Some good, others better: Why we’re outraged over dolphins and whales, but torture cows
Do you ever feel like you’re getting whiplash as story after story of animal abuse goes viral- but only for some animals? Speciesism is alive and well, and has even the most passionate of activists creating priority lists of who gets saved first and who goes forgotten. Speciesism, if you’re new to the concept, is assigning value and importance to an animal based upon – you guessed it – their species. It’s why some campaigns to protect animals take off, getting shared and liked on Facebook by the same person who is not at all concerned with the dairy and meat they ate at lunch.
News exploded recently after a baby La Plata dolphin was taken from the water in Argentina and passed around for selfies with tourists before being left alone, in the mud, to die. Things became wild as the public jumped on the animal rights bandwagon for twenty-four hours. While dolphin slaughter is a popular issue to discuss right now, and this event applied to that cause, can you imagine this type of fury and viral coverage about a meat packing plant just down the street, where torture happens endlessly? Feeling dizzy yet? Again and again, journalists stressed that this was an endangered species, but by this logic, do these same people think that alligator farming is okay, since it keeps the population off the endangered list it was once on? If this strikes you as extremely confusing, it’s because it is. There is so much mental gymnastics involved with which animals get our seal of approval, and who is left to be unnecessarily used.
It should not matter how smart or relatable or friendly an animal is – they are all worthy equally of being free from human use, and not a single one should be exploited. The only question we should be asking is, “are they sentient? Can they suffer?” Gary Francione raises an interesting point when he says that animals must be morally protected because they are sentient, and can in fact suffer. Animals want to live, and they want to live without exploitation, plain and simple, not “kinder” methods. This is a right that every living creature deserves, not because of what kind of animal they are, but by their sentience alone.
Whale and dolphin protection is at an all time high of popularity. Go on any animal rights website or news source, or just type “animal rights” as a Twitter search term; there’s a whale. It’s Seaworld, and The Cove, and the latest campaign lead by Sea Shepherd. Let’s not misunderstand here, I give plenty of fucks about protecting whales, and always have, long since before I became a vegan. Why is that? Well, when we think of whales and dolphins, we can relate to them with their intelligence and social structures; we see ourselves reflected in them. To a little girl and animal lover, I was indoctrinated by society to worry deeply about saving orcas and never question my chicken nuggets. I know better now, and I reject the treatment of whales just as ardently as I reject to consumption of the smallest fish.
Okay, let’s look the ranking again. Cecil the wild lion is shot and slain, and becomes a bit of a cultural meme. Late night talk show hosts mention him in monologues, his killer receives death threats, and suddenly, there’s much talk about how lions deserve to live wild and free. You may hear a friend of yours call the entire ordeal disgusting and indicative of the evils of humanity…and yet, they enthusiastically support the slaughter of a pig because it tastes so good. You know, I bet that dentist thought Cecil would look so good.
It’s something that starts quite early, this concept of arbitrarily ranking animals, and is something that needs to be actively and consciously unlearned. In the same way a man needs to unlearn sexism and discover how to keep comments and thoughts in check, vegans need to unlearn speciesism to be sure we’re holding all creatures to the same standard of inherent worthiness that they morally deserve.
Animal exploitation for consumption is animal abuse, yet animal abuse is only a felony if it takes place outside the walls of the slaughterhouse. Farms destroy lives every day, but a blind eye is turned because it tastes so good, and animals like pigs are stupid! In reality, pigs are quite smart (but again, no more or less worthy) and this is information that farmers aren’t too keen on people knowing. If consumers start to learn how friendly pigs are, they may stop eating them and move on to only torturing chickens, because now chickens are stupid! The pork industry undoubtedly depends on the stereotype of hogs being filthy and cumbersome to keep them as low on the ‘Species Priority List’ as they see, to be profitable.
Yes, speciesism and the strange rankings we continue to build are bizarre and confusing. Yes, they’re entirely stupid, and YES, they lead to slaughter and abuse. The best way to unlearn your own speciesist habits? Go vegan for the protection of every last animal, not just your personal favorite.