In Yulin, China, June 22nd will mark an annual solstice celebration known across the world as the “Yulin Dog Meat Festival”. Traditionally the festival has involved the slaughter and consumption of thousands of dogs - somewhere in the region of 10,000 animals for each occasion.
This year especially the festival has attracted huge amounts of attention from concerned persons across the globe. Countless people have taken to Twitter, led by celebrities like Ricky Gervais, to voice their views on the event they call “disgusting”, “barbaric”, “inhumane”, “sickening”, and so on.
Many if not most of the people protesting Yulin are not vegan. It goes without saying (almost) that protesting one type of animal slaughter over another belies a seriously inconsistent sense of morality. The food industries harm and kill cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and other land animals by the billions every single year. Trillions of fish and sea creatures have the same fate. And that’s just for food; billions of other animals suffer and die each year for clothing (wool, silk, leather, etc.), for entertainment (circuses, zoos), and for experimentation (for drugs, cosmetics, and household products). These are all sentient animals; in other words, they are all animals who have an interest in continuing their own lives. We disregard entirely this interest and the inherent value in these animals and their lives. We place our own desires - not even our needs - above and beyond the right of these animals to live without being exploited and, more often than not, tortured as well. We harm and kill trillions of animals yearly as a matter of course, all of whom feel pain and want to live just like the Yulin dogs feel pain and want to live. If killing and eating dogs is wrong - and it is - exploiting and killing other sentient animals is also wrong.
Protesting Yulin as an omnivore is at best ethically inconsistent; at worst, it perpetuates the speciesism which dominates our world and drives our senseless exploitation of living, feeling beings. Some vegans also perpetuate speciesism by getting behind campaigns like the Yulin protest. While their doing so is no doubt born of good intentions, somewhere along the line, it also adds weight to the implied notion behind the campaign: that certain animals, like dogs and cats, are more deserving of protection and moral recognition than others, like cows, pigs, and chickens. And that’s the root of the problem: our conceiving of animals as greater and lesser, as food and not-food, as exploitable and not-exploitable. That’s specieism. We categorise animals in this way purely because of their species.
Although we often highlight specific criteria which we say make certain animals more valuable than others - and usually the most valued traits are “humanistic” ones like cognitive ability - there’s no real logic to this. Take cognitive ability as an example. Plenty of humans lack the same types of cognitive ability as others. A four-year-old child thinks very differently to an adult human. Pigs, on the other hand, have been shown to be cognitively very similar to four-year-old children. And yet we kills pigs by the millions each day. Intelligence is not why we value human life, and nor are any of the other characteristics we talk about when “distinguishing” animals and humans. We value a child’s life and a dog’s life but not a pig’s life because we mistakenly think that species exempts or validates someone’s deserving of moral consideration. It doesn’t. The only criteria that matters when we’re talking about our moral duty to someone is sentience. It’s sentience that alerts us to the fact that animals, like humans, have a desire to live and to continue doing so without being harmed; that is what gives them (and us) a basic inherent moral value, because they value their own lives even if others don’t. Choosing species as the criteria by which we assess someone’s right to live is as arbitrary and misguided as choosing race, sex, class, age, or any other irrelevant moral criteria to assess someone’s right to live. Note well, I am not exactly equating specieism with racism, sexism, and so on here - but that’s another discussion entirely - simply highlighting that these are all types of discrimination based on irrelevant moral criteria.
It’s speciesism which drives both our own everyday cruelty to nonhuman animals and the cruelty we recognise in the actions of other cultures. Just like the participants of the Yulin festival, we have arbitrarily decided that some animals can be killed and some can’t. And it’s speciesism which must be addressed if we are to ever put a stop to any and all incidents of animal use and abuse, whether these take place at home or abroad. If you protest for the dogs of Yulin whilst also consuming, wearing, or otherwise using animals - i.e. if you are not vegan - you are directly participating in the exploitation and harm of beings which were every bit as sentient and as deserving of life as the Yulin dogs. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ricky Gervais). If you protest for the dogs of Yulin and you are vegan, don’t waste your time on a campaign which further entrenches speciesism, the root of all human harm to animals. Focus on promoting veganism unequivocally: the only answer to speciesism and the only answer to animal suffering.
We have a long way to go with this. While we have long since accepted the fact that - in general - we don’t think humans should be discriminated against based on irrelevant criteria, we are still reminded daily that the task of eliminating racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and so on, is still ongoing. Yulin is a case in point, as the xenophobic hate-speech cropping up under #StopYulin2015 indicates. So, we need to work to eliminate specieism - as well as all the remnants of other forms of social injustice - with all urgency. Be vegan. Promote veganism. End speciesism today. End animal exploitation and suffering today.
Until next time...
Thumbnail image sourced from Flickr Creative Commons.