Veganism should be, above and beyond anything else, a categorical rejection of speciesism and the myth of human moral superiority.
Humans are sentient beings; we are beings who possess sentience as a trait. Sentience is “the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjective perceptual experiences.” Sentience is not “the ability to think similarly to a human” nor is it some trait dealing with “intelligence” at all. It’s simply the ability to feel anything. Pain, pleasure, fear, or any other sensation. If you can feel any of these things, you’re sentient; you don’t need to fulfill any other criteria.
The reason many people think that other humans should not unnecessarily be made to suffer or be killed is because almost all humans also possess the ability to feel empathy. When we feel empathy, it’s because we think that we understand the way another sentient being feels, as we imagine we would feel the same way if we were in their situation. Because of this, we think that we should observe the inherent rights of other humans. A “right” is merely a term we use to mean a rule we abide by in order to protect a commonly shared interest, which in this case deals with not being made to experience an undue amount of suffering. Some of these rights are affirmative rights – rights to perform some favorable actions – like the right to drive a car; the right to vote; the right to go to school, etc.
However, there is another kind of rights that humans have that we think we should observe: negative rights. These are the rights to not have some type of unfavorable action performed on us. Chief among these rights is the right to not be used by other humans exclusively as a resource for their pleasure, amusement, or convenience.
Now, assuming we believe in these basic rights for other humans, a combination of empathy and logic dictates that observing their rights is what we consider “moral justice.” This means that, all other things being equal, we believe in treating similar cases similarly when morality is concerned. If one human isn’t as cognitively aware as another human – for instance: an infant, or a severely mentally disabled adult – that doesn’t mean that it would be morally justifiable for us to then exploit or kill that human for our own interests; for example, to use them for forced organ donation or involuntary bio-medical experiments.
Our sense of empathy tells us that because they feel the same pain and other sensations we do, that it would be immoral to exploit them simply because they are vulnerable and we are powerful, and we possess some non-sentience trait that they don’t. We understand that if our roles were reversed, and we were in the position that they are and they possessed some physical or mental trait that we lacked, that we would not want them to exploit or kill us in the same way.
Morally speaking, it follows logically again – if we believe in treating similar cases similarly – that when we talk about nonhuman animals and the rights which they may have, the characteristic which is relevant in deciding which beings we’re morally justified or not justified in harming is sentience, and only sentience. If we believe in moral justice because we have empathy, and we believe that humans have the right to not be used exclusively as a resource for other humans pleasure, amusement or convenience, it’s because humans are sentient beings. Then, because both human and nonhuman animals are sentient beings, at the very least – by our own code of moral justice – we should observe that very same right of any other sentient being, regardless of species membership.
The fact that we don’t observe the injustice and hypocrisy in our lack of matching our actions to our beliefs in this way is due to a phenomenon called speciesism. Speciesism is best defined as “An unjust double standard by humans that places higher moral value on some species (or individual members of a species) over other species (or individual members of a species), based solely on the morally irrelevant criteria of species membership.”
Speciesism is based on the myth of human superiority. The idea that human animals are superior to other species of animals is based on arbitrary irrational criteria or biased personal opinion, and not objective fact. The Myth Of Human Moral Supremacy is the root of the tree from which all human and nonhuman rights issues sprang; speciesism is akin to the trunk of that tree, with each individual human and nonhuman rights issue acting as the branches of the tree.
The idea that we can treat individual members of another species differently because of moral distinctions that are based solely on a trait that we possess that they lack (their being of a different species than ours) is exactly what has led to the idea that we can do the same thing to people of other ethnicities, people of other genders, people with different sexual orientations, etc.; all of which are merely morally irrelevant traits that they possess that we may not.
Even though some people claim that the trait they are using as moral criteria is not species but some other characteristic which only humans possess (such as “intelligence”), invariably those traits cannot be proven to belong only to all members of our species and no members of another. The true basis for the irrational belief in this supremacy complex can always be ultimately traced back to the criteria of species. And just like species membership, the possession of – or lack of – none of those traits morally justifies using other sentient beings solely as a means to our ends.
Furthermore, being able to dismiss another sentient being as an “other” or a thing to be used or otherwise harmed – rather than another sentient being who is similar to us in their sentience – is what leads to 100% of “crime,” poverty, war, and any other systemic problems associated with human rights violations.
Logically, it follows that if we don’t observe nonhuman animals’ rights in this respect, we have no basis to expect our own moral interests be taken seriously by other humans. No matter from which angle to view it, you can’t really justify intentionally exploiting nonhumans unless you’re ready to accede to not believing in the rights of human animals either, which means your own claim to any moral recourse if you are harmed by another human is effectively nullified.
There is only one way to align our actions with our moral values if we think it’s wrong to harm others for unnecessary reasons, and that is to live Vegan. If we think we have a moral responsibility to then do something for the billions of nonhuman animals who we enslave and otherwise cause to suffer unnecessarily every year then the only morally justifiable and effective way to do that is to educate others about Veganism.
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.
To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:
Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.