Sun, Jun 12, 2016 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Illustrating speciesism in animal rights calls

Australian philosopher Peter Singer, best known for his contribution to animal rights, sat down with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Chen Wei-han in Hsinchu to illustrate his concept of speciesism and effective altruism and comment on the animal welfare situation in Taiwan and new euthanasia legislation

Philosopher and animal welfare pioneer Peter Singer poses for a photograph during an interview on May 28 in Hsinchu City.

Photo: Chen Wei-han, Taipei Times

Taipei Times: What is speciesism and effective altruism, and how are the ideas connected to animal welfare?

Peter Singer: Speciesism is like racism and sexism. In both cases, there is one group that overpowers the other group — say, white against black, and men against women — and the dominant group develops an ideology to seek to justify its taking advantage of the other group. This can also be applied to a dominant species against other species. The dominant species on Earth is our own, homo sapiens.

Speciesism is an ideology that justifies using animals for our own purposes, whether it is to experiment on them, make them entertain us, or kill them for their furs and most importantly, to kill them for their meat. It is a prejudice to think that only one species is important and that species is the only one that has moral status and rights.

There is another form of speciesism that we practice: Even when we are done with preferring our own interests, we might prefer the interests of animals which we like. So cruelty to dogs and cats is taken more seriously than cruelty to pigs and chickens for example, whereas factory-farmed animals are equally capable of suffering and they live a much more miserable life than pets.

Effective altruism is about using limited resources in a most effective way to do good, and an important way of doing good is to reduce suffering. Effective altruism dictates that one should reduce suffering as effectively as possible. Effective altruists might have different views on what is the most effective way to reduce suffering — say, helping people out of poverty or saving animals — but effective altruism is a movement that is broad enough to encompass the anti-poverty movement, animal rights movement and other issues.

TT: How do you extend the fight against animal cruelty to cows, pigs and chickens? How do you convince people that commercially farmed animals should be given equal consideration as cats and dogs?

Singer: We have tried to make people understand that farmed animals are also individuals, and that they are complicated beings with emotions and social lives. People think of farmed animals en masse instead of treating them as individuals with personalities, just as dogs and cats have personalities. That kind of thinking leads to the blindness to animal suffering in factory farms. We often use pigs to raise the public’s awareness because pigs are so clearly intelligent, and it is quite easy to see that almost anything a dog can do a pig can do as well, and pigs can behave in ways that people would relate to. It is just illogical to say that a dog needs more protections than a pig.

TT: A movement has been initiated in Taiwan to call for increased penalty’s against animal cruelty, in particular, against cruelty to dogs and cats. Do you think it is an improvement in animal welfare or another form of speciesism?

Singer: I do think it is a form of speciesism.

We give dogs and cats more protection because we like them. However, one can say that it is still better that some animals are protected than no protection at all. If I were Taiwanese, I would be advocating for the extension of the legislation — whatever protection it gives to cats and dogs — to birds and mammals at minimum, because there is no reason to think that cats and dogs suffer more than pigs, cows and chickens. My concern would be that the public might feel animal protection is in place once dogs and cats are under protection, and it would be more difficult for other animals that people do not have sympathy for to be protected. I would use the existing momentum to point out that a pig is just as much capable of suffering as dogs or cats, and there is no reason to have one law for dogs and cats and another law for pigs.

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