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In Defense of 'Speciesism'


Wesley J. Smith is a speciesist. And he thinks you should be, too.


An attorney and author of a new expose on the animal-rights movement, Smith promotes what was once an uncontroversial idea: the belief that "human beings stand at the pinnacle of the moral hierarchy of life." He thinks humans have a duty to treat animals humanely. He also thinks we have a right to use animals to promote human flourishing and alleviate human suffering. In short, Smith loves animals but values humans more.

According to animal-rights activists, that makes him guilty of "speciesism:" a form of discrimination as arbitrary and pernicious as racism, and one that some believe must be eradicated by any means necessary. After all, "animals are people and people are animals," as self-described "eco-anarcha-feminist animal" Pattrice Jones puts it. Or, to quote People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals."

Newkirk's non-sequitur serves as the title for Smith's meticulously documented book, A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. His research reveals the muddled, misanthropic thinking behind a movement that has gained mainstream acceptance in America, even as most Americans remain ignorant about its true goals.

Those goals include the elevation of animals to the moral and legal status of people and the eradication of virtually all uses of animals—for food, companionship and even medical research. If animal-rights activists have their way, we will see the abolition of everything from recreational fishing and visits to the zoo to the use of guide dogs for the blind and household pets of any kind. Forget about eating meat or sushi or strapping on leather shoes and wool sweaters. And don't even think about donning a silk scarf or drizzling honey on your dairy-free dessert. Animal-rights activists object to beekeeping because it subjects hive queens to "rape racks," and PETA opposes the use of silkworms because they are "feeling beings."


It's easy to snicker at the sort of people who berated Barack Obama last year for smacking a fly. (PETA denounced his televised swat as an "execution.") Yet Smith told me in a recent interview that he found surprisingly little distance between the views of the movement's violent radicals and those who serve as its more moderate public face. Animal-rights terrorists—those who plant bombs in the cars and target the children of medical researchers who experiment on animals—often operate with the sympathy and tacit approval of more peaceable protestors.

Even more troubling, animal-rights activists have succeeded in confusing the public about the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. The latter is a noble cause supported by the vast majority of Americans who want to protect animals from cruelty, even though they do not consider animals their moral equals—a caveat that runs counter to animal-rights ideology. Despite this distinction, "animal rights" has "become the catchall term for virtually any effort to protect animals," Smith says, and the resulting confusion has allowed the animal-rights movement to gain legitimacy it does not deserve.

That legitimacy threatens universal human rights, which are grounded in the principle that all humans are equal simply because we are human. If we reject that principle and argue that our rights are based on something other than our shared human nature—that it is a creature's apparent rationality or self-awareness, for instance, that entitles it to rights—we can wind up elevating the rights of chimps and pigs above those of profoundly disabled or demented humans. Indeed, some animal-rights advocates have done just that.

Animals do not have rights or the moral responsibilities that accompany rights. That's why we prosecuted Michael Vick, not his pit bulls, for dog-fighting. That's why executives at Sea World, not its orcas, are facing public scrutiny for a whale trainer's death last week. And that's why we ponder our moral obligations to animals—who are, after all, the ultimate speciesists—even though animals do not do the same for us. We do so because we are human, endowed with exceptional dignity that deserves singular defense.



Colleen Carroll Campbell. "In Defense of 'Speciesism'." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 4, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

The Author

Campbellcampbell5smColleen Carroll Campbell is an author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speechwriter. She is the author of My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir and The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell
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