One day, clicking along—as we do, I came across an internet sensation, named Pickle. Pickle is a pig. I clicked and saw a pig making a bee-line for a belly rub. Playing the video over for others to watch, I could not help but think of all pigs. Afterall, Pickle is just one pig and a very lucky one at that.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2p5lLqautw (Pickle the Pig)
The rapture of feminism is that it concerns itself with all forms of inequality (racism, classism, etc.), not just gender inequalities, and rightly so, as all -isms are born and breed from very similar seeds of injustice.
Objectively speaking, If there is one -ism on this planet that perpetuates the most violence, and the most horrendous forms of degradation, it is probably speciesism. This statement is by no means a waved dismissal to the injuries caused by of sexism, racism, and classism, however, based on the level of oppression, the number of individuals oppressed, and the length of time this group (non-human animals) have endured oppression, speciesism has undoubtedly caused the most suffering in the world to date.
Some readers may be scratching their heads asking, what the heck is speciesism?
Speciesism(n.) is the assumption of human superiority, often leading to the exploitation of animals.
The -isms interwoven into our daily lives do not appear by magic, but with forethought and action. The implementation of a stratified hierarchy in which some groups dominate other groups follow a common playbook:
- Person/(s) in power decide on a subject to degrade usually for the purpose of profit and/or personal use—without regard to the subject’s wishes, desires and/or needs.
- Person/(s) in power creates a belief and climate of superiority over the subject in the powerless position using pseudoscience—or real science exaggerated and/or created beliefs.
- Person/(s) in power positions normalize the degradation of the subject posited in a lesser position via the larger culture via norms and traditions.
- Person/(s) in power maintain power over the subjugated subject via continued laws, policies and other practices of subjugation.
“Too often the one doing the measuring is the ONE to GAIN while the one being measured is helpless and often voiceless.”
Zooming in again, it is speciesism that allows us to mass produce animals for meat consumption; a practice that is literally destroying the planet. The degradation of billions of animals a year for the purpose of obtaining a colossal amount of meat products is the single most destructive activity humans engage in on this planet, including being a large contributor to global warming, fresh water usage, loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction, and land usage. With every slice of bacon, every chicken wing, and sip of milk, we are not only inflicting unimaginable suffering on our fellow animal companions, but we are destroying the planet’s ability to sustain life—including human life, as scientist have dubbed our time, the sixth mass extinction. As our planet heats up, oceans rise, and beloved species fall to extinction in droves, we have to ask ourselves: How did we get here?
Like I said, I never met Pickle, but I’ve met plenty of pigs working as a farmhand on an organic farm in rural Mississippi. Research into animal intelligence has revealed that pigs are one of the smartest animals on this planet, bumping noses with dolphins and chimps. Science is one of those amazing things that takes the complexity of life—the mystery of it and reveals all its secrets in hard data. And sometimes, it just backs up what you already know. Working with dozens of pigs, I knew how smart they were, but also, I learned that they are animals with very rich emotional lives. I saw pigs pick friends, make enemies, form groups, take pleasure in a cool rain after a hot day, search and mourn for missing loved ones (carried off to slaughter), jump, run, and play. Yet, society has written a completely different narrative to the larger culture about the intelligence and nature of pigs. Convenient, huh?
The pigs I knew were unlucky in that they would be slaughtered several years before reaching their life expectancy, and yet so lucky in that they were the 5% that got to experience the joy of being—of being a pig, even if for just a short while. The vast majority of pigs—roughly 95%–live their lives in what the animal agribusiness calls CAFO’s or Controlled Animal Feeding Operations. With the amount of meat we consume in the USA and other first world nations, it is impossible to meet the demand for meat with more humane farming methods. CAFO’s confine large numbers of animals into factories, reducing their bodies to factories and thus, CAFO’s are also known as factory farms, and inside these farms is where you find hell. Animal hell, that is. I have stood outside a hog factory farm and heard the screams of anguish coming from the inside. It was one of the most excruciating sounds I’ve ever heard, and one I will never forget.
Pigs (as are other farm animals such as cows, chickens, etc.) in CAFO’s are denied every single behavior natural to them—natural to us all. Their bodies are seen as and treated as commodities from the day that they born to the day they die without any respect to their ability to feel physical and psychological pain (of which they do feel both). This starts with piglets at 6-12 weeks having their tails ripped—yes ripped from their bodies, and the young males castrated (by hand)—all without anesthesia. These unlucky ones never see the sun, feel the rain, or experience their bodies in any natural way (ability to run, jump, roll over). It is hard to imagine such an existence. And yet, this life for many pigs—and other farm animals has become normalized in our culture.
This normalization of animals confined, and mutilated on a massive scale is similar to how other -isms in our culture have been normalized.
One perverse way this normalization happens is to portray the victim of subjugation not only suited for but accepting of their lower position. Often the victim smiles, easily going along with and even assisting the oppressor in degrading them.
(In this image above the pig is depicted as freely giving his body for consumption. The pig cuts himself while laughing, seemingly accepting the pain such an act would obviously have on his body.)
(This image is from the famous film, “Gone with the Wind,” that depicted slaves often pleased with their subjugated positions. In this particular scene, Mammy (a slave) intervenes on behalf of her slave owner, Scarlet.)
As outlined in the playbook above, the victims in these powerless positions are not only portrayed as accepting of their fate as less-than but often the oppressor backs up their lower status with “pseudoscience” and/or false beliefs (religion, myth, etc.).
What words come to mind when you think about pigs? Usually, derogatory ones such as dirty, nasty, stupid, mean, stubborn, etc. Yet legitimate research tells us that pigs are one of the cleanest and smartest animals on the face of the Earth. What were some of the terms used to describe African American slaves? How do we talk about women?
And what happens when an -ism becomes normal? It becomes a tradition. And when something is tradition, it becomes a force to be reckoned with. At this point, you hear things like, “That’s just how it is.”
“Bacon and Eggs.”
“The Rebel Flag.”
“Bum on the street.”
These –isms become such a natural part of our everyday lives that the victims and the ism become invisible—invisibly woven into the fabric of the mundane, accepted.
More unfortunate is the reality that often the powerless began to internalize society’s larger message about themselves as “bad” or “less than” other. Society is full of examples of this. One powerful example that comes to my mind is the infamous 1960’s “Doll Test,” in which young black children were asked which of two dolls was “nice and pretty” versus “ugly and bad.” Sadly, the majority of young black children picked the white dolls as being the nice and pretty dolls. Were these children born to view themselves in a negative way? I think not. Another example, illustrating the power of sexism in our society, is how women often refer to other women as “whores, hoes, sluts, tramps, and bitches.”
With speciesism, it is a bit different. Animals cannot internalize our larger culture—thankfully. However, they still end up being tragic cogs in the machine of our ideas—ideas that define them as less than, backed by “science” and conveniently and sadly, the dominant religions on this planet. Their inability to fight back, or even voice a fight makes them our most vulnerable, and degraded victims.
I hope one day that changes and change really does start with each and every one of us.
Every day we are given the opportunity to make choices that make this world a better place and what better choice to make than choices for good.
Information is Power:
Learn more about animal agriculture and the environment:
Learn more about the factory farm (CAFO) system:
Learn more about the Doll Test:
Learn more about our current 6th mass extinction:
You can help Animals: