• fr
  • en
  • it
  • es
  • pt-pt

What is Speciesism?

This translation is currently under review. It should be ready by the end of 2018.

The present article is slightly a slightly modified version from the original, which was published in April 1991 in the anarchist journal Informations et Réflexions Libertaires, within the “Anti-speciesism” column we contributed to.

Though necessary, the use of rational arguments on the subject of speciesism is frustrating. This is because our opponents seldom bother to put together any counter-arguments that hold water; nor do they bother to examine ours. Speciesism, for them, is in no need of rational justification. Just recently, I found myself nearly begging a person — an anarchist, actually — to tell me why, to give me just one single argument why we should see the suffering of a battery chicken as a secondary issue. All that came was: “For me, that’s the way it is.” In other words: “Why? Because!” The fact that speciesism appears self-evident, and that the great majority of humans are among the oppressors, are the greatest obstacles facing anti-speciesists.

Once more, we need to side with those who are the object of contempt and oppression — despite knowing that contempt tends to spread onto whoever defends the contempted. There was a time when a white person who defended “niggers” could end up being treated just like they were. Today, it is relatively easy to be anti-racist or anti-sexist in France, at least in word; this has not always been case. Today, at least within left wing circles, it is anti-racism and anti-sexism that have come to be seen as self-evident and in need of no argument. Faced with an anti-racism which, when asked “Why?” answered only “Because!”, the New Right had its work cut out in its attempt to appear in contrast as those who think.

However, worldwide, and throughout the course of history, it is racism, and not anti-racism, which, much like sexism and speciesism, has been and remains the dominant view. Interethnic oppression and massacres have been and remain common currency during human history. If today many peoples can appear to side with anti-racism, it is mainly because they face the dominant racism of our time, that of Western culture, which erases their differences, and ultimately, their culture, for the better or for the worse. We know full well that the Kanak culture of New Caledonia is on the whole sexist, but — hush! — let’s not say so. We must instead “respect their culture as it is.” How is shielding someone from criticism “respect”?

Faced with the immense prevalence of racism, sexism and speciesism, we must not be content with expressing outrage or repeating the “self-evident”; we must instead develop ideas and arguments, and accept to side with the “niggers”, the “chicks” and the dogs.

A few words

Speciesism: Speciesism is to species as racism is to race and sexism is to sex: a discrimination based upon species, nearly always in favour of the members of the human species, Homo sapiens.

Animals: Language is not neutral, and by “animal” we commonly mean any animal except humans, thus walling off humans from all other animals, even from those as close as gorillas, and lumping the said gorillas together with clams. In accordance with well justified scientific usage, I will call “animals” all animals whether human or not, and “non-human animals” those who lack the birthright of being called human.

My Position

I argue that there can be no reason – except the selfish desire to preserve the privileges of the exploiting group – for refusing to extend the basic principle of equality of consideration to members of other species.

Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1975

Should we oppose speciesism? Should we oppose racism, for that matter? Of course we should? Perhaps, but that is not so obvious for everyone; and it is not obvious that all who oppose racism do so for the same reasons. My belief that we should oppose racism is grounded not in the idea that (almost) all humans are equally intelligent, or that they possess an articulated language, or that they interact socially and so on. The reason we should be antiracists and antispeciesists is the fact that an oppressed sentient being suffers, and that the suffering and happiness of each sentient beings, that is of whoever can suffer and be happy, is of equal importance and must be given the same weight in our decisions.

I am no more a “defender of animals” than those who fought against the slavery of black people were “defenders of negroes”, as they were called by racists at the time. I defend all oppressed animals, whether human or not. I do so not by whim, not as a calling, nor because “I love animals” as others “love flowers”; I defend all animals and in particular non-human animals because I am intent on defending all sentient beings, whoever they may be — because the sole relevant criterion for taking into account the interests of a being is its being sentient and thus having interests, and because it is very probable that only animals are sentient, plants being devoid of feelings and thus without interests. By opposing speciesism I oppose an ideology that serves as justification for the hideous suffering and death that nearly all humans inflicts knowingly, deliberately and daily upon billions of beings just as sentient as they are.

Racism and Speciesism

Racist arguments are often simple pretexts; that doesn’t mean that we should not examine them. Just decrying racists as bad guys will get us nowhere; unless we plan to kill them all off, our aim must be to convince them. Also, in the case of speciesism, the role of the bad guys is held by almost all humans, who wield the same arguments as racists to justify the supremacy that they have granted to themselves.

Racism and speciesism are closely intertwined ideologies, and their similarity would be obvious to all were it not precisely that anti-racists are almost always speciesists and prefer not to recognize the link. These anti-racists strive to combat racism without endangering speciesism, and this leads them to an all-out defense of untenable positions which they nonetheless present as being essential to anti-racism. Because they cannot imagine all animals as equal, it is on the backs of non-human animals that they strive to found the equality of all humans.

French first! Humans first!
God placed whites above all others. God placed humans above animals.
We feed and protect the negroes. We feed and protect animals.
Negroes have a thicker skin. Animals don’t suffer consciously.
Negroes attach little value to their lives. Animals don’t know that they will be killed.
Negroes are like big children. Animals act only on instinct.
The natives war with each other. Animals eat one another.
All negroes look alike. Animals don’t have personalities.
Me, racist? I have an Arab friend. I love animals, and I don’t eat horse meat.
It is a private matter whether a man beats his wife. Eating meat is a personal choice.

What is Racism?

When anti-racists speak of human equality, what do they mean? Mathematically, if we say “Paul = John” it means that we have two names for the same person. This is not what we intend when we say that white and black people are equal, since they are precisely not equal, or identical, if only by their skin color. When they demand equality, what anti-racists oppose is the unequal treatment that people suffer because of their skin color.

Yet the expression “unequal treatment” is still not precise enough. If I was a doctor, I would sometimes treat black and white patients differently: since black skin absorbs less harmful sunlight, black people in a given country have a lower risk of developing skin cancer. It is not racist to note this, any more than would be racist to acknowledge, if it happened to be the case, that a certain skin color has on all counts advantages over another. Anti-racism must not depend on the assumption that by some quirk of “Mother Nature” all her “children” always receive an equal share of her gifts; indeed, this type of assumption, we shall see, has no reason to be true, and, in fact, happens most often to be false.

However, it would be clearly racist to deem less or more important the interests – such as the interest of enjoying good health – of black people than to those of white people. It would be racist to say: someone’s skin colour justifies disadvantaging them, that is to say, granting less importance to their interests.

If this was actually the position of the racists, that is if it was founded upon mere skin colour, it would be easy to debunk; but this not the case. I read a story some years ago about a black white South-African woman under Apartheid. A certain disease had made her skin, previously white, turn black. What shame she must have felt in front of her neighbours! In order to board buses and other places designated for white people, she had a special card made by the authorities stating that she was white even though she was black.

So it is not the skin colour that, in the minds of racists, justifies discrimination. What is it then? What does racism actually say? In order to contradict an ideology, we have to know what it is that it states. The force of the racist ideology certainly owes much to the fact that it is never clearly stated, and so cannot be really contradicted.

What is a Black Person?

It is very important to racists to be on the right side of the divide they trace, and to be assured to remain there. Race is a good way to trace such a divide, since, exceptions aside, whoever is born white will remain white. But the presence of such a divide is not enough; its definition must appear to justify the discrimination. Skin colour is too shallow a feature; it is necessary to give flesh to the idea of race itself. A black person must be black to the bone. The race of individuals must come to be seen as a fundamental truth about them, as their nature. Whether black or white, a person born black must be a Black. Must be of black blood. Racists do not justify discrimination by the colour of a person’s skin. They may talk about colour, but what they really have on their mind is the person’s nature. Skin colour is but a sign of that nature.

If racism were based upon real differences, greater differences would mean more intense racism; but the violence of Nazi antisemitism shows the opposite. The near absence of any visible differences between the Jews and the “Aryans” was viewed instead as just another sign of the treacherousness of the Jews. The Nazis, when talking about the “Jewish nose”, were not referring to “the shape of the nose that Jewish people happen to possess more often than others”; the “Jewish nose” was not simply the nose that Jews have; it was the sign of a Jewish essence, and it was this essence, this nature, which in eyes of the Nazis justified murdering them.

We say also that the King is king because he wears a crown, even though we know that he does not wear it at all times, and that it is not really the crown that makes him a king. To a royalist, the king is king because he is of royal blood, of a royal nature; the crown is only a sign of this.

Anything can be the sign of a nature, that is, can be interpreted as such. This is why discussions with racists are so frustrating. They do not bother to analyse our arguments and to build any of their own that would hold water; in their view, all arguments are superficial because they can only be about signs, not about natures. Natures are beyond the reach of arguments. Colour, height (black people are too small, or too tall, whatever may be the case), accent, nose shape, all this the racist is willing to discuss, because it is really irrelevant: whatever may be said of the signs, the natures remain untouched and unquestionable.

For a racist, it is the nature of beings that justifies discrimination. Discrimination is, literally, the assertion that they are different. There is no need to assert inferiority; between beings of a different nature, comparisons are impossible. Thus, South African Apartheid is simply defined as separate development: each person is at the proper place. The South African racist will deny that Black people are disadvantaged: being by nature different, such comparisons are seen as meaningless. Slums are to blacks what comfortable houses are to whites. As surprising as it may seem, I would bet a great deal that the slavers of the 18th century would themselves deny that black people were inferior; for I have heard, as surprising as it is, many meat-eaters denying that they viewed “animals” as inferior – “I don’t see them as inferior, just different.”

The sexist narrative too is based on the assertion of two differing natures, one feminine and one masculine, and on praising the Woman, the Mother and the Wife, whose happiness and honour is to be the foundation of nations by means of washing dishes. “I love women!” says the sexist (or “chicks” or “birds”.)

From the common person’s “I’m not a racist, but…” to the New Right’s “praise of diversity,” it has always been in the notion of a difference of nature that racism and sexism have found their roots. These ideologies are wrong, not because white skin “equals” black skin, but because such natures simply do not exist. But these ideologies strike so many as plausible because, secretly, almost everyone accepts their core principle, and they accept it, I believe, because they must if they want to be able to remain speciesists. Speciesism depends on the notion of an animal nature, which in turn depends, whether one likes it or not, on that of a human nature. This is the source of all the intellectual acrobatics of those antiracists who absolutely want to remain speciesists.

Same principle, same discourse : “I’m not speciesist,” “animals aren’t inferior, just different,” and “Their natural role is to be eaten.” The sign of this nature is that animals eat each other. And it makes them happy: hence the depictions of smiling pigs in front of butcher shops.

One can be antiracist while being sexist just as one can also be antiracist, antisexist and speciesist. The reader can want to object at this point: “all you say is true, but does not apply to animals; for in fact humans are equal, while animals are different.”

Indeed, there is no lack of differences between humans and “animals”! No trouble has been spared to list them, as witnessed by this candid acknowledgement:

For a long time the prime task of moralists, of philosophers and, more recently, of researchers in the field of humanities has been denying that Man was part of the world of beasts, or, at the very least, finding some specific dimension which might remove him from his shameful family, and erase its embarrassing proximity.

J.-M. Bourre, Diététique du cerveau.

.

But humans too are different from one another, as everyone knows. When they are said to be equal, it can only mean that they are equal in nature. And that they differ from “animals”, not by the number of paws, but by their nature.

“Reason”, it is said, “is the preserve of man.” “Reason” is the main sign advanced by speciesists, and it is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I will linger on the issue of equality of intelligence – a matter that otherwise concerns me very little. It is however a matter that concerns very much speciesists, both racist and anti-racists.

Some see intelligence as a manifestation of the soul, and define human nature as the possession of a soul. But for those who don’t believe in a soul, what is human nature?

Photo of a stand in front of a butcher shopPigs smile in front of butchers’ windows, showing that their role, their intimate calling and nature is to change into ham.

What is a human?

The nature given to beings has served to justify many things: racism, war, or the established social order. “To be on the right is to believe in Man’s unchanging nature” (Jean Marie Le Pen, quoted from memory.) Christians hold that our souls come from God; for others, the natures of beings are given by Nature, from that god called Nature that everyone worships and whose priests are the environmentalists. The nature of a being, in this view, is the totality of what is “innate”, is all that was given by Nature before birth.

People on the left cannot accept as it is this discourse on human nature; they will say: “OK, humans come from nature, but nature has set itself aside, leaving the way to all that is specifically human — to History, to Culture, to Society. Man remains an animal, in his animal functions; but in his higher functions, such as intelligence, he is radically different.”

Thus, as they see it, the nature of Man is his absence of nature; “animals”, instead, have a nature: each animal its own nature according to its species, and thus animals in general have an animal nature, that is, the nature of having a nature. And it is no accident that this amounts in practice to founding human equality on the ruin of other animals, for people on the left oppose racism, but above all wish to maintain speciesism. A sincere examination of the notion of the nature of a being, of the idea that Nature somehow ascribes some deep essence to each being, such an examination would necessarily undermine racism — but also speciesism.

Those who are both anti-racists and speciesists face the problem of justifying speciesism without at the same time justifying racism. They must uphold the idea of a nature given by birth, and that Nature has endowed humans with the highest of births. But this nature is that of having no nature, the nature of being free (of being a blank slate, at least above the belt). Animals, instead, are given the nature of being slaves to their instincts. Such reasoning is no problem for a racist; black and white humans, cats and mice, each of these beings has its own nature and designated place within the natural and social harmony. A racist can, much more easily than an anti-racist, campaign paternalistically in “defense of animals”, for a better treatment of slaughterhouse animals.

Fin relecture

At the battle-cry of “Nature is on our side,” speciesists, both racist and anti-racist, debate the ‘innate’ and the ‘acquired’, bickering over signs: do all humans possess the same intelligence? And especially: Are the differences in intelligence innate? Is the hierarchy between human races desired by Nature? In their search for signs, the ancients read the entrails of heifers while nowadays, we study our brains.

Belief can be blinding, and this argument may yet stand. Yet for those who are not blinded, the answer is plain to see: 1. Humans are no more equal in intelligence than in anything else; 2. Intelligence results, as all the characteristics of living beings, from a combination of genetic and environmental causes, and therefore a difference in genes may produce differences in intelligence. These facts are common knowledge. If these same facts justify racism, it is thus just, and so too is speciesism. However, if they do not justify racism, then nothing is capable of so doing, the same being true of speciesism.

Page from a catholic textbookThose signs that demonstrate the presence of a soul, according to Abbot Bouvet in Premières Notions d’instruction religieuse et Leçons de choses religieuses (“Elementary Notions of Religious Education and Religious Object Lessons”), 1938.TranslationHow do we know that the soul exists. — We do not see it nor do we touch it. But it certainly exists. Here is why:
Compare a man and a monkey. We will find between them three major differences:
1. Man is intelligent, a monkey is not — Thus, a man learns to speak, to write and to count; he then invents beautiful things: house building, railways, weaving, telegraph… He is an artist: a painter, a musician, a poet… Above all, he knows God and has a Religion. — A monkey does none of these things. There are no monkeys’ schools; monkeys have never invented anything: they all do the same thing since they exist. They do not sing nor draw; they have no religion. In short, they do nothing intelligent; they have no intelligence;
2. Man is free; a monkey is not — by his will, a man can choose freely what he wants; he can renounce all pleasures in order to be saintly and please God. — A monkey has no free will. If something pleases him, he jumps on it; if something displeases him, he runs away. To keep him from doing what he wants, there is only one way: to hit him. Thus, a monkey does nothing freely: it has no freedom. — Incidentally, note how many children behave like little monkeys: to keep them from doing harm, we must punish or threaten to punish them! A Christian child must think : this is wrong, so I will not do it, even if I will not be punished!
3. Man is capable of love; a monkey is not — When a man loves another, he is happy to suffer for him and even to die in his place. He does not think at all of himself; he thinks only of his friend. — A monkey, however, only wants to have fun with other monkeys; he would not be beaten in their place. He has mates, but no friends.
Well, these three things: intelligence, freedom and love show that man has within himself something that animals do not. This is the rational soul.
By these three things man resembles God who is perfectly intelligent, free and loving. So it is in reference to man’s soul, not to his body that God said when he created him: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
So what is the most perfect man? It is neither the strongest,.

Humans are not of Equal Intelligence

I am not particularly beguiled by the idea of defining intelligence. Whoever prefers not to speak of differences in intelligence because of the lack of clarity of the notion is free not to do so, but then should neither compare the intelligence of humans to that of other humans, nor that of humans to that of other animals. But one can also wish to do such comparisons, even without perfect definitions, just as one can compare the length of the human neck to that of a giraffe, even without possessing a perfect definition of the length of a neck. And whatever way one may wish to define intelligence, it is clear that certain humans are more intelligent than others.

Many humans are have a deep mental handicap. Some people may say, in a misguided attempt to protect these humans from contempt, that they are intelligent in their own way. However, if one wishes to say this, this form of intelligence could not possibly be the same as that which is employed in debates about the equality of black and white people.

It is difficult to compare the intelligence of a cat to that of a dog; the same would be true of any comparison between a mentally handicapped human and a dog; however it remains that, regardless of the criteria being used, there are humans who are less intelligent than the majority of dogs.

If human intelligence is reason enough not to treat humans like dogs, how do we then treat humans who are less intelligent than dogs? Badly, assuredly, but less badly than we treat non-human animals. The mentally challenged make us think somewhat too much of animals, just as this white woman was ashamed to appear black. To speciesists, racists or anti-racist, intelligence is but a sign, while what really matters is the being’s nature: mentally handicaped people “are humans nonetheless.” It would be scandalous to even be seen entertaining the idea of cutting them up for research, or to slaughter them for food—to which millions of animals are subjected every day.

The existence of mentally handicaped people is enough to justify the heading of this section. Some may say that this debate is only about the intelligence of black and white people. We tend to easily forget the disabled, “marginal cases,” a bit like how we forget non-humans: we don’t see them in the street. Their case is nevertheless a pertinent one, if speciesist racists and anti-racists argue about the intelligence of blacks and whites, it is their opinion that intelligence is linked with the right to respect. It follows that, to them, the mentally-challenged are entitled only to contempt.

Things are less clear for blacks and whites, or for the French and Belgians. One can only deal in averages: at an individual level, the question is already answered, since in each group there are those who are mentally-challenged and those who are not. Yet, these are averages of what? There are IQ tests, the results of which are nonetheless contestable. We are capable of constructing differing criteria, but none which would, save for highly improbable coincidence, produce the same averages in any given group. One can perhaps find certain criteria which would result in blacks’ earning a higher average than whites, and vice-versa. However, no matter how precise the criteria used to produce the same averages in a so-called “right test,” one will still be confronted by this: whatever the meaning of the word, the intelligence of any two different groups is not equal.

Genes are Responsible for Differences of Intelligence Between Humans

No one would disagree that the differences in intelligence between a dog and a human are a result of genetics, and therefore that there is a relation between intelligence and genes, but it is between humans that we would like these genes to take the back seat. However, we still realize that is not the whole truth: there are these “marginal cases”.

Numerous mental handicaps have genetic causes. For example, a certain gene gives rise to phenylketonuria in humans, which in turn provokes profound mental-disabilities and an early death – except that, today, we are aware of a diet which allows people in whom this is found to develop like everyone else. Hence my affirmation that intelligence results, as all traits do, from a conjunction of causes that we can classify, if we so wish, into genes and the environment. For those inflicted with phenylketonuria, we know which environmental aspect (diet) develops their intelligence; for others, as for dogs, we are in the dark. But what does all of that have to do with their nature? Is a phenylketonuria sufferer closer in nature to a normal human or to a dog? Does their nature depend on genes or on their diet? Or is the nature of beings really a chimera?

And what of blacks and whites? Their genome undeniably influences a black person’s pigmentation. A large number of black people live in regions with dull weather conditions, where this pigmentation can engender an insufficient rate of production of vitamin D, and thus a risk of contracting rickets. Rickets may possibly inhibit the development of intelligence. In this particular case, some black people are less intelligent because of their genetics, and the average intelligence of black people is lower because of this genetic trait.

This is a hypothesis, and the factor in question, if it exists, is probably a weak one. A vitamin D supplement would eliminate the problem. Nevertheless, this example is still relevant: if one wants to demonstrate that genetic differences between black and white people have no effect on their average intellect, we need to eliminate each and every possible causal path by which genes might influence intelligence – and it is that which is completely unrealistic. In ten minutes, I could think of 10, either for the blacks and the whites, or for the French and the Belgians. One would need to have a certain level of trust in the staunch good will, in the unshakeable anti-racism of Mother Nature to believe that not one of these reasons can effectively come into play, or that they, magically, cancel each other out.

The idea of “genetic equality” among groups of humans is false. And what purpose does it serve to defend such a notion? What does this have to do with racism? Would racism then be a justified ideology if, by chance, genes begot pigmentation which in turn begot vitamin D deficiency, and consequently rickets which lowers intellect? Does the level of intelligence become a nature once it is caused by genes?

Someone may say that this is not what is we are talking about when we debate the genetic equality of intelligence. As a matter of fact, real genetics, of which I am speaking, is a cause and a series of consequences; that with which the others generally concern themselves is mythical genetics, where our genes are our nature, our being, our truth, our essence; our fate, unalterable, irredeemable, prescribed by Nature. Through genetics we see the “scientific” concretisation of our mystical ancestry, our bloodlines and birthrights. This type of genetics does not exist, save for in the minds of racists, sexists, speciesists, etc., who argue amongst themselves so as to know if the nature of black people is more animalistic than that of a white person or not. They can argue about it for centuries. Black people are animals, just as white people are. There is no such thing as innate intelligence. There is but one real intelligence. Genes themselves are not intelligent, having neither will nor intention, despite the thinly-veiled attempts, a specialty of the socio-biologist, to assign them a soul.

So what?

They talk about this thing in the head (…) What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Sojourner Truth, a black feminist, speaking at a feminist convention in the United States of America in 1850, quoted by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation.

Why do we then afford intelligence such an importance?

For it’s real, practical importance? We justify this emphasis, saying that physical force is no longer of any particular use. Intelligence is supposed to render the individual useful to a community, while the individual is then rewarded by an improved social standing.

Are those in the higher echelons of society more useful to their community? I would prefer to invert the explanation: In a conflicted society, intelligence is a weapon. It was said that “the liberation of the oppressed would be the work of the oppressed themselves,” and unfortunately, that’s true. The liberation of African-Americans owes much to their own initiative and action, which would not have come about had they had the intelligence of chickens. Nevertheless, the idea that black people are less intelligent than whites, may serve only to demoralise them in their fight for social equality.

Such an inequality of intelligence, whether it be “innate” or “acquired,” would be an unwelcome discovery for antiracism, rendering the struggle that much more difficult. However, it would not make the struggle unjust. Our culture conflates strength and rights with respect a little too much. African-Americans are no longer slaves, chickens still are. While the intelligence of black people explains in some part their liberation, it is not what justifies it.

Picture from an introductory book to JudaismThe sign that shows that we are allowed to eat them; from Ch. Szlakmann, Le Judaïsme pour débutants (“Judaism for Beginners”), éd. La Découverte, 1985.Translation”Judaism allows us to eat meat.”; “In effect, Man, the purpose of Creation, is superior to animals.”; “The heads, viscera and genitals of animals are all on the same level.”; “The heads of men are higher than their viscera and genitals”

Intelligence entitles one to respect, but it also plays a magical role: it is the principal sign of humanity. Black people are black, animals are stupid. Humans place their status of being human above all else. The enormity of the suffering and misery imposed by humans upon other animals is widely known. It is thanks only to speciesism that humans succeed in affording this very little importance. These animals must be completely other to us, we must be intelligent. The fact that intelligence is a means of attaining social promotion ascribes it the role of a sign; society itself is defined negatively with regard to non-human animals, with social promotion as proof of humanity.

Signs galore

We produce many, way too many reasons to justify what humans do to other animals. For the creators of these reasons, the truth which they have tasked themselves to expose is already known. Speciesists roll them out, one after the other. None of them hold water. No matter; in our deeply speciesist culture, everyone has their other, and draws strength and support from that, while no one suspects that the whole thing is of no substance.

These are not reasons, but merely signs that justify human dominion over all others and which, of course, no one has yet seriously tried to expose. It is of little consequence that everyone has the same shortcoming; they do not include all humans, for fear of also including some non-humans.

There are countless examples of such signs. Any trait would do, as long as it seems “noble” and is readily identifiable in humans. The tool used to be the preserve of humanity, until the discovery of a bird that also uses utensils. Seeing as it did possess a ‘uniquely’ human trait, we then declared that the life of this bird was as sacred as that of a human. No, of course not, I was kidding. While eating this bird, we said: yes, but only humans make tools. However, some chimpanzees do this too, and so the line of demarcation became more and more blurred.

Another such distinction is language. We used to say that animals have no language, but, as dogs can bark, we made it more specific: they have no articulated language. Since then, we have taught a number of monkeys the gesticulative language of deaf and mute people, with syntax and everything. They are less adroit than us at it, but the point stands. Thus we must abandon this division, too. Also of interest is that we avoid the subject of voiced language, in view of deaf and mute people who, contrary to those who suffer from autism, know how to take care of themselves.

Also, why would the absence of language justify their being massacred? People have told me that if a creature cannot say that it is suffering, we don’t know if it is. Yet, all mammals show the same signs of suffering as humans do, it would be surprising if two such similar phenomena were not caused by the same thing. Little science would be possible if we demanded that its objects be endowed with speech. Furthermore, “if someone can’t conceptualise their suffering, it doesn’t exist, except on a purely physical level.” Feminists have documented that, for centuries, women have suffered in silence because the concepts to express the suffering they felt did not exist. A decisive step in their liberation was the success in creating the concepts to convey their lived experience. Before this, was their suffering “purely physical”?

There is this criterion: “An animal knows, a man knows that he knows” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin); “animals are not self-aware”; “only humans have a unique personality;” these are all either false, vague or a mixture of the two, none of which would withstand even the simplest of scientific analyses. But what would that change? Knowing that we know, or our knowledge of being “self-aware” or having a “personality” that gives life its value? It is this I don’t know what – these natures – that justify our many massacres, be they of chickens, or of the Jewish.

And then, there is also “animal instinct” as opposed to “human reason.” This manner of posing the problem highlights humans’ lack of basic knowledge about other animals. Whatever knowledge people possess on the subject is based on jumbled up, recycled stereotypes. Racists also generally know nothing of those they detest; but these racist and speciesist fables are just that – fables, a way of expressing the inexpressible: one’s nature.

An Idea Like Any Other

It would be very possible to raise, from birth, human children in both rational and sensorial isolation such that they would never develop any of these noble qualities that are “unique to man.” Brought up in certain conditions, the equivalents of those in which calves live and suffer, they could then be subject to the same fate, “because they were made for that” (“they’ve never known anything else”.) How can we care about the fate reserved for such asocial beings, incapable of speaking, of using tools, without any emotional bonds and who don’t even know that they know? You may find that outrageous, and I do too; but if you don’t find what we do to calves for veal just as outrageous, then you are speciesist. You do not want that to be done to a human, because humans are of your species. What objections can you then seriously pose to a racist, who refuses such an action only against one of his own race?

Natures Hide the Reality

How much should we care about the fate of any creature? Who or what is to say if we should abstain from harming this creature?

No one and nothing, if we so desire. We can, if we wish, kill and torture whomever we may. We could also decide to torture only black people or the right-handed. We can even choose to torture ourselves; that, however, we do only with irregularity. Why? Because it is painful, it is not in our own best interests.

To avoid harming others is to extend the consideration we have for our own interests to those of another. It is this very notion which underlies ethics. And what determines whose interests we are to take into account? Those of white people only? Why them? Of intelligent beings only? Or only those that are social? When we take into account our own interests, we do not ask ourselves whether we are intelligent or social. This has nothing to do with the problem. Being in pain causes pain, whether we are social or not.

Each real thing has its real consequences. The intelligence of a being has many implications for many things, but there is no connection between that and whether or not it is wrong to harm it. What would then be of importance in such a consideration?

Each real thing has real consequences. The possibility that a creature may suffer is such a consequence, so avoid harming them. This is independent of any other characteristics that the creature may have. That is a non-racist, non-sexist and non-speciesist ethic.

If a living being is sentient, can suffer or enjoy, their suffering and their joy are of the same importance as that of any other. Each difference in importance attributed to the interests of two living beings is necessarily arbitrary, since its foundation is something which has absolutely no relation with the reason why we take these interests into account: their mere existence.

Suffering is suffering, pleasure is pleasure: it is the sole equality that matters to me. If pebbles could suffer or rejoice, we should then take into account their interest not to suffer and to be happy – regardless of whether each pebble had a “unique personality” or not. If pebbles aren’t privy to these faculties, as they most probably are not, there is nothing to be taken into account.

What should we do in practice? Often, with a derisive grin, we accuse those among us who do not eat meat of contempt for plants. Those same people who so brusquely show their sympathy for plants end up eating ten times more of them than we do, through the animals that are made to lead a life of misery, and then killed. No matter; we actually do not hold in contempt either plants or pebbles. Contempt is a racist attitude in and of itself. Contempt is the judging of a living being’s nature as being inferior to one’s own. To me, that which is important is the real. Human or not, an animal’s sentience is a real characteristic. It is thus important for me to know: who possesses this, who can suffer?

How can we know if plants or pebbles can suffer? It’s a question difficult to resolve in any absolute fashion, but in practice, a few simple conclusions can be easily reached. I will speak of these in my next article, but those of you with a non-speciesist view will agree with me on this: a bird’s, a fish’s and a non-human mammal’s capacity to suffer is as real and assured as that of a human’s. This then decides the first and most simple consequence: cease to eat them.