Princeton Bioethics Professor and famed author of over 25 books including The Life You Can Save, the Most Good You Can Do and Animal Liberation, Peter Singer joins me on The Plantbased Business Hour to discuss his newest book, Animal Liberation Now.
Specifically, we discuss
- Speciesism: what is it and how could its adoption change society?
2. Have we progressed in the 50 years since the publication of Animal Liberation?
3. Should animals have rights, be considered equals or be considered at all? What are the moral questions that would determine the answer?
4. How has Charles Darwin helped to shape animal rights and our understanding of animals?
5. His predictions for the global shifting food supply system away from animals.
Here is a transcript of a highlight clip from our long-form conversation.
Elysabeth: It is with huge emotion and joy that I bring on the author of Animal Liberation. It is having its 50th anniversary celebration and so much so that the author Peter Singer here with me today is putting out the next edition of Animal Liberation and it’s called Animal Liberation Now and it is out today May 23rd. Peter, thank you for being with me.
I mentioned a term before and maybe we should go back and define it for people. I mentioned speciesism and I wondered if you could share with us what exactly that is.
Peter Singer: Yes, certainly. Speciesism is a term that was actually coined by someone I knew in Oxford, Richard Rider, and I popularized it in Animal Liberation which is intended to make the analogy between those other “isms” that as we’ve been saying, I think we have moved beyond, at least in terms of our ethical acceptance even if we haven’t moved beyond them in practice. Racism and sexism would be the big examples. There are relatively few people who will openly say now, “Yes, I’m a racist. I think it’s right to be a racist.”
So, what is racism? Racism is the domination by one race of other races over whom the dominant race has power and then uses that power to its own advantage to exploit the races over which it’s dominant. Most obviously is, of course, in terms of slavery and the dominance of Europeans over Africans. And then it develops an ideology to justify this, because we’ve been talking just now with animals about cognitive dissonance and how you feel if you know you’re going to eat a being with deep emotions and the capability to live a good life.
Similarly, if you’re enslaving a person who is really like you who is going to suffer by being captured and taken away from family and transported in horrendous conditions across the Atlantic and made a slave, you would feel bad if you thought you were doing that to somebody just like you. So, you develop this ideology that they’re inferior, they’re different, or maybe that God entitled us to do that. That was part of the belief of slavery, too. They found passages in the Bible that they thought justified them enslaving other races.
The point about speciesism is to say this is a similar phenomenon. This is a dominant group that is exploiting another group and developing an ideology, sometimes religiously based because people have quoted this verse in the Bible about God giving us dominion over the animals and they’ve interpreted it as if that means God doesn’t care what we do to animals. We can do what we like to God’s creation. It’s sometimes based on pseudoscientific claims about how they’re inferior to us in various respects and they don’t feel things like we do.
That’s the point of the analogy to say we really are not entitled to treat animals just as things for us to benefit from. We just happen to exist alongside other species, other sentient beings on this planet. They were not given to us for any particular purpose and so we should treat them as we would treat beings of our species with the emotions and the feelings and the capacities to suffer that they have and we should not discount that or ignore their suffering and their capacity for well-being simply because they’re not members of our species. That’s the essence of rejecting speciesism.
Elysabeth: And I think it’s something anyone who’s ever had a dog or a cat can easily relate to. You can see the emotional range of these animals and you see the cognitive dissonance in saying legally I won’t do this to my dog but legally it’s okay to do this to a cow.
Pigs, as many know, are much smarter than dogs. They sing to their young. Chickens can remember a hundred faces and a hundred names. I can’t even remember a hundred names. Chickens can do that so you see the emotional and cognizant capability of the animal.
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