A couple of weeks ago a new schlock-umentary called “Speciesism: The Movie” premiered at a theater near us in Washington, D.C. We decided to go see it, given that many people from the Humane Society of the United States and other animal liberation groups would be in attendance, including folks like longtime (ex-)PETA leader Bruce Friedrich (who has said that “blowing stuff up and smashing windows…I do advocate it”) and Gene Baur, whose group Farm Sanctuary was found guilty of electoral fraud following a 2002 campaign in Florida.
For the benefit of our readership, let’s describe what “speciesism” means. According to animal rights activists, “speciesism” is discriminating against members of a different species than humans. They think it’s comparable to racism, a controversial comparison in its own right. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The film follows around a then college student as he first interviews animal rights activists at PETA and Compassion Over Killing, who complain about modern animal agriculture. Then the filmmaker shows up at farms to try to film and see for himself. But the farmers aren’t interested, and with good reason. Imagine if a stranger showed up at your front door and asked to walk around your house taking film. You’d be skeptical, too.
The film then moves from “modern farming is bad” to a discussion of speciesism, including interviews with Princeton professor Peter Singer, who authored Animal Liberation, and Tom Regan, another longtime animal rights philosopher. And this is where the film’s weakness shows.
The filmmaker interviews the animal rights activists on the side of “anti-speciesism” who have had decades of experience discussing and pondering the issue.
Then, for countering arguments, the filmmaker asks people on the street for their opinion on why speciesism is OK.
Naturally, the people look a little flabbergasted and stammer through an answer and, of course, look poor in comparison to the intellectuals like Singer and Regan. Things get even more eye-rolling when the filmmaker challenges people on the street by poking holes in their logic.
The problem is that he’s had lots of time to think about and adopt this point of view, and some guy on the street has probably never thought about it before.
This plays to the small audience of militant animal rights activists, who can chortle and pat themselves on the back about how right they are, but it’s not going to carry much weight with the public.
To put it another way, the filmmaker has incredible influence over those who don’t need influencing, which is to say he doesn’t have any influence at all.
If anything, the filmmaker, by engaging in these tactics, unintentionally shows how utterly weak the argument is for speciesism. The idea itself is absurd and contradictory. Out of all the species, only humans can be “speciesist.” Why? Because only humans have moral obligations.
If a lion kills and eats a gazelle, you can’t hold it responsible. But if a human kills and eats a cow, then the anti-speciesists attempt to hold the person morally responsible—while at the same time arguing against species-based discrimination.
Speaking of morals, these same self-proclaimed moral role models offer the most morally repugnant justification for their beliefs of all: mentally handicapped humans are the same as wild animals in that they have no more, and most likely less, cognitive abilities. Not only does that strike us as crass, but it’s illogical; the activists are trying to make an exception comparable to a rule.
Regardless of what anyone says, humans are an exceptional species. If that makes us “speciesist,” then so be it. But the vast majority of humans would argue that it’s not morally wrong. And the more people from the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, or other extremist groups hobnob at these anti-speciesist events, the more they expose themselves as part of the fringe.