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  • Writer's pictureKaaya Sharma

The link between speciesism and interlocking systems of oppression

When we discuss sociological issues poisoning our society, we seldom take the time to make connections between different forms of oppression and how they tend to augment one another. Particularly, we never usually consider the linkage between the mistreatment of non-human animals and the oppression of other people groups who have been othered by society. As we continue to explore these connections, we begin to realize that speciesism - the belief that humans are superior leading to the exploitation of animals - has been institutionalized, much like racism and sexism. Additionally, the exploitation of one group feeds into our willingness to mistreat others, contributing to the oppression of marginalized individuals in our society.

Has speciesism been institutionalized?

Speciesism has been proven to be a social structural issue and has been institutionalized like other forms of oppression since the beginning of time. According to sociologist David Nibert, there are typically three societal factors that develop and maintain oppression. These include economic exploitation, unequal power, and ideological control. These factors can all be seen with various human-animal interactions around the world.


First, the economic exploitation of animals for the sake of our own benefit is extremely prevalent, especially among domesticated animals and the livestock industry. The raising and killing of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, labor, or laboratory tools have become a common practice. Furthermore, practices such as factory farming have led to the severe deterioration of the welfare of the animals as the industry is extremely profit-driven. There have been numerous documented reports of animals being farmed in uncomfortable and stressful conditions and forced to live lives full of fear, pain, disease, and boredom, affecting both their physical and mental health.


Second, it has become normalized that humans hold more value than non-human animals. This has enabled the justification for exerting more power over animals and leading us to oftentimes treat them simply as objects or commodities. In places like circuses, movies, and shows such as bullfights, animals are confined to a lifetime of physical and psychological abuse in order to provide a few moments of human amusement. This is seen when we chain them up, put them in tight cages, strip them of normal social and environmental interaction, and force them to perform degrading tricks that go against their natural instincts. And if they do not comply with OUR needs and standards, society has deemed it acceptable to trade, neglect, or even kill them.


Finally, the ideological ideas and beliefs that animals are inferior to humans have been rationalized and legitimized for generations. Our society has normalized that humans are superior to all other beings, and we are to never question this ideology, furthering the exploitation and oppression of non-human animals. According to David Nibert, these ideologies over time have become ‘real and true’ - as the ‘natural order of things.’ In this sense, I do feel speciesism has become institutionalized like other forms of oppression that we need to address as a society and do better.


Why is speciesism a societal issue?

Speciesism should be considered a societal issue as there have been many studies proving that the mistreatment of animals has amplified the mistreatment of other communities. According to the ‘progression thesis,’ most people who have taken part in violent acts against other humans as adults also took part in the abuse of animals as children. We can also note that animals are severely disadvantaged and marginalized in our society.


However, this social justice issue is generally ignored for the most part. Targeting society’s oppressive ideology of human supremacy needs to be addressed together with other forms of oppression because then we can effectively start to combat the justifications behind the privileged moral status of humans, which is key to combating other forms of oppression and violence.


To gain perspective, it is important to note that annually, in the United States alone, more than 10 million animals are killed from animal abuse and mistreatment, around 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding lowering their quality of life significantly, and more than 115 million animals are used for laboratory experimentation. In the majority of these situations, the animals are not given treatment that is necessary for their comfort and well-being and are victims of severe mistreatment. Failing to advocate for this issue as a social problem will continue to exacerbate the cycle of oppression that affects not only non-human animals but various other communities in our society.


Some argue that it is not a form of oppression to partake in these activities as animals and humans are built differently and don’t require the same habitual needs to survive and have a fulfilling life. However, although it is true that we are not to treat all species the same, we have a moral obligation to uphold cruelty-free standards in the treatment of animals. Additionally, it is important to remember that many animals being harmed are sentient beings, meaning they have emotions and feelings just like humans but tend to express them differently. Currently, the amount of mistreatment and abuse that stems from human-animal interactions are putting animals in less than humane circumstances, taking both a physical and mental toll on their health. Our justifications behind these acts of aggression stem from the idea that humans are superior, which is actively clouding our moral judgments behind violence and othering certain groups of individuals.


What's the takeaway?

The mistreatment of non-human animals continues to be heavily ignored. We must begin to not only try and combat specific forms of oppression, but also the ideologies that allow humans to justify their oppressive behavior. This includes mental and societal reprogramming of animal abuse tolerance and stronger enforcement against the mistreatment of animals in our society. The key to this is to understand that speciesism has been institutionalized like other forms of oppression, and the exploitation of this group augments the mistreatment of others. The mistreatment of non-human animals is definitely a societal issue that everyone must actively work to combat.

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