What is ‘speciesism’?
Half a century ago, Peter Singer defined the term ‘speciesism’ as follows: ‘An attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it “belongs”’. This can be abbreviated to: Speciesism is discrimination based on species.
In the same way racists treat people unequally based on someone’s race, and sexists treat people unequally based on gender, we are being speciesist if we treat animals differently based on species. There are two types of speciesism: (1) emphasizing the differences between humans and other animals, and (2) emphasizing the differences between two kinds of non-human animals.
Speciesism, type 1:
This type is most well known. It is based on the idea that people are worth more than other animals, and that our interests are qualitatively different from those of the animals we use and kill. Ever since we were little, we have heard people voice this opinion. This is why we start to think it is normal to use animal products and to treat animals as ‘milk machines’ or as a source of wool, meat, leather, or fur.
Speciesism, type 2:
People also have created hierarchies between different animal species. We think of cats and dogs as pets, who deserve to be treated well. We get indignant when we see somebody kicking a dog. At the same time we treat animals used as food much worse. For instance: we kill them at a young age.
It is interesting that different cultures and people have classified different animals as cattleand companions. In western culture, a dog is considered a pet, but in certain parts of Asia a food source. These different ideas about what an animal’s life is worth sometimes exist within the same family. For example, children can see a rabbit as a pet, while their parents see it as food, to be killed in the near future. A collision like this has been used by Youp van ’t Hek, in the song ‘Flappie’. These examples make painfully clear how dependent the animals (that we treat as our property) are on us: people decide what they are, and how much their life is worth.