence, even at the risk of our ultimate self-destruction. Our quest for control, power & order is too dearly bought. If we are able to dismantle & discard the hierarchical prejudice, our focus will no longer be solely upon ourselves & we make room for consideration of all. Anything less is tyranny. Anything less is violent injustice. Anything less is an argument for extinction.


  • Audre Lorde was writing specifically about racism and I acknowledge that I am using her words in a different context but with no intention to be insensitive towards the complexities of that original subject.

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Humans put too much stock in their “humanity “
This is immoral insanity
To be truly human is to be humane
And not cause suffering and pain
To know ones basic place
In the vastness of God’s space

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2022 4:11 am

    Humans put too much stock in their “humanity “
    This is immoral insanity
    To be truly human is to be humane
    And not cause suffering and pain
    To know ones basic place
    In the vastness of God’s space

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karin Nelson permalink
    February 14, 2022 12:57 pm

    Thank you another great article. Shared.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 14, 2022 3:30 pm

      Graham’s message is so important, thank you so much for sharing, Karin.


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