Despite what some people would like, humans are very different from other animals. In addition to the moral agency, there are more reasons to reject the idea of ”speciesism” and equal rights with animals, as Mauricio-José Schwarz explains:
The word is an invention of a character, Richard D. Ryder, created for propaganda purposes, ie, it is not a term that describes a fact, but a more emotional name at a time when “vivisection” sounded old already.
The concept is less clear and I find it a philosophically morass of irrationality. It’s meant to equate the classification of human “races” with the classification of “living species” and it’s based only on “physical appearance”, so, mutatis mutandis, if you reject racism must you must reject speciesism and consider all animals exactly equal in rights (with plants they already change the play, let alone bacteria).
Is the separation of species done solely by how they look? That’s a lie. Besides the appearance there are many elements that allow us to differentiate a crayfish and a giraffe. That’s the kind of thing that a philosopher can say if he’s careful enough not to learn basic biology.
We understand that races division is an artificial one, but it is also a modern phenomenon. There is no such concept before the Renaissance. We understand that it can be demonstrated scientifically that biological differences between people of different ethnicities are completely artificial because they all show, if given the opportunity, similar physical, intellectual and emotional capabilities. I would refer to Shylock‘s monologue in “The Merchant of Venice“. We are genetically identical to the natural variations of many geographically dispersed populations.
All of that can’t be applied to Ryder’s idea of ”speciesism” (and, of course, he was not a biologist, but an animal rights activist) no matter how much hippie we get.
The concept of “rights” as a gracious concession from one group to another is also highly questionable. The philosophical, artistic or ethical constructs are created by humans and therefore are applicable to humans but can not be extended to the nonhuman. This would be very different if, say, you were to allow lions or dogs to take part in legislative bodies and set their point of view regarding the rights and obligations of all species. But it can not be. And not because of the “appearance” of ants and sea turtles, of course. And since animals can not speak for themselves (because they are not human, d’uh), humans show up claiming to represent animals without asking them, of course. And speaking in their name, these humans tell us what animals want, what hurts them, what they think, what their opinions are and what animals dream about. Amazing telepaths they are.
Of course, they have never given evidence that animals say, think and feel what they claim they do, neither have they proved their telepathic ability. It’s nothing to regulate legislative activity, I would say.
Obviously, something I commented recently, the Linnaeus‘ species concept and the current one are different because the divisions between species are not as sharp, but this does not mean that all species are equal. There is a continuum between species, and we know that; chimpanzees are closer to us than monarch butterflies, but it takes a huge failure of appreciation of reality to say that a chimpanzee is equal to a monarch butterfly and that we divide them “prejudicially” just by their looks alone.
The relationships between living beings are a complex network, no doubt, and the use of some beings by other beings does not have its source in prejudice, malice or cruelty, as pretended by this strange concept.
That said, I would rahter see these magical-ideas activists went about developing tissue culture procedures so we can have steaks for everyone without killing cows, if they are so upset about cattle being sacrificed for our benefit, but they wont; they are essentially prohibitionist groups that rather than trying to tell us what to do, want to lead the police to tell us what not to do. This discredits them a lot.
And yes, when we can have lobster with steak without killing lobsters nor steaks, it could be a good idea because many people will feel better (although we might create an ecological disaster, also, I do not know). Doing scientific research without animals would also be a good idea, not so because of what animals feel, but because of the feelings of the researchers, who are not the monsters anti-vivisectionists paint them to be, fuck, they are rather people who work for the happiness of human beings. But while all this happens, we can not put in place the bans of telepaths, who have invented a concept that sounds good to promote their mystical, religious or supernatural beliefs.
To paraphrase Penn & Teller, I do prefer my own kind than the others’, even though I might want to respect them. If in a fire you have the option of saving a child or a squirrel and you have an ethical doubt about which one to save because they are equal to you, you do not strike me as the right person to tell me how to make laws for everyone. I would not hesitate, I’d save the child. And if to save a child, a single child, I have to kill all the pandas left in the world with my bare hands, I would do so, without hesitation.
I can empathize with the pandas, but I definitely feel more empathy with children. If it were not so, if we were not historically and evolutionarily that way, we would not be here. Neither would we deserve to be. We are a selfless and caring animal, and we have the enormous ability to extend our altruism and solidarity beyond our species, to life forms that are radically different from us, and that speaks very highly of our species, is something to be proud of. Just like we are the only animal that assesses the damage it does to the environment and tries to avoid it and repair it. And to do all that we need not embittered professional telepaths who feel they’re the defenders of the planet and of all living things but humans.