Speciesism: The Movie May Change Your Worldview

By Bruce

scale-and-title-282x300Every now and then a movie comes along that has the power to fundamentally change the worldview of its audience. Speciesism: The Movie, a documentary directed by Mark Devries, is that kind of film. It premieres in key cities next month.

The word “speciesism,” which has been popularized by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, refers to the assumption that a vast gulf exists between the value of human interests and the value of the interests of all other animals.

Speciesism is, of course, a fundamental principle of human life, as humans view most other animals not as individuals, but as sources of food, clothing, and entertainment — or as targets. Similar to those who have grown up unaware of overt racist or sexist beliefs in their worldview, speciesism is so thoroughly assimilated in most of us that it is invisible and unquestioned.

Yet, in order to view other animals as biologically and cognitively unsophisticated, we have to ignore the scientific fact that other animals possess the same five physiological senses that we do, as well as the capacity for a wide range of emotions. In her introduction to The Inner World of Farm Animals (author Amy Hatkoff), Dr. Jane Goodall writes that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.”

And Dr. Temple Grandin, in Animals in Translation, writes that “When it comes to the basics of life … [other] animals feel the same way we do.” She explains that both humans and other animals share the same core emotions of “rage, prey, chase, drive, fear, and curiosity/interest/anticipation,” and the “four basic social emotions: sexual attraction and lust, separation distress, social attachment, and the happy emotions of play and roughhousing.”

Although prominent philosophers, legal scholars, and scientists have criticized speciesist assumptions for many years, these questions have never before been the centerpiece of a film. Not only does Speciesism: The Movie ask these paradigm-challenging questions, it does so while taking viewers on an adventure that is tremendously entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny. Devries’ interview with a Nazi reminded me of the hoods scene in Django Unchained.

Preordersecond-150x200Along the way, Devries meets and questions a remarkably broad range of people, including Peter Singer (who The New Yorker named “the most influential philosopher alive”), Richard Dawkins (the most influential evolutionary biologist of the past century), Temple Grandin (designer of the animal-handling systems used by more than half of the slaughterhouses in the United States), factory farmers, anti-factory farm advocates, various other folks (including me!) on both sides of the issue, as well as people on the street.

For those unfamiliar with speciesism, there may be no more enjoyable introduction to this fascinating subject than Speciesism: The Movie. For those already familiar with the speciesism and searching for a way to introduce friends and family to the subject, Speciesism: The Movie may be a perfect overture.


4 thoughts on “Speciesism: The Movie May Change Your Worldview

  1. I am so excited about this film. I have been an animal advocate my whole life and I have always been a voice for animals. I know my work less within this passion somewhere. I even quit my job and have been working on my inner self to allow spirit to move me forward to bring me to a place of my passion, which will sustain me financially as well.
    Thank you for all that you do, we truly are all one, I am beneath no one and no one is beneath me.

  2. “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally acceptable to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.”

    —Charles R. Magel, professor of philosophy

    In 1990, my friend Dave Browning (1959 – 2007), a conservative pro-life Republican in San Diego, reacted to the idea of animal rights by saying, “Sure. We lost. Man is just another animal.”

    Dave tried to blame belief in “human dominion” on the Jews, saying, “Every once in a while, a group like the Jews come along that puts man above the other animals,” but that this was all mythology.

    Dave’s reaction was *speciesist*!

    And it doesn’t make any sense, either! If pro-lifers argue that human life is so valued and only humans matter, or humans come first, or humans deserve top priority, etc…

    (which is comparable to someone during the Apartheid era in South Africa saying, “First let’s address infant mortality among the whites, and then we’ll get to the blacks)

    …why aren’t pro-lifers reacting with anti-semitic words and gestures (pointing their fingers at their noses, sticking their legs out mimicking a dog taking a leak, saying “so much,” “garbage,” grumbling about “work,” yawning, etc…) at anyone who would favor animal research over embryonic stem-cell research?

    How can they look to minority religions to justify human supremacism while demonizing these religions when it comes to compassion for animals to the point of vegetarianism? A double-standard!

    Opposition to animal experimentation has a long history. The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) was founded by Caroline Earle White in 1883…long before People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which was founded in 1980, and even longer than before the current debate over stem-cell research!

    An editorial in the now-defunct Animals’ Agenda from the early ’00s, noted that animal research goes on unquestioned, while debate rages over stem-cell research, for no other reason than the stem-cells have human chromosomes. This is speciesism–discrimination on the basis of species…a term which has not caught on or become part of the American vernacular, even among progressives, the way words like “Ms.” or “homophobia” have become part of the American lexicon.

    “The women we recognize today as the founders of AAVS,” writes Lily Santoro, “were pioneers in the world of animal welfare but not in the sphere of reform movements. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a rise in reform movements known as the Progressive Era.

    “Inspired by the new science of sociology and cultural movements like the social gospel, middle and upper class Americans increasingly engaged in reform movements aimed at uplifting the downtrodden and improving society.

    “Women were central to the Progressive Era reforms. In the late nineteenth century, women made great strides in reform movements like Temperance, Sunday Schools, food and drug regulation, women’s suffrage, and child-labor laws.

    “In a world where women were supposed to be relegated to their own ‘separate sphere,’ many women joined reform movements wherein they acted as the ‘moral compass’ of American society. Caring for the weak and voiceless in society was the focus of progressive era reforms. Animal welfare met this category perfectly.”

    And even religious leaders throughout history have taken a stand against animal cruelty!

    Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808-92), spoke out against cruelty to animals, especially experimentation upon animals. In a letter dated July 13, 1891, he wrote: “We owe ourselves the duty not to be brutal or cruel; and we owe to God the duty of treating all His creatures according to His own perfections of love and mercy.”

    Christian writer C. S. Lewis put forth a rational argument concerning the resurrection of animals in The Problem of Pain. His 1947 essay, “A Case for Abolition,” attacked vivisection (animal experimentation) and reads as follows:

    “Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we re backing up our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reason. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We all hear that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.

    “The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements. In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.”

    British Jesuit Father John Bligh observed, “A man is not likely to be much of a Christian if he is not kind to animals.”

    A Roman Catholic priest, Msgr. LeRoy E. McWilliams of North Arlington, New Jersey, testified in October 1962 in favor of legislation to reduce the sufferings of laboratory animals. He told congressional representatives:

    “The first book of the Bible tell us that God created the animals and the birds, so they have the same Father as we do. God’s Fatherhood extends to our ‘lesser brethren.’ All animals belong to God; He alone is their absolute owner. In our relations with them, we must emulate the divine attributes, the highest of which is mercy. God, their Father and Creator, loves them tenderly. He lends them to us and adjures us to use them as He Himself would do.””

    Msgr. McWilliams also issued a letter to all seventeen thousand Catholic pastors in the United States, calling upon them to understand “what Christianity imposes on humans as their clear obligation to animals.”

    Responding to a question about the Kingdom of Peace, Donald Soper was of the opinion that Jesus, unlike his brother James, was neither a teetotaler nor a vegetarian, but, “I think probably, if He were here today, He would be both.” In a 1963 article on “The Question of Vivisection,” Soper concluded: “…let me suggest that Dr. Schweitzer’s great claim that all life should be based on respect for personality has been too narrowly interpreted as being confined entirely to the personality of human beings. I believe that this creed ‘respect for personality’ must be applied to the whole of creation. I shouldn’t be surprised if the Buddhists are nearer to an understanding of it than we are.

    “When we apply this principle, we shall be facing innumerable problems, but I believe we shall be on the right track which leads finally to the end of violence and the achievement of a just social order which will leave none of God’s creatures out of that Kingdom which it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us.”

    A growing number of Christian theologians, clergy and activists are beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. In a pamphlet entitled “Christian Considerations on Laboratory Animals,” Reverend Marc Wessels notes that in laboratories animals cease to be persons and become “tools of research.” He cites William French of Loyola University as having made the same observation at a gathering of Christian ethicists at Duke University—a conference entitled “Good News for Animals?”

    According to Islamic scholar B.A. Masri, “All kinds of animal fights are strictly forbidden in Islam.” Mohammed forbade using living creatures as targets, and went so far as to condemn putting animals in cages, calling it “a great sin for man to imprison those animals which are in his power.”

    Dr. Masri writes that: “According to the spirit and overall teachings of Islam, causing avoidable pain and suffering to the defenseless and innocent creatures of God is not justifiable under any circumstances.”

    On the issue of animal experimentation, Dr. Masri points out that: “Many of the experiments that are being done on animals in the name of scientific research and education are not really necessary and are sheer cruelty. Such experiments are a contradiction in terms of the Islamic teachings…According to Islam, all life is sancrosant and has a right to protection and preservation.”

  3. Yes, it is true. The statements in this article were affirmed once and for all by the Cambridge Conference on Animal Consciousness held on the Churchill Campus of Cambridge University, England, in July of 2012. Their final statement, whose principal signatory was Stephen Hawking, conclusively reported that non-human animals have not only consciousness but also emotions (as described in the article above). Yes, this is something animal lovers have always known, but now it is stated as fact by the leading scientists of our time. With this knowledge ignorance is no longer bliss, rather it presents us with the obligation to act accordingly and beyond the anthropocentrism in which many of us were raised.

  4. I am an anlmal lover defender for animals. I am a christian and I believe all gods creatures should be yreated with kindness love mercy and respect. I tho thinkcruelty and brutallality are petformed by empty ruthless people who are coldhearted and evil. These people ought to be treated the same way they treat these poor innocent animals that don’t have a voice they can only cry out in pain amd agony to the end. May the lord have a better place for themwhere their loved and happy forever!!!!!!!!!!¡¡¡