Professor Oscar Horta Interview
Prof. Oscar Horta
19 March 2011
Oscar Horta is a philosopher and antispeciesist activist who is currently a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In 2009-2010 he was a visiting scholar at Rutgers University for the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. Oscar is the author of numerous papers and articles about speciesism, bioethics, egalitarianism, and the anthropocentrism of environmentalism. He also has a website in Spanish and English, www.masalladelaespecie.wordpress.com.
He’s a member of the Spanish animal rights group “Equanimal” which increases public awareness of animal exploitation through media campaigns, open rescues, street performances, and demonstrations.
Oscar’s research explores issues surrounding the moral consideration of nonhuman animals by humans. His work challenges anthropocentric discrimination and other forms of speciesism. He also analyzes the ways in which future human policies would impact the wellbeing of all sentient beings.
He considers the most under-addressed problem in the animal rights and antispeciesist movements to be the suffering of nonhuman animals due to causes other than their use by humans as resources. Oscar disagrees with the view that our only duty towards free living animals is to “Let them be!” He believes we should intervene in the wild to help improve the wellbeing of other animals if we are able to and can do so without causing greater harm.
Oscar considers himself to be an antispeciesist activist. He supports the granting of legal rights to all sentient nonhumans. However, in his opinion, a rights approach does not adequately address the obligations humans have towards other human or nonhuman animals. He advocates “egalitarianism” which requires that we try to make things more fair and help those who are worse off even if their rights have not been violated.
ARZone: Hi Oscar, and thank you for being here! How long have you been vegan, and what was the catalyst for you becoming vegan?
Prof. Oscar Horta: Thank you! I became a vegan back in 94. I had stopped eating animals some time before then, but I knew very few vegans and I didn’t know anything about speciesism then. I decided to do it because I thought it wasn’t fair for the animals to exploit them. But some time afterwards I started to learn about the arguments for treating animals equally and was amazed at how strong they were.
I recall having been particularly shocked by the argument that points out that if we think we should be respected more than other animals because we are more intelligent, then humans who lack our level of intelligence should be also discriminated against. This was a big discovery for me, and strongly reinforced my veganism. (Also, reading about those arguments is what drove me to study moral philosophy, in order to help animals!)
Thank you Prof. Horta, it’s interesting that your concern for animals led you to study philosophy; it often works the other way ’round! Could you please give your opinion on the difference between anti-speciesism and animal rights?
The term ‘animal rights’ is sometimes used in philosophical debates to name the view that moral rights exist and that all sentient animals have them. It’s been mainly used, though, to mean all sentient animals should have legal rights. So you can perfectly defend animal rights, that is, legal animal rights even if you don’t believe that moral rights exist.
On the prevailing conception of what having rights means, a rights holder can’t be used as property. So if you’re for animal rights then you must defend that the use of animals has to be abolished, although you won’t stop here, because if animals have rights, then they should also be protected aagainst other things apart from their exploitation by humans. Human rights don’t only protect you against slavery. The same happens with animal rights.
However, you can respect someone’s rights yet discriminate against her. or him, of course. A racist individual doesn’t violate the rights of black people if he tries to convince his daughter not to marry black men. But that’s morally unacceptable. Equally, you can respect animal rights yet discriminate against nonhuman animals. For instance, a vegan speciesist wouldn’t violate the rights of animals by deciding to donate to charities that help humans rather than helping animals because he thinks that humans count for more due to his speciesist attitude. (This actually happens!)
Antispeciesism is the opposition (or the struggle against) the discrimination of those who don’t belong to a certain species. Antispeciesism opposes all discrimination of nonhuman animals, even if it’s carried out while respecting their rights. I think we should reject speciesism, and I think speciesism is the key term to understand the current relation between humans and other animals.
What do you see as being the major differences between animal activism in the Spanish-speaking world and the English-speaking world?
There are several ones, I think. In Spanish speaking world the movement is younger , and is still developing. The public doesn’t really know about speciesism and AR. People often confuse it with environmentalism. This doesn’t happen in the English speaking world, due to the work of many activists there for decades now. that’s the 1st difference. Here’s the 2nd one: In the Spanish speaking world there are no big-budget organizations. An important reason for this (apart from the one I mentioned above) is that in the English speaking world there is a culture of donating to charities. People are quite generous in this respect. That’s great. Unfortunately, in Spain and Latin America, very few people donate to charities. I think that activists coming from English speaking countries would be amazed if they learned how reduced are the budgets of Latin American and Spanish organizations. And here’s the 3rd difference. In Spain and Latin America, the antispeciesist movement is much less focused in particular campaigns against certain companies or particular cases of animal exploitation, and it’s much more focused in questioning speciesism. If you take a look at the street events that organizations such as Especismo Cero, Animal Equality, EligeVeganismo, DefensAnimal, Equanimal and other groups typically carry out in Latinamerica and Spain, in most cases they aren’t protests against anything. They are events aimed at spreading veganism. Of course, other groups that aren’t opposed to speciesist or have a welfarist approach don’t do this.
What kinds of protests do you think are effective, both in terms of what to protest and how to protest?
That’s a very interesting one. It’ll take me a while to respond. Well, rather than examining one by one each type of protest I’d like to say what is the criteria I’d use to examine them. I think that in order to end the use of nonhuman animals there are three main strategies we may follow.
And here are they:
1- Some people try to make it legally impossible to use animals.There are two ways in which they intend to do this. Some try to do it by introducing regulations in the ways in which nonhuman animals are used. Others try to do it by progressively abolishing (by law) the ways in which nonhuman animals are used.
2- Some try to make it impossible to actually exploit animals. They are concerned with the production of goods and services which entail the exploitation of animals, not with the law. Those campaigns that aim at closing down certain business or sabotaging animal production are examples of this.
3- Others try to end the demand of animal products by spreading veganism. In my humble opinion the third strategy is the most effective one, since nonhuman animals will be exploited inasmuch as there are people who want to use animal products. Moreover, if our aim is not merely to end the use of nonhuman animals, but to end speciesism, these strategies will be insufficient. We will need to follow a different strategy: that is:
4- We may try to question speciesism.
Strategies 3 and 4 are of course fully compatible, though they aren’t the same (we might defend veganism for reasons other than antispeciesism). It’s essential to note, however, that particular campaigns may be used for different purposes. and i mean it’s ESSENTIAL to note this! For instance, investigations of the way in which animals are exploited have been often used in order to defend that the places in which they are exploited must be closed down In my humble opinion, this is not the best idea. However these investigations may be used to motivate those people who see the footage to stop using animals and to question speciesism. I think this is a great idea. Unfortunately I don’t have the time here to examine every kind of action but I think that my view is more or less clear: our action should be directed at questioning speciesism and, together with this, spreading veganism.
What are the problems you see with approaches that try to combine animal rights and environmentalism?
The ways in which animal rights activists and environmentalists consider nonhuman animals are completely opposed. Environmentalism is a family of very different positions concerned with the conservation of the environment. The environment is what surrounds individuals. Environmentalists view nonhuman animals as parts of such environment, just as plants, rocks or rivers. However, nonhuman animals aren’t part of the environment, that is, of what surrounds individuals. Nonhuman animals ARE individuals, just like we are. So they should be respected just as we want to be respected.
Environmentalists are concerned with the conservation of ecosystems or species. In order to achieve this, they are ready to sacrifice individual, sentient animals, even when massive killings are required. This happens all the time. In the UK, environmentalists have defended the mass killing of grey squirrels for the sake of the conservation of “the red squirrel” (not for the sake of individual red squirrel, but of the species) in this country. In the US, in California, in Santa Barbara and San Clemente islands feral goats and pigs had been exterminated in order to preserve some plant species and “restore” the previously existing ecosystem. In Spain, a terrible program for the eradication of what environmentalists call “invasive species” has been proposed. This includes the massive killing of ruddy ducks, raccoons, feral dogs and several wild sheeps, among many others. Interestingly, they almost never defend that this measures be implemented to cull humans. There are some exceptions, for instance, environmentalist Pentti Linkola supports the mass killing of humans (he actually proposes bacteriological attacks against humans). seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentti_Linkola. According to this, environmentalist groups continuously support speciesist measures. As it is well known, WWF has defended hunting and animal experimentation. Greenpeace has supported fishing. Many green parties support hunting too. We must reject this for obvious reasons. We must also struggle to make people see the clear differences between environmental views and AR views.
In your paper, “Questions of Priority and Interspecies Comparisons of Happiness” you projected the outcome of four possible human policies:
- Policy 1 consists in helping those humans whose lives fare worse without altering the overall consumption of nonhuman animals.
- Policy 2 consists in decreasing the overall consumption of nonhuman animals.
- Policy 3 is twofold. It diverts the available resources to carry out two parallel efforts: helping those humans whose lives fare worse and decreasing the overall consumption of nonhuman animals.
- Finally, Policy 4 consists in bringing an end to the consumption of nonhuman animals.
Could you talk about your findings?
Well, I have to say that’s a very technical paper I mean with lots of graphics, and data and all that but it’s basically about this. It considers the numbers of humans and of those nonhuman animals they kill for food and it examines the ways in which we could try to compare their happiness. It puts all those data in some graphics and then it shows how those graphics would vary if we followed each of those policies.
The conclusion is that if we have limited resources and used them to help both humans and nonhumans we will do far less good than if we focus on ending the harms that animals suffer, which includes stop eating them, of course. The problem is I can’t reproduce the graphics here! But you can check them out here… http://masalladelaespecie.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/question–of–priority–interspecies/
It’s a heavy (and maybe heady) file
Do you think it will be feasible to achieve global veganism through moral argument alone? Or will we also need in vitro meat?
Well, I wish in vitro meat was the solution to animal exploitation and speciesism (even though I personally wouldn’t really like to taste it). However, and setting aside the fact that at least some of the research currently carried out to develop it employs animal products, I think this won’t be so. Unfortunately, nonhuman animals are used in countless ways Meat consumption is probably the main one, but it’s not the only one. Moreover, many people have the feeling that what’s natural is good, for some reason. So I’m sure many people will think that “natural meat” will have some sort of quality that in vitro meat will lack and will still demand that animal slaughter takes place. So I think that, unfortunately, there’s no substitute, for moral argument. We need to change the minds of the public, I’m afraid there’s no shortcut for that. Having said this, I hope people eat in vitro rather than animal flesh!
Could you give a brief explanation of egalitarianism, and how it differs from other views such as utilitarianism or a rights approach?
Egalitarianism defends that a situation is better if there is less inequality in it and those who live in it are as better as possible. So, according to egalitarianism, we should try to improve the situation of those who are faring worse even if that means making somehow worse the situation of those who are faring better. Because of this, egalitarianism oppose , for instance, utilitarianism, rights theories, perfectionism, care ethics, etc.
Let me use some examples to answer this question
Suppose that by inflicting pain on a tiny minority of sentient individuals we can increase the happiness of the majority. Utilitarians would say it would be right to do that, because they just consider the total sum of happiness.
Egalitarians would say it would be wrong. They would agree with the rights approach here. But suppose we can reduce the plight of a minority who is suffering by stealing some of the wealth of those who are better like Robin Hood did! Suppose that doing so would violate the rights of the ones who are better, so supporters of the rights approach say we shouldn’t do it. Suppose also that the ones who are better are a majority, so utilitarians would side with rights theorists here and say we shouldn’t do it. In this case, egalitarians would oppose both utilitarians and rights supporters, and say “don’t respect that right, and help the ones who need it! If respecting someone’s rights means that someone else is in a worse situation through no fault from her, egalitarians say that respecting that right is unfair and unacceptable.
Egalitarians also oppose care ethicists, who claim we must be mainly concerned with those individuals we have a caring relation with, because it’s unfair for those who don’t have anyone who cares for them to be left to suffer because of that. Egalitarians think that shouldn’t be.
What are your thoughts on the alteration, by surgical or chemical means, of nonhumans in order to interfere with their reproductive cycles? Do you hold different views on this depending on whether the individuals are free-living or domesticates?
That’s something that, in principle, I think most of us would think it’s not something good to do. However, there are situations in which not doing so may have far worse effects than doing it. This is why many of us agree with spay & neuter campaigns Regarding the second part of the question, I see no reason to make a difference between the way we consider the interest of an animal due to the fact that s/he belongs to one species or another one. Whether s/he lives in nature or is a domesticated animal makes no difference with regard to the importance of her suffering and her life. So I see no reason to prevent a huge amount of dog or cat suffering and death from occurring and not preventing a huge amount of, say, elk suffering and death from occurring, if the way in which I can avoid that suffering and death is just the same in both cases. So I think we shouldn’t act differently depending of what are the animals involved.
In a detailed examination of the concept of speciesism, you defend this definition: “Speciesism is the unjustiﬁed disadvantageous consideration or treatment of those who are not classiﬁed as belonging to one or more particular species.” In Animal Rights Human Rights: Entaglements of Oppression and Liberation, sociologist David Nibert points out that sociologists define “isms” in a more specific way than others do, and this is the case in the sociological definition of speciesism. Essentially Nibert is moving the analysis from the micro to the macro, saying that speciesism, like racism and sexism, is an ideology rather than a prejudice. He says, “an ideology is a set of socially shared beliefs that legitimates an existing or desired social order.” He suggests that various types of prejudice and discrimination are “outgrowths” of ideologies which exist to protect privilege. Nibert suggests that standard definitions of speciesism “somewhat hampers the analysis of the social structural causes of oppression of other animals.” It seems that your definition shares the same problem, as Nibert would see it, of definitions provided by Ryder, Singer and Regan. Do you agree?
That’s a very interesting one. First, let me clarify that “discrimination” is different from “prejudice”. “Prejudice” is mainly a psychological term. It has to do with the psychological reasons why someone may discriminate against others. Discrimination is a moral term. That is, a normative one. It says one disadvantageous treatment is unjustified. This would be so even if no one had such prejudice.
Having said this, and more to the point, I think that speciesism is a very complex phenomenom which needs to be assessed from different approaches. I’d say that speciesism is primarily the discrimination of those who don’t belong to a certain species. But we can also use the term ‘speciesism’ to mean a certain social system based on the speciesist discrimination, or an ideology based on that discrimination. such ideology reinforces discrimination, but that’s of course because what defines such ideology is the idea that those who don’t belong to a certain species can be disadvantageously considered. which is discriminatory because it is unjustified that’s what makes a certain ideology discriminatory. If it wasn’t so, if such ideology wasn’t based on the idea that the interests of those who don’t belong to a certain species count for less it wouldn’t be a speciesist ideology.
So I’d like to use the term “speciesism” to name primarily the idea that defines what that ideology is about, but I also think that the term is aptly applied to name such ideology.
Oh, and I also think that it can be used as a psychological term to use a prejudice, that is, a psychological attitude which consists in considering those who don’t belong to a certain species in a way that, from a moral viewpoint, we can regard as discriminatory.
Can we say then that the fullest understanding comes from an appreciation of the way the sociological and the psychological intertwines?
Well, that will provide us with an understanding of how speciesism works in practice economy, anthropology and law studies would help here too. From the viewpoint of moral philosophy we appraise something different we consider whether such or such position (in this case speciesism) is justified or not I think we need all these approaches to have a full understanding of speciesism, they are complementary, not mutually exclusive.
I read your paper “The Ethics of the Ecology of Fear against the Nonspeciesist Paradigm: A Shift in the Aims of Intervention in Nature” with great interest and found your argument against the reintroduction of wolves into those environments where they were long ago removed to be persuasive. Would you have favoured the interventions that removed the wolves in the first place?
That’s a very good and tricky question! Those who firstly “removed” the wolves did so by killing them, and, as you can imagine, I don’t advocate killing animals! I reject those murders, obviously! But today, I think that the reintroduction of predators appears to be a terrible measure. Also, a main point here is that we should be very careful whenever we intervene in nature. Having said this, what I do favour is examining all these problems to see if there are ways in which animal suffering and death can be reduced. Let me put the link to the paper… http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1114&context=bts
Some people say that it’s speciesist to intervene in the lives of free living animals, even to make their lives better. They argue that this is a form of domination, and claim that when they intervene, humans are interfering in the lives of animals who would prefer to live on their own terms. How would you respond to that?
I think the assumption on which that claim is based (that animals prefer to be let alone rather than aided) is wrong. Animals don’t prefer to be let to starve alone rather than to be given food. They don’t prefer to be killed by disease rather than to be healed. They don’t prefer to suffer from hunger and thirst rather than being aided. Etc. The claim that in situations such as these ones animals prefer to suffer and die rather than to be helped… seems to me completely unbelievable. In fact, it’s quite apparent to me that animals would prefer to be helped in those situations. Therefore, I don’t think helping is domination. It just makes no sense to me to say that acting in a way in which you are making someone’s life better (or actually saving her life) is domination. If my life is ever at risk, I’d loved to be saved. If I’m in agony and you can relieve me, I’d love to be relieved my agony. In fact… I think any of us would! If that were domination, I’d have no reason to oppose it! But I’d never call that domination
I think it’s speciesist to consider differently the interests of humans and animals. So I won’t ask for animals anything less than what I’d want for myself. We may refuse to help animals because we like to see them living and dying with no help from us. But let’s not deceive ourselves: it’s not what the animals would choose, if they could, in situations such as the ones I’ve described. Refusing to help them would thus be doing something in accordance to OUR preferences, not theirs.
You write that we should intervene in the wild to help improve the well-being of other animals if we are able to and can do so without causing greater harm. Could you please give an example of how and why human interference would be beneficial to free living animals, and why you believe in the necessity of human interference; do you believe that nonhumans have a right to have their suffering reduced by humans? Also, the record of humankind’s interventions in nature is not one that reflects well on our species. While a hypothetical exercise (such as your thought experiment “Disvalue in nature and intervention”) can be useful to help us clarify our duties towards other animals, isn’t it true that the unintended consequences sure to manifest in any human intervention mitigate against our meddling?
Thanks for these three questions, I’ll start with the first one.
There are many ways in which we can imagine ourselves helping animals in the future. I mean nonhuman animals living in the wild. But there are also several ways in which we could help them now.For instance, Many animals starve in the wild. Consider this case. Five years ago, in the Czech Republic, during a period of food scarcity, deer–or deers, if we want to use a nonspeciesist terminology 🙂 –were so hungry they blinded themselves by eating toxic plants. They never do this, but they were forced to do it because they were starving. Here’s the link to this:http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/long–winter–creates–stress–for–wild–animals It would have been perfectly feasible to feed those animals. Another case: in her book Ethics, Biology and Animals, Rosemary Rodd explains that during the 80’s a number of foxes were vaccinated against rabies in the UK. Now, I’ve learned that they were using animals to develop such vaccines. Furthermore, those who carried it out didn’t want to help the foxes, they were just concerned with human interests. They wanted to stop this disease, which could have been transmitted to dogs and then to humans. However, any of us can see that this shows that it could be perfectly feasible to help sick animals, at least in some cases.
Consider also the case of myxomatosis. As it is known, this terrible disease has been spread in Australia in order to exterminate the rabbits. It’s reasonable to think that their action was completely unacceptable. Suppose that humans reflected on this and think: sorry, “and thought: “Hey, what we did was terrible! We should now try to repair it by curing this disease”. So they introduced some antidote against it. Wouldn’t that be great? Of course it would!! But then, how come it would be a good think to do it in this case and not in other case in which the disease had a natural cause? I see no reason to assume this.
As for the second one, (do animals have a right to have their suffering relieved), I think it would be great if we all had a legal right to have our suffering relieved whenever that is possible. If you mean moral rights, according to the egalitarian view I presented before there isn’t such thing as moral rights. However according to this egalitarian view, if you’re in need of help and I can help you, I should help you. Those who think that rights exist may think that only humans have rights (and that would be speciesist). They may also think that we have very few rights which include no positive rights (that is, rights for others to do things for us —negative rights are rights not to harmed by others). They might then think that we don’t have the right to be helped if, say, we are involved in a car crash and are agonizing on the road and can be helped without much effort. Given this, they may reject that animals have a right to have their suffering relieved. But if they think we have the right to be helped in situations such as the one I’ve described and aren’t speciesist they can’t deny that animals also have the right to be aided which would be parallel to our own one.
As for the 3rd one, I think you and I can agree (which is great, I really enjoy reaching agreements, I hope we can do it now!), I have no problem to agree with you that there are few ways in which we may succeed currently when it comes to promoting public policies resulting in a long-lasting intervention that reduced the harms that animals suffer in nature (even though this may perfectly change in the future.) I’m happy to agree with you on this if you also agree with me that whenever that is feasible and we cannot reasonably assume that the consequences of doing it would be worse than not doing it, then we SHOULD do it. even if it’s counterintuitive at first.
My main point here is this, there are many people who have environmentalist views according to which it is bad to help animals living in the wild. So if an animal is starving, or if you could cure an animal’s disease, or save her from a fire you shouldn’t do it because it would be unnatural. They would prefer that those animals die because that’s natural rather than feeding them. Many people think so even among the AR community. Yet it if instead of a nonhuman animal, the victim was a human, they’d help him. I think we should strongly oppose this speciesist view, which, from my viewpoint, it’s wholly immoral.
Quizás le pregunte sobre la diferencia entre un individuo libre que sufre y un individuo explotado que sufre, si considera que la situación de vivir siendo explotado y encarcelado es más negativa que vivir libre y pudiendo sufrir, y sobre si, en base a esto, considera que debería defenderse a los animales que sufren en la naturaleza, aún cuando esto podría restar importancia a la lucha contra la explotación animal.
What’s the difference between an individual who is free and suffering and an individual who is being exploited and is suffering? Do you think that a situation in which one is exploited and one is a prisoner is more negative than living free when it’s possible that one suffers? According to this,
do you think that animals living in nature should be defended, even though this might make reduce the importance of the struggle against animal exploitation.
I can try to give two different answers because this question may be interpreted in different ways, If I have to choose between helping an animal who is being exploited by humans and will suffer for sure or an animal who is free and may suffer I’d obviously help the first one. If the choice is between helping an animal that is being exploited and one that is not if the harm they are suffering is the same I would be indifferent. Because I’m concerned with the actual animal, I want to help HER.
Of course depending of our strategical considerations we may decide to do this or that, but that’s another issue. Your worries are that if we care about animals living in the wild we might be detracted from fighting for veganism. I don’t think this needs to be so Just as I don’t think either that caring and acting for those who are suffering the most should make it impossible for us to help others who are in a not-so-bad situation for instance, fighting against factory farming shouldn’t in any way make it a problem for us to fight with equal energy the exploitation of animals exploited in ·”free range” conditions
Finally, I’d also like to point out that animals living in nature find themselves in no paradise. Most of them live terrible lives. Most of them die in agony just when they’ve started to exist. Suffering prevails in nature over wellbeing. We usually don’t see this because we tend to think of big mammals when we think of animals living in nature, but the truth is that most of them are invertebrates for each of them who survives to maturity, thousands or millions of eggs give rise to individuals who will starve or be eaten by others when they have just started to exist.
One of the main focuses of animal activists groups around the world is to deal with the annihilation of several sentient species, an event which happens in an alarming rate. What do you think about this topic? Is it possible to defend the interests of endangered species without creating a speciesist hierarchy between them and the non-endangered species? Also, you spoke earlier about a kind of “positive discrimination”. Could it be accepted here as a possibility?
My answer is: I don’t think so. I can’t see any way in which we can accept from a nonspeciesist viewpoint that the interests of one individual are more important than the interests of another one simply because one of them belongs to a certain species. there is a name for it and it’s … you guessed right: speciesism! Species as such don’t have interests. Those individuals who belong to them have them. in order to have interests one needs to be sentient.
Which creatures do you believe are sentient, is it an all or nothing issue, or does sentience appear in degrees among different creatures?
That’s a most interesting one! And it’s one that we should all do research on. In order to be sentient you need to be aware of the experiences you have. Being sentient means having experiences. In order to have experiences you need to have an apparatus that can process information in such a way that the info that conforms the experience (the info that comes from your eyes, for instance, or that you process when you have a thought). That entails being aware of what happens to you. In the world we live in, those mechanisms actually exist they are called central nervous systems without them you can’t have experiences because if you don’t have one, you just can’t process the information which you need to process in order to have experiences.
Now, we don’t know how complex a central nervous system needs to be in order to be able to process this info although there’s some actual info that moves from sensors to motor cells that info is not processed as to give rise to an experience. This is also the reason why plants and other living entities aren’t sentient. It’s not that they lack a central nervous system. They lack any other structure that could do the job that central nervous system do, by the way, it would be evolutionarily absurd if they had it, because it would be of no use for them, since they can’t move. And sentiency is all about moving towards what is good for the transmission of your genes and away from what is bad for that.
Some activities of a number of social movements include a challenge to dominant forms of language. The classic example is the early feminist movement’s attack on the notions of “history” (reclassifying it as “his story”) and “mainstream” (“malestream”). In the animal movement Joan Dunayer has done more than most to create an antispeciesist challenge to dominant speciesist language, especially in her book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. However, animal advocates continue to use speciesist language – often referring to nonhuman individuals as “it” for example, or using the term “animals” to mean only other-than-human-animals. Do you have any ideas about the apparent reluctance there is in the “movement” in taking up the linguistic challenge to speciesist language and, thereby, “ripen up” people to new ideas?
Well, I agree with you and with Dunayer on this. Of course there are many words and expressions that are hard to challenge. but we should try to make the effort. Even if I’m repeating myself, I’d like to say that, in my view, this comes together with the apparent lack of importance that for many activists the idea of speciesism has. We should be very much more concerned with challenging the different ways in which speciesism manifests than we are now. That’s basically what I’d say regarding this.
On the one hand you comment “It’s essential to note, however, that particular campaigns may be used for different purposes.” defending I imagine SIC, but then you say “investigations have been often used in order to defend that the places in which they are exploited must be closed down, this in my humble opinion is not the best idea.”, but these campaigns seem to have a lot of benefits that classic veganism promotion doesn’t (involving a lot of people passionate about the campaign, getting media attention…) Why don’t you think that doing a campaign to close down a specific place where animals are exploited can also serve objectives than will help us question speciesism and promote veganism in the long run? Why do you seem to conclude that cant’ be positive in this case?
Thanks for this question! It’ll help me to clarify my previous point, which was probably written too hastily. I meant this. The same campaign can have different effects. In this way, it can be used for different purposes. An investigation of how animals are exploited in a certain farm, for instance, can be used to carry out a campaign aimed at closing down that farm.
Now, if you close down a farm here now, and maybe another one in a couple of years well, you’ll probably save a number of lives in the short term actually i think you will achieve this but, as a strategy aimed at achieving a significant change through the years. I think it won’t work because we just can’t close one by one all the places in which nonhuman animals are exploited. However, the same campaign can achieve other results too! it may be useful to make people see the reality of the lives of animals It may arise people’s sympathy for them and it may help us to question speciesism.
So my main point is that if we just cared about closing an actual place now, and another one next year, and so on we won’t be able to achieve our purposes. But we can do something that may end up closing down one place and use it for a very different purpose. So, as I said when I wrote that, my concern is not with particular protests, but rather with the main strategies within which they are embedded. You know that some investigations have been presented by saying: “look how bad animals are in this place, they don’t follow the legal regulations for this kind of places, etc.”, You can use the same footage to say: “these are the animals we use: we can end up this be going vegan”. Same kind of campaign, different strategy.
Some years ago you were a conscientious objector for the animals. Could you explain a bit more how this was?
That was some time ago. During the 90s there was this big movement in Spain against the compulsory military service. But many people rejected to do it because they thought that that wasn’t really a way of fighting rejecting what the military service actually means that was a way of accepting it, rather than challenging it. (BTW, in Spain, the term “conscientious objector” is used to mean those who do this social service, those who refuse to do it were called “insumisos”). I don’t know how to translate this.
Anyhow, they were sent to trial and many of them were incarcerated, so after I became a vegan, and started to learn about speciesism, I thought that I should do the same, but not out of a pacifist position, but because the army is an institution that is totally involved in the massive killing of animals. As you know, countless nonhuman animals die in military experiments, and they are routinarely used as weapons. Moreover, wars kill far more nonhuman animals than humans. This is often forgotten. But that’s the truth!
So in 1997, when I was meant to join the army, I refused to do it Then I went to trial in 2000. It went quite well, we did a big campaign so it was a good opportunity to talk about respect for animals and speciesism. It was kind of a new thing. And though the attorney wanted me to go to jail, I was only sentenced to public disqualification for 4 years (that means you can’t work for something public or get any benefit or payment from the state). I recall that at the trial I had an argument with the judge because I wanted to read some pages from the book Animal Liberation in which some military experiments are described and he didn’t want me too. Then in 2002 the compulsory military service was abolished in Spain and there was an amnesty for us. In some way this is a pity, since the army keeps killing animals and we’ve lost a chance for doing more campaigns regarding this. I’m sure that if the military service remained compulsory there would be many more people now who would refuse to join the army for reasons having to do with animal rights and speciesism.
Most of the arguments against the intervention seems to rely on a distinction between action and omission (killing and letting die). These arguments assumes that we have only negative duties, or that the negative duties are ever stronger than the positive duties. In your view, relying on this distinction is justified or not, and for what reasons?
I personally reject that distinction. But I think that even those who accept it can have a reason to care for those animals living in nature. The reason is that intervention in nature is not a new concept. We are intervening in nature all the time! So the question is not whether we are going to intervene in nature or not, rather the question is: What is the way in which we are going to intervene in nature? So given that we are already intervening, we are already acting. So the issue is not about whether we have reasons not to act even if we don’t have reasons to assist. The question is that we should act differently.
What is your view on reinsertion of non-humans (such as minks, hens, etc., who are held and specifically exploited by humans) into “the wild” or any other environment where they are “free” (a sanctuary, for instance). Some people, for example, argue that freeing predators (i.e. minks) would mean that other non-humans will suffer; then setting them free in a place where they could kill others is speciesist. Others say that those minks (in our example) are anyway being fed with the bodies of other non-humans, then there would be no moral difference. Others say there would, because “in the wild” those being hunted have a chance to escape, but in a farm, those being “the food” didn’t have one. Now, when comparing it to a human prisoner, there seems not to be a consideration of whether his/her liberation would have an influence in others (which of course will); instead, the position is to set them free no matter what. Could you give your opinion on this issue?
Many people think that the answer to this question is straightforward. I think that this isn’t quite the case. The question is posed: “suppose that in farms they are eating animals, so by freeing them no more animals will be killed”. Of course this is a controversial point, but it’s an interesting condition, which is very useful to examine this. The reason why that is so is that by phrasing her question in this way, we are recognizing that there is something problematic in the fact that the animals we may free will kill other animals.
Or other animals might kill them
Well, that’s true too, although if they remained in the farms they would have been killed anyway by the farmers. Even if when we examine this problem we get to the conclusion that it’s worth liberating these animals in the wild, that is an issue we should never set aside. Also, let me add that the way in which we might act in the case of a human prisoner shouldn’t be so clear either. This is interesting because when one considers the many problems and dilemmas that arise when we need to take into account the interests of many different nonhuman animals, our intuitions regarding how to behave towards humans have to be considered together with that. There’s much more that we could say about this because this isn’t just a moral issue. It’s also a strategic one. We must be aware of the message that our actions convey to the public. So if the public asks us “Do you think that liberating animals is justifiable?” we may not have all the time to explain all the moral considerations we may take into account when we debate on this issue here. These are the main ideas I think we should consider in this case. Again, my main point is that there isn’t something magical in the fact of the killing of some animal happening in the wild. So I’d take into account all animal deaths equally to consider this case.
Intervention in nature may lead some to make the conclusion that since our primary goal is elimination of suffering, wouldn’t it be the ethical to want to destroy all wildlife (to end all suffering)? What are the arguments against this?
Well, your question might sound absurd at first. But when one thinks about it… it’s actually a very hard one! I guess that the only response that question may have is that living is something good because having positive experiences is better than having no experiences at all. However, it’s true that our life may be filled with suffering, and that can be worse than ceasing to exist. That’s why euthanasia exists. So this really is a problem.
But that argument would justify factory farming, wouldn’t it? Since it could be argued factory farmed animals may experience positive experience at some point.
You’re absolutely right! That makes it even more important to think on ways in which we may relieve all the huge suffering that occurs in nature.
How do you respond to proponents of eating hunted meat on grounds that hunting controls populations and thus prevents greater suffering (due to starvation, etc).
There are two important things to say to this respect. Firstly: the only way in which animal suffering and death can ever be reduced is by spreading the idea that we should care about it. In as much as most people are speciesist, there’s going to be no way in which we can make any significant progress with that. This affects, of course, both those animals that are exploited by humans and those who suffer in nature. Because hunting conveys the meme that humans can use nonhuman animals for their own purposes in ways that harm them very seriously, it clearly hampers our efforts to spread the antispeciesist meme.
Secondly: that claim is wrong. I’ll explain now why. The reason why there’s so much suffering in nature is one I mentioned before. I’ll try to explain it here in more detail. All their offspring except a handful of individuals die soon after coming to existence. They have little or no enjoyment in their lives, and their deaths are terrible. Oh, I missed one line of what I was writing. I wanted to say that most animals have lots of offspring and that all of them except a handful of individuals die soon after coming to existence. They have little or no enjoyment in their lives, and their deaths are terrible. This is so because most animals follow what is called an “r-selection strategy” for reproduction. They lay thousands or millions of eggs. On average, only one or two survives, for instance, cods may lay up to 9000000 eggs. If more than a couple of them survived, they would soon populate the Earth! So it doesn’t matter whether you kill the adults, the wheel goes on and on. In fact, hunters don’t do this cus they want to reduce animal suffering. They do it for their own sake, of course!
Yes, but justify by saying they reduce population, which is sometimes hard to respond to.
Even if they do reduce the population by killing some individuals they don’t reduce the total number of individuals that die. That was what I was trying to explain above. Doing that would require a different kind of intervention.
Can you give some concrete tips for how the animal rights/advocacy movement might become better at combating speciesism?
Well, there is a quite obvious thing to start with. Make it visible. Many AR organizations never ever even use the word “speciesism”. So we should definitely start doing it. we should be afraid just because the public don’t know about it. They don’t know the word because we haven’t done the work that is necessary to let them know it. The sooner we start doing it, the better.
Plus, many organizations defend that we shouldn’t use animals by using arguments that have nothing to do with speciesism. In fact, many of them use arguments that have to do with other completely different issues. They promote veganism for health reasons, they oppose vivisection for biomedical reasons. All this should change if we want to make speciesism visible, I think. Moreover, many organizations argue that we should stop using nonhuman animals for reasons that have to do with them, but which don’t challenge speciesism. For instance, they say we should be compassionate towards them, that they are being held in terrible conditions, etc., but they never say that there is no reason why it would be justified to discriminate against other animals. The arguments should be clear for any activists, I think.
When it comes to respecting someone, it is completely irrelevant whether that being can speak, whether she can think in the same way we do, or whether we have some kind of special relation with her. Because that isn’t what determines whether she can be harmed or benefited by our actions. The relevant point is whether she can feel suffering or/and joy. Furthermore, if that was the case, many humans should be discriminated against too. Because there are many humans who can’t talk or can’t think as other humans do, and many have no one who cares for them. So if the arguments that are used to discriminate against animals were accepted, we should also discriminate against humans. These are some general arguments that are seldom used. I don’t understand why not. Because debating these points, debating these issues is what will eventually lead society to a change. Of course there are other arguments involved and there are many other ways to question speciesism. My main point is we should be focused on challenging it.
You said previously in this chat (and elsewhere), “We are intervening in nature all the time! So the question is not whether we are going to intervene in nature or not, rather the question is: What is the way in which we are going to intervene in nature?” Do you think another option could be to stop intervening (as much as is possible)? Why must it follow from our current intervention that we keep intervening? I understand your argument for intervening; I guess I’m just saying that just because we intervene now, does it necessarily mean we have to keep doing it?
Ok, well, the problem is that there’s no way to stop intervening unless we all disappear. Agriculture means intervention. VERY significant intervention building too, producing all kind of goods too. So we can’t stop intervening as long as we are around.
However, I think we can figure out a different way of intervening. Notice also that our intervention is, as I say, just massive. We engineer environments in such a huge way this means that we certainly can intervene in nature, and that it would be perfectly feasible to do it in ways that were positive for animals if we really wanted to. What’s quite amazing is that whenever people (even vegan people) consider ways of intervening in nature for our own sake, such as agriculture, house building, etc., they never come out with the argument that intervening in nature violates some kind of natural rule or something like that. however, they do use this argument whenever intervention is considered in order to improve the lives of animals how can this be? Sounds like a bit… biased towards humans, doesn’t it?
At what age do you think we should (being realistic, and specially under the actual Spanish education system) start educating about antispeciesism? Do you think we should talk about veganism with the kids (5-10 years old) in their Schools (as somebody, from an AR group, strongly suggested me few months ago) instead of teaching them to cultivate and embrace empathy towards all living beings?
Well, education is something that you don’t do only at school. So from the very moment we are babies and start to look around at the world we are in values are introduced into our minds speciesism crawls into our brains from that very moment. So in an ideal society, nonspeciesism should be present in our social systems in such a way that kids would get it from the beginning.
Moreover, in a nonspeciesism society the concept of nonspeciesism wouldn’t exist just as in our society we don’t have the concept of “nonjohnism” that is, discrimination against those whose name is John. However your question seems to be directed to what we can do now.
I think the sooner we can start to educate kids the better. However, we have to notice that even if we give lectures at schools and all that, that will be just a tiny part of the kids’ education. Plus, I think it’s great to teach kids that animals shouldnt be eaten or used, however, id they parents aren’t vegan that’s going to be tough. Giving lectures at secondary schools is easier to this respect. Anyhow, I think that, currently, this is a strategical problem rather than a pedagogical one. I mean, even if we reach the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to start educating children since they are 3, would we be able to do it? given our resources, we need to make a decision about how to use them, so it may turn out that we sould focus on older kids such as teenagers.
Can you briefly tell us about what academic or activist antispeciesist work you are working on right now?
OWell, I’m quite busy with my academic work. This semester I’m teaching two obligatory subjects to undergrads, I always mention the issue of speciesism. In previous years I’ve been teaching some semester-long courses that were all focused on speciesism and the moral consideration of animals. Each year, approx. 2 or 3 students become seriously concerned with the issue and others are touched. Apart from this, I’m currently writing tons of articles on this and two books I hope I will be able to complete before I die! One of them has to do with all the arguments for and against speciesism, and the other one is something like a general presentation of what animal ethics is about. I’m trying to write as much as I can in English. A problem with this is that I’m not a native English speaker so if anyone in the public volunteers to proofreading, I’d appreciate it! Apart from this, I’m currently involved in an animal rights organization which works in Spain,that is called Equanimal. Equanimal’s work is turning into spreading veganism, which is something I strongly support. It also carries out other campaigns, such as protests against hunting. facebook.com/equanimal.org (it’s in Spanish). Apart from this I also think that there are other great organizations working in the Spanish speaking countries. Some of whose activists are here tonight! Such as Especismo Cero or Animal Equality. And others I mentioned before such as EligeVeganismo or DefensAnimal.
I would like to see a more developed movement in which all the organizations were quite focused on veganism and speciesism. I think that at least in the Spanish speaking world that’s happening, so I’m glad about it. I think the way these organizations work is great.
Tom Regan has written: “For example, we can pass legislation that prohibits debeaking or face branding of cattle, legislation designed to respect an animal’s right to bodily integrity within a system of exploitation even while we cannot thereby end that system of exploitation.” Do you agree with him about that?
That approach was much discussed during the end of the 90s particularly after Rain without Thunder was published. I mentioned at the beginning that one approach against the use of nonhuman animals focused in changes in the law. There are two ways in which this can be done. First, by introducing regulations in the ways in which nonhuman animals are used. This is a strategy that so called “animal welfarism” has traditionally followed though it has been used to further other purposes. I think we can call that strategy “regulationism”. (I think it’s wrong to call it welfarism, because “welfarism” is the name of the movement rather than a strategy, and so called “welfarism” also followed other strategies, such as, for instance public education).
Ok, regulationism has been often questioned on the basis that many people may think that those defending regulationism are actually claiming that the practice they want to regulate is morally ok. Now, the other strategy that one can implement if one focuses on the law is trying to achieve incremental prohibitions of practices involving the use of nonhuman animals. Their supporters may claim that this strategy avoids the objection presented above. That might be true in many cases. Thought we can think, of course, that many people may also have the impression that what we are aiming to is to have THAT particular practice prohibited. This can be clearly seen in the case of bullfighting. Many people from the public think that those who oppose are only opposing bullfighting, not the use of animals in general. Again, I think that in order to examine this issue, we should have an approach similar to the one I proposed in order to examine certain campaigns that can be used to different strategies.
I think that these campaigns, if properly carried out, may be a way to get new activists involved and to reach the general public through media appearances, etc. If our purpose is to question speciesism, we might use them as a tool for it. However, I disagree with the idea that we can end the use of nonhuman animals by progressively, incrementally prohibiting one by one all the particular practices involving the use of nonhuman animals. This is interesting because it means that if we are to get involved in these campaigns at all we need to know how to do it.
Let me put a couple of examples having to do with bullfighting
Last year, during the discussion at the Catalonian parliament about whether bullfighting should be banned there there was some public outrage because one speaker made a comparison between bullfighting and the sexual mutilation of girls. I thought that was excellent, because that meant that the campaign made it possible that there was a debate having to do with the question of whether it’s justified to discriminate against nonhumans. However, those who were promoting the prohibition didn’t like it at all because such debate hampered their campaign I couldn’t disagree more with them on this point that debate should be what the whole campaign was all about!!! (Equally, I think something similar can happen in other campaigns, I recall reading a leaflet against a lab which was intended to close down, saying “why this particular lab is different”.)
Anyhow, to summarize I don’t think that incremental prohibitions are per se the way in which the use of nonhuman animals can end I do think that in some cases they can be carried out with the aim of questioning speciesism either directly or indirectly, for instance, through getting more activists involved. Personally I’d never tell a group of local antispeciesist activists to organize street demos against bullfighting to change people’s minds about it. But I may see the ways in which we can use the fact that there is a big struggle against bullfights in order to advance our more general case.
So the aim should be advance the understanding that speciesism and exploitation are wrong, instead of focusing on individual instances of violation which may move attention away from the main issue of speciesism?
I don’t know if I’d put it like that though I think I agree.
Are philosophers in general starting to give anthropocentrism and the moral status of nonhuman animals more serious consideration?
The answer is “Yes.” Even though they are doing it slowly, however, they are doing it faster than the rest of society, I think. In the English speaking world, the issue is kind of respected currently and in other countries this is happening as well. Now, you can’t really build a curriculum. if you just do animal ethics you also have to be competent in other issues or you won’t get a job however, the idea that eating animals is morally problematic is starting to enter the mainstream, in the English speaking countries at least.
I have to say, however, that if you take a look at the attention that the issue has had in the academic world for the last decades in the English speaking world there was a boom in the late 70s and the early 80s and then the issue became bigger and bigger until aprox. the mid 90s then there was a stop it seems that during the last years there’s been a revival but for ten years or so there was little advance, in particular if you compare it with what happened in the 80s it’s small but it’s growing,
Finally, a problem for all this is that there aren’t philosophers that are regarded as important in the philosophical community doing animal ethics nowadays. Yeah, Singer is probably the most famous philosopher alive. But he writes books more than academic papers on specific issues of moral philosophy. David DeGrazia and Jeff McMahan are probably the animal ethicists that are more involved in the philosophical community, though they don’t write a lot on animal ethics
Using new and advanced technologies, such as biotechnologies, we are already enhancing some physical and cognitive attributes of some human beings. Sometimes it is meant to restore normal function due to some handicap or accident but we are now going further, and soon we will have the freedom to dramatically enhance ourselves. I know you are against animal experimentation, but… what do you think of the idea of animal enhancement? Would you like to see a non-human primate enhanced to the point that she can communicate with us using a human language? (Although, not necessarily by speaking.)
As you can imagine, I’d love to have a chat with a primate or another animal. However, I don’t want to enhance animals just in order to satisfy our curiosity.
However, I’d be happy to support enhancement applied to humans and animals in order to make us all happier if that is possible in any way. (Dave Pearce is very interested in this, as you may know) By the way, there’s an extremely interesting novel by Clifford Simak called City in which he considers what happens when dogs are enhanced. I recommend it to you all! Interestingly, the same arguments against enhancement are also presented against intervention to help animals in nature. All this idea that our nature is sacred, that we should fear unexpected consequences, and all that. Regarding this, I think that the lessons we may learn are similar ones. I think we should be very cautious, but I think we should reject the argument that says that nature is sacred. We shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of the purity of nature, neither should other animals. Of course, having said this, I’d also like to point out that I don’t support animal experimentation, since, as an egalitarian, I don’t want the victims to suffer for the sake of the benefits other may get from it, regardless of whether they are humans or nonhumans.
Given that plants are insentient and that insects are sentient would you advocate that we kill carnivorous plants?
Well, other things being equal, if destroying the carnivorous plants don’t harm other animals more than it harms the bulk of the insects that are killed by them (which is a very reasonable assumption) yes, I agree that we should do that! As I said before, I’d favor doing some research to prevent any unexpected consequence from occurring. But if that’s not the case, yes, exterminate carnivorous plants..
Would you mind explaining, again, briefly the differences between egalitarianism and utilitarianism?
If you’re a utilitarian you just care for maximizing the total amount of existing value which individuals can receive. (depending on your view, you may consider it to be pleasurable mental states or preferences satisfaction). So if some group suffers so that others get a huge reward… well, that’s justified! Egalitarianism disagrees with this. According to egalitarianism equality is also important. So we have to be more concerned for those who are doing worse than for those who are doing better. So consider the next example.
Suppose we could somehow make an estimation of how happy can individuals be. Imagine that we can follow two different things. Imagine that we can follow two different things. One means that a group of individuals will be extremely happy, but another group of the same number of individuals will suffer significantly. The other one means that all of them will be sort of ok. If we could measure somehow their happiness, if we follow the first policy the first group would’s happiness would rate 20 and the second group’s10. If we follow the second policy, both groups would have a happiness of 14. Utilitarians would defend the first policy. Egalitarians would oppose it. They would defend the second one. They oppose sacrificing minorities for the sake of majorities, which utilitarians may accept.
Professor Horta, thank you most sincerely for being our guest today and responding to some amazing questions, with some equally amazing answers.
Oh, it’s been a great pleasure! I’m really thankful for this opportunity! If anyone wants to discuss the issues any longer, you can get in touch with me here at ARZone, at facebook.com/masalladelaespecie, by email at OHorta(a)dilemata.net or at my blog http://masalladelaespecie.wordpress.com
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