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Jun 4, 2007

Another Ape on Speciesism

My friend David sent me a link to this story by Franz Kafka that I hadn't read in a long time: A Report for an Academy. It's a story narrated by an ape trying to be human.
When I come home late from banquets, from scientific societies, or from social gatherings in someone’s home, a small half-trained female chimpanzee is waiting for me, and I take my pleasure with her the way apes do. During the day I don’t want to see her. For she has in her gaze the madness of a bewildered trained animal. I’m the only one who recognizes that, and I cannot bear it.

I wrote earlier about a novel on a similar subject, a story that had similarly horrible consequences for our aspiring human's mate. (See Lovelock: Speciesism from a Monkey's POV.) The fact that Kafka thought of such a feminist angle to throw in at the end of his story speaks well of him; it certainly gives the narrative an extra kick of misery and foreboding.

What does it mean when a non-human animal gives up their non-humanness? While these cases are fiction, and fantastical, animals give up their animalness for us all the time -- think of small dogs sweating in handbags and humping human legs, parrots who talk to humans but pull all their feathers out, elephants forced to perform in circuses until they snap, big cats pacing insanely in zoos when they should be running for miles and miles a day.

And what is humanness, anyway? Kafka's ape narrator spells it out simply: We spit, we drink, we smoke, we laugh, we don't show our asses in public. (Most of the time.) Even humans don't seem to take much better to human culture than animals do, sometimes. Why else are so many people struggling just to survive in this system we've set up for ourselves?

I know there's a lot more to humanness. Wonderful things like ethics. Maybe if we used them a bit more our ape narrators (and the compassionate, human artists that speak through them) wouldn't have such bones to pick.

Incidentally, Kafka was vegetarian, and I like to think he'd have been vegan if he'd been born a little later. He once said while watching fishes swim, "Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more."

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Posted: Jun 4, 2007 7:57am
Jun 4, 2007

Lovelock: Speciesism from a Monkey's POV

My friend Mary loaned me a copy of Lovelock by Orson Scott Card and Kathryn H. Kidd, and I liked it so much I got my own used copy so I can add it to my little animal rights library. It's a science fiction novel about a celebrity scientist and her "witness," an "enhanced" capuchin monkey whose job it is to record her every waking moment for posterity. Though he's been trained to love his owner and to be her loyal servant, he becomes disatisfied with his lot and rebels.

The novel is set in a huge ship that's meant to find a new planet to colonize. I won't go into details, but let's just say I found the science bits questionable. You want a certain degree of realism in science fiction, a plausible backdrop for the action -- and this was somewhat lacking. I just didn't buy a lot of the colonists' plans or strategies or ideas, and thought Card and Kidd could have done a better job at either explaining the craziness or pushing themselves to consider more forward-thinking solutions.

That said, the weird setting and such are refreshing in their oddness, and the story itself make up for my criticisms ten times over. Lovelock, the monkey, is our narrator, and a complex little guy. He goes from rebellion against speciesism to unwitting participation in it, and has to go through a second, painful awakening to recognize his complicity in oppression. I found his story really moving, and thought Card and Kidd's decision to put out this message from the perspective of a non-human was 100% awesome. What a way to make these ideas accessible to non-speciesists.

Here, if you want a copy, buy it used and ship it carbon-neutral. Lovelock was named after James Lovelock, who invented the Gaia Hypothesis. Wouldn't want Mother Nature (or super-intelligent monkeys) to come give you a talking-to for doing environmentally-unfriendly mail-order.

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Posted: Jun 4, 2007 7:51am
Nov 5, 2006

The Modern Day Slave Moulded by Speciesism

The Modern Day Slave Moulded by Speciesism
By me

What is the common ideology between mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and many others? Your answer may be that they are all vegetarians, but in fact, they all believed speciesism is immoral. Accordingly, one might ask: what is speciesism?

Speciesism, coined by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1970, is defined as assigning different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species. (Speciesism Wikipedia) Speciesists state that different species of animals significantly differ from each other and therefore some should have a lower status than others. This, in turn, would mean that the species from a lower status can be used, in any form, by species from a higher one. (BBC Religion and Ethics – Speciesism) On the other hand, Anti-speciesists claim that a difference of species cannot be used to determine the status of an individual (Singer 7).

The objections of speciesism are largely based on the famous, yet controversial, contemporary philosopher Dr. Peter Singer, who currently works as both the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. Named as Time Magazine's list of 100 of the world's most influential people in 2005 (Princeton University), his widely known book “Animal Liberation” is often referred to as the touchstone of the modern day animal rights movement. In his book, Dr. Singer argues that the interests of all beings capable of suffering are to be worthy of equal consideration.

Dr. Singer draws the line between beings worthy of equal consideration and those that are not by the ability to suffer because “ the capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all.” (8) As an example, he says that it would not make sense to give a stone interests because even if it were to be kicked, it would not suffer. However, if the being, such as a mouse or a human, will suffer from the kick, then there is no “moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration.” (Singer 8) To mark this division line with any other characteristics, like intelligence or rationalily, would be arbitrary, due to the characteristics’ irrelevance to the criteria of having interests.

Furthermore, Dr. Singer claims that giving equal rights to all living beings is impractical; instead, we should give equal consideration to different individuals. Although equal consideration may lead to different treatment and different rights, these interests will be appropriate to each individual. For example, giving voting rights to a dog will be meaningless, for a dog will not be able to understand the significance of voting. (Singer 2) This example also applies to human infants and adults with severe brain damage who, according to Dr. Singer’s theory, should have the same voting rights as the dog. From the above, one can see that the principle of equal consideration is not a speciesist view, for it evalutes each individual’s ability, not the general ability of the whole species, and assigns rights respectively.

It should be noted that Dr. Singer believes speciesism is very similar to racism and sexism: they all choose an arbiturary characteristic and divide those with and without that particular trait as superior or inferior to the other. Also, in all cases, the self proclaimed “superior” group exerts control, and often abuses, the “inferior” group, for they feel they are rightful in using the “inferiors” as a mean to their ends.

Marjorie Spiegel, author of “The Dreaded Comparison – Human and Animal Slavery,” commented on the similarities, which mainly consists of oppression in language, slave-master relationships, and the oppressors claiming that it is for the good of the whole that slaves should be oppressed, between speciesism now and racism directed at the African American population before. In both cases, oppression in language takes the form of connotations of words. The enslaved or domesticated “inferiors” are “good,” while the free and wild are “beastly” and savage-like. (35–38) In addtion, slave-master relationships are formed where the slaves are punished, branded, restrained by bondage, used in harmful experiments… and generally treated without consideration. (Spiegel 39-44) Surprisingly, one supporter of black slavery is quoted saying “Negroes…are void of sensibility to a surprising degree…and what would be the cause of unsupportable pain to a white man, a Negro would almost disregard.” (Mosely qtd. in Spiegel 65) Isn’t this the exact same agruement used by the supporters of speciesism? Finally, the “masters” declare that without them to control the “slaves,” society would turn into a chaotic place. An extract from an essay in 1851 stated “The Negro if left to himself will not work…[if slavery were abolished] the free white operative would be compelled to pay all the expenses necessary to support this idle, drunken, lazy population.” (Campbell qtd. in Spiegel 44) As with racism a hundred years ago, humans, being the “master,” only look at our relationship with nonhuman animals in modern society from our perspective, and forget to consider the whole picture.

Speciesism, as with racism and sexism, is a problem that relates to every single human in almost every society in the present day world. It is embedded in our language, in our culture, and mostly importantly, in the “neccessities” of everyday life. Whether it is the meat that we eat, the cosmetics that we use, or the medicine that we take, there might be some form of animal rights violation, whether it is intensive factory farming or animal experimentation and testing, associated in the process of production. Even if one is particularly attentive to not act, think, or consume in any way speciesist, it is still almost impossible to prevent all forms of speciesism. Therefore we must cause a change in our orthodox ways collectively; we must consciously think about all forms of oppression in our daily life and do our best to eradicate them. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel once said, "take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Are you willing to help abolish all forms of discrimination?

Works Cited
“Religion and Ethics – Speciesism.” BBC. Oct. 15, 2006.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: Avon Books, 1975

Singer, Peter. Home. Princeton University. Oct. 15, 2006 <>

“Speciesism.” Wikipedia. Oct. 15, 2006. <>

Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison – Human and Animal Slavery. New York: Mirror
Books div. of I.D.E.A., 1996

Imported from external blog

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Posted: Nov 5, 2006 7:53am
Jan 6, 2006
Veganistic Deja Vu
By William Francis

Radical animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky's guest lecture about veganism and speciesism to a basic reporting class, October 17 and October 20 motivated journalism students to reflect seriously on their choice of diets as well as inspired some to react with scorn.

Yourofsky, who wore a gray Animal Liberation Front T-shirt, said he wanted to eradicate speciesism, which is the killing of a species by humans and to "reconnect humans with animals because when we were kids we loved them." Yourofsky used a vivid lecture filled with historical, biological, personal, and factual anecdotes and vignettes as well as a graphic video of animal torture and slaughter.

Yourofsky said he was once like most people, a strong meat eater who ate meat "because it tastes good," and he also admitted to owning a fur coat in high school (in class none of his clothing nor shoes were made from animal products). He said, he like many others, neglected the negative attributes of eating meat and using animal products, that is, the health risks to humans and the toll of millions of dead animals.

Yourofsky said that it took him 25 years to finally realize that animals like humans deserve the right to be free and live without any form of domination. He urged students to "take off their blinders," and open their eyes to the injustice inflicted on millions of animals each year. He said that through empathy people could eradicate this injustice and view speciesism through the animals' perspective. His video reflected on the gruesome torturing and slaughtering of millions of animals each day in slaughterhouses across America.

"McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC would never use these images in their advertisements," said Yourofsky. "It bothers me when I see them use images of smiling animals. I don't feel important enough to have an animal killed for my benefit."

Senior Lu Wang, 22, a biology and media major, who wore a plaid jacket at the time of the interview, said the video had a substantial effect on her ethical beliefs about animals and how they were killed. "I think about the animals when I eat meat," said Wang, a Queens resident. "Yourofsky changed my way of looking at animals."

Yourofsky came off to listeners as a very dedicated and strong advocate of animal rights. He used charm, intelligence, and energy to deliver his message. Senior Yvette Macavale, 22, said, "He was very passionate about what he talked about."

"He was very soft spoken during his speech," said Macavale, a psychology major. Yefim Galkine, 20, a junior, expressed ambivalence. "As a person he seems like a very nice guy," said Galkine, a Brooklyn resident who is a media studies major and history minor. "While giving his speech he was very animated and energetic." But Galkine also said he didn't like Yourofsky because of his manner, which he described as intimidating and condescending.

Yourofsky mentioned famous people like Martin Luther King Jr. III, Minister Louis Farrakhan, and author Alice Walker. All, he said, adopted vegan lifestyles because they view the killing of animals as a form of oppression. According to Yourofsky, the oppression of animals is no different than the struggles they endured in their life times.

"Vegans don't consume, milk, cheese, eggs, or anything that had a face, defecated or urinated. They don't wear animal products such as furs leather belts and shoes," he said. He urged students to adopt a vegan lifestyle and he skillfully used ethics, the environment, history and health as the core principles in trying to persuade them to change their diets.

Macavale, a Staten Island resident, said that Yourofsky's approach was "too forceful" and that he shouldn't try to coerce students into being vegan. "I tried changing my diet, but it's hard for me to change my habits," said Macavale, who wore a green blazer with jeans and sneakers. "I'm not a fan of vegetables."

Yourofsky said that animal protein causes many serious diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. He provided a series of research and statistical information to support his claims. He said that people on a vegan diet live 15 years longer than non-vegans and and have less chance of contacting the serious ailments that plague millions of Americans: Obesity, cancer, heart attack and stroke. He also said that one out of every three meat eaters will get cancer due to animal protein consumption.

Yourofsky's speech had a great impact on some of the students. Even Macavale said, "I'm more compassionate about the animals' lives; I was thinking about using two days out of the week for a vegan diet." Wang also voiced some positive words, saying, "He changed my way of looking at animals, but it takes time to change."

Yourofsky said nothing is going to stop him from doing what he does and that he will continue to be the voice for the millions animals affected by spieciesism.

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Posted: Jan 6, 2006 8:44am


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