In chapter 3 of “Animals Matter,” Marc Bekoff introduces the concept of speciesism, which “reflects a prejudicial attitude, like racism or sexism, in which one judges others not on their individual characteristics but on their membership in a group – in this case, their species.” Speciesists often place humans as the most valuable, more superior species. Speciesism is what allows us to continue to exploit animals, whether it’s raising and killing them for food, or forcing them to perform tricks, or conduct testing for scientific or cosmetic purposes.
I’ll briefly write my response to two subsections of the chapter: personhood, and language and tools.
Determining who can be a “person”
In a subsection of the chapter, Bekoff asks, “What defines a ‘person’?” This is an important question because how the definition will affect who will be protected from harm.
For example, you may answer that having certain cognitive capacities makes you a person. This would exclude most animals from the definition — but it would also include some humans, such as infants, who do not yet have those cognitive capacities (or maybe never will).
Another example could be the ability to make future plans. But not every human has that ability, either.
Language and tools
“The main point is that all animals have to adapt to being who they are and where and how they live. Each may have special skills that others lack, but none is ‘better.’ There are no nonhuman animals who can program computers or practice law. But there are no humans who can fly like birds, swim like fish, run as fast as cheetahs, or carry as much weight (relative to their own body weight) as ants.”
Speciesists desperately try to find some way to separate humans from other animals, and they will look at humankind’s accomplishments (e.g. computer technology) or certain abilities (e.g. language) as if that proves humans are superior to nonhuman animals. I like this quote because it points out that all animals are unique. While humans have done some impressive things, there are plenty of things humans will never be able to do, and we should never discount the impressiveness of what nonhuman animals can do. Moreover, we need to really ask ourselves, as Bekoff writes, “Are there any differences between individuals that make it all right to use or exploit one animal rather than another?”
If you never watched the following excerpt from the documentary film, “Earthlings,” then I suggest you do: