From speciesism to compassionism

From speciesism to compassionism

It’s time we exercised some compassion – we have become pretty sufficient at being passionate just about everything. Passionate about food, cooking, design, music our jobs and the list goes on.

Now it is time to be COMPASSIONATE and exercise compassion-ism!   Compassionism is the practice of compassion for ‘all living things’ as opposed to species-ism, a term which was coined in the mid 70 ties to describe ‘the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals’. On what basis? And why do we eat some and not other animals?

 Did you know that, every year 65 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for their meat. That’s nine animals for every person on Earth.

What is our relationship with animals?

We need to question our relationship with all animals – companion animals, animals employed for entertainment and animals raised or captured as a food source.  On the one hand we elevate pets to family members and afford them luxuries that half the world can’t afford. On the other hand we are complicit in the abuse of pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, ducks (to name a few) by simply buying their flesh without caring where it came from.  Our love is random.  How is it possible that some of us love some species with all our heart and at the same time completely neglect the well-being of another species?

Cross-species friendships

Humans long for contact with non-human species as evidenced by the increasing rate of pet ownership and the length we go through to make our pets happy.  Health funds encourage pet ownership for their therapeutic effect. Dogs and cats are employed in hospitals to relax patients and aid with recovery and rehabilitation. We love to watch Sir David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries because they bring the complex and intriguing interplay of the wilderness directly into our dining room. The advertising industry has long taken advantage of our emotional attachment to wildlife and uses the animal kingdom to evoke associations that lead us to consume.   Cars are named after animals to indicate particular characteristics like superior speed and looks.  The list goes on.

If you can’t kill it, don’t eat it?

We have, however, emotionally detached ourselves from animals ‘bred’ to provide food. The growing middle classes around the world consume more meat than ever before and our knowledge about raising and treating animals to when they find their way into the shop or supermarket in the form of dead meat, is extremely limited.

We don’t have to be involved in the process anymore. Ignorance boosts consumption.

Meat is ‘grown’ and ‘produced’ on a large scale and all we need to do is buy it, cook it and bring it to dinner table.  ‘Meat’ has become a product divorced from its true origin – a sentient animal – and divorced from the countless kills required to prepare it.

While most of us are completely detached from the process of raising and killing animals for meat, we are not detached from the impact this has on our well-being and the environment.

Should cats and dogs be off the menu?

There is a blatant contradiction in our relationship to different species across different cultures and religions. Europeans, by and large, love dogs and cats and could not start to imagine eating them. On the contrary, they are part of the family. Many Asians however, regularly consume dog meat, much to the horror of Europeans. In South Korea alone it is estimated that 2.5 million dogs are eaten per year and millions more are eaten world-wide, mainly in Asia. The same is the case for certain species of birds which are kept as pets in some countries and are eaten as a delicacy by others. Hindus worship cows and find the killing and eating of cows unimaginable.

The future belongs to vegans!

The good news: the values of the cosmopolitan set are changing.  Many well informed people – mainly young – are adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. The more they know about the ‘production’ of meat, the more they know about non-human animals, the more they realize that all creatures deserve respect. With awareness comes compassion towards non-human animals. We don’t want to be complicit in the systematic abuse of animals.  We never did and even gag laws won’t suppress reality.

Rather than treating other species as chattels, we need to return to a worldview which respects animals as an essential part of the world without which our very existence is not just impoverished beyond belief but threatened in itself.

I would really like to hear your views. I realize that this is a controversial topic as it challenges the way we live – much of which is nothing but habit and can be easily changed.  Having grown up in, not just a meat eating but meat loving society and family, I know exactly what is involved and struggle with these issues.

I haven’t raised the issue of inequality – some countries produce, eat and waste a lot of meat products and others don’t and even starve. That’s a blog for another day.

Recommended reading & viewing

If you want to delve further into these issues check out:

  • An article where experts (never trust an expert!) argue why we should all eat dogs.
  • A good intro about why animals should have rights.
  • Peter Singer’s and Jim Mason’s book:” The Ethics of what we eat.” which explores the impact our food choices have on humans, animals, and the environment. Recognizing that not all of us will become vegetarians, Singer and Mason offer ways to make healthful, humane food choices. As they point out: You can be ethical without being fanatical.
  • A short outline about the ethics of speciesism by the BBC.
  • Michael Mosley’s Should I eat meat? documentary about the pros and cons of large scale husbandry.

Social change initiatives

PS 1  The Urban Dictionary: Compassionism, the practice of compassion on all living things.

PS. 2  While researching the topic I was struck by the lack of appropriate language to express my sentiments. Firstly, when I refer to animals I always think of humans as part of the animal family, which, biologically, is correct. And the correct way to refer to animals minus humans is non-human animals. Hence, the  common use of the term ‘non-human animal’ in animal ethics and welfare discussions,  which doesn’t really roll of the tongue very well. I have referred to animals here meaning animals without the human species.

PS 3  In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full Earthly life.

  • Renee

    Love this article. I am a meat eater, but most of our meat is grown by ourselves so we know what it has been fed, how it has been raised and treated. We also practice meat free days as well, as we know the benefits of a varied diet. Thank you for writing such an insightful article.

    • Thank you Renee – particularly as you are a conscious and responsible meat eater! it would be wonderful if we could scale back husbandry to a level were it is possible to give each animal some space and respect. I like the idea of meat free days, most cultures have them, just modern society doesn’t subscribe to anything that’s not profitable 24 hours 7 days a week.

  • This is an excellent article Ulrike, and something that should be thought about by every person on this earth. We are complicit in the cruelty, insanity and environmental waste of meat production if we do nothing about it – ignorance is not a good excuse. I like the idea of earthlings – we are all the creatures of this earth. If someone was to look from the outside they would see the horror show that exists here.