Speciesism and Veganism: Transcending Politics and Religion

Although this may come as a surprise to some, there are ethical vegans across the political spectrum and in every major religion. Veganism transcends politics and religion because it is based on the simple matter of rejecting a particular form of prejudice: speciesism.

Speciesism, racism, sexism, and other prejudices rely on a morally irrelevant criterion (in this case, species) as the basis on which to deny the interests of an individual belonging to a different ‘group’, even if those interests are more significant than one’s own. As such, speciesism is simply a different form of the same underlying wrong at the foundation of all prejudices. It really doesn’t matter which morally irrelevant criteria we base our prejudice on – sex, race, skin color, age, sexual orientation, species – it is ethically wrong to use such arbitrary criteria to deny the rights of others.

Despite the cultural evolution that has brought humanity a long way from the ‘kill or be killed’ mentality of prehistoric times, the world today remains profoundly speciesist. The extreme prejudice of our cultural speciesism reaches far beyond disregarding an individual’s right to avoid persecution. It extends as far as absolute indifference to the right to be free from unjust imprisonment, mental and emotional torment, extreme physical violence in the form of mutilations and the infliction of injury and death. Owned as chattel property, with no laws to protect their most fundamental rights, those who are not human are condemned to a life with no protection against the brutal and unremitting oppression from those who control their world: Us.

Animal exploitation is perfectly legal and socially acceptable everywhere in the world, despite the emergence of satisfactory alternatives to virtually all uses (not to mention those yet to be developed, once our society rejects our current speciesist practices). Although there is a growing movement drawing attention to the many brutal rights violations routinely carried out against nonhumans being used for human gain, we continue to confine, injure and kill animals of all kinds, maintaining unnecessary, antiquated exploitative practices for food production, research, fashion, and even entertainment.

The ubiquitous nature of this extreme cultural prejudice explains why speciesism (and the proper moral response to it: veganism) is unrelated to political leaning. Although social justice movements generally arise from the left, there are some political conservatives who are principled vegans, while some on the political left, sadly, continue to scoff at issues of animal rights. In fact, it is remarkable that the vast majority of those on the political left choose to remain uninformed and to deliberately ignore these glaring justice issues, including their own participation in practices that would be rightly abhorred by anyone in touch with their conscience.

As it is with politics, so it is with religion. Christians were strongly divided over human chattel slavery in antebellum America, with slavery proponents using Bible quotes to defend their “God given” right to own slaves. Opponents of slavery used different Bible quotes to point out that slavery was condemned by God. And so it is with regard to animal rights today. Those on both sides of the issue use quotes from religious texts either to justify unnecessary killing, or to validate the vegan ethic of nonviolence.

Eastern religions are no exception. Many of today’s Buddhists attempt to justify animal use, unnecessary killing, and speciesism by pointing to loopholes in the various contradictory writings about the Buddha’s teaching of universal compassion for all sentient beings. Other Buddhists choose instead to practice and promote veganism as the rational response to the essential Buddhist teaching of nonviolence. Presumably, having been liberated from their own speciesism, vegan Buddhists are able to see through such prejudiced rationalizations, and recognize the higher authority in the truth the Buddha was apparently trying to impart to his students.

(In other words, if the Buddha wasn’t a vegan, as some people claim, then he wasn’t living up to his own teachings, which state very clearly that reverence for sentient life is a fundamental principle of a spiritual existence.)

In any case, it is clear that politics and religion are irrelevant to rejecting our common prejudice against fellow sentient beings. Regardless of whether we are conservative, liberal, leftist, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or fall under any other category, we have the choice to acknowledge and reject the underlying cultural speciesism that we have all been conditioned to accept.

In fact, one might say that a deep-seated awareness of the essential rights and needs held by all sentient beings is the common ground that we every one of us shares. Despite our many differences and divergences, underneath religion, politics, worldviews, interests, personalities, shape, size, sex, color, and even species, underneath it all, every single one of us is made from flesh and blood. Or, as the Buddha himself is said to have taught:

“All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

Angel Flinn is Director of Outreach for Gentle World – vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

Dan Cudahy is author of Unpopular Vegan Essays: Unpopular Essays Concerning Popular Violence Inflicted On The Innocent.

Related Stories:

Animal Cruelty: Who is to Blame?

Are Anti-Cruelty Campaigns Really Effective?

Legal Slavery in the 21st Century

The Importance of Being Vegan



Henry M
Henry M4 months ago

True veganism should involve consuming mainly organically grown foods, to avoid killing large numbers of insects, birds, wildlife, and farmhands with toxic pesticides.

William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Gerald L.
Gerald L4 years ago

A Vegan Vision; Re-wilding, Back to Eden by 2050

A fascist philosophy for the enlightened.

Dennis D.
Past Member 4 years ago

So vegans want to live as though nature is going to give them a free pass.. Um Nature never gives any one a free pass. We all kill something to live.. Fact of life. Sorry to any vegan that thinks he or she is getting a free pass by refraining from eating meat. Your not. Every vegetable you consume. There is an animal death there. That acre of land cleared. That was wild life habitat. Keeping those crops out of the mouths of wild nd sometimes domestic animals.. Dogs, cats, ect. You think the farmer comes out to his field and asks nicely that they (animals) be so kind as to move on.. LOL..

That farmer is going to do all he to see anything that would ruin one vegetable, grain, cereal, or legume die as quickly as possibly. Whether by trap, poison, or simply shooting the interloper.

There is blood on that plant of vegetables. Something died to get it there.. And in the harvest does any really believe that a harvester avoids smaller animals. Such as rodents, rabbits, or birds.. Something gets caught in those blades. The kindest thing is a quick death..

Vegan diet and lifestyle is just another way to live life. No more moral than any other diet or lifestyle.

Dale O.

Interesting, Gerald L, when it comes to the sheltered life of the urban dweller and those in suburbia. Whenever the weather gets warmer and more dogs and cats are outside to soak up the sun and walk in the grass, they often will pick up fleas, ticks and other hitch hikers along the way.

Few people, except the the most militant (along with the very pacifist Jain vegans who won't garden root veggies for fear of hurting insects that live among the roots of potatoes, etc) will question the often lethal and forcible removal of said fleas, ticks, etc., to rid pets of these risks. Even mosquitoes, deer, horse and black flies are dealt with quickly.

Dale O.

Speaking of sheltered, there are even those who believe that all predators in the wild such as wolves, cougars, lions and the like should be eased into extinction because a few of these utilitarian philosophers (no doubt all urban dwellers feel that predators cause pain, fear and suffering among the prey animals.

Of course, they do not explain how the herbivores left in the wild (without the balance of Nature provided by the existence of the prey animals to control their population) will fail to do anything but to slowly starve to death once their ever expanding numbers explode because there were no predators left to balance things out. I guess such utilitarians may think that a long period of starvation is preferable and a far more humane way for a rabbit or zebra to expire than the far quicker act of a lion or wolf killing its prey.

Dale O.

Speaking of the odd positions of a handful of utilitarian philosophers when it comes to animals such as lions, tigers, wolves, bears, eagles, raptors in general, the desire to escape and use simplistic solutions to explain away what occurs in every day life is sometimes tempting to some holding dear an inflexible viewpoint.

In another thread, for example, there is a vegan who maintains that the complex issues of both war and abortion have one reason and one reason alone for their occurrence. It is not, as most suspect, geo-political conflicts, sometimes the doctrine of some of the more extreme religious fundamentalist efforts to displace other religions, the desire to conquer and add new territory to one's own, economics/corporate greed, ethnic conflicts and other reasons.

Dale O.

Also, nor for women obtaining an abortion - it is not the result of incest/rape, failure to use contraception, the times when condoms have a slight tear, poverty, age inappropriate 14 year old teens getting pregnant or even medical reasons that threaten the life of a mother should she give birth,...no, a certain vegan has everything nailed down to one cause and one cause alone for all wars and all abortions.

He actually believes that it is 'karma' coming back to claim the lives of all those who once ate meat in either their past or who eat meat in their present lives and somehow, Nature has come back to claim future lives because of someone had a big mac attack or ate organically raised Chicken Kiev. I had seen some bizarre theories in my time, but that one takes the proverbial chocolate cheese cake.