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The following review of Speciesism appears in Anthrozoos 18(4), 2005, pp. 443-445.


Speciesism by Joan Dunayer
(Derwood, Md.: Ryce, 2004). $18.95 paperback. 218 pages

Reviewed by George Jacobs, Ph.D.

"Speciesism" is a term that we are beginning to hear more frequently, as more humans have come to recognize and reject the status quo in relations between nonhumans and humans. In Speciesism, Joan Dunayer looks deeply at speciesism, which she defines as "a failure, in attitude or practice, to accord any nonhuman being equal consideration and respect." Dunayer, whose 2001 book Animal Equality: Language and Liberation provided a sound foundation for thought about, and work on, language and speciesism, writes in a clear, uncompromising voice, one that deserves careful attention and respect.

Speciesism is divided into ten chapters. The first supplies a brief introduction, explaining the author’s definition of speciesism and contrasting that definition with others. The rest of the book consists of three sections: "Old Speciesism," "New Speciesism," and "Animal Equality." Each section addresses philosophy, then law, then advocacy. As my own experience lies mainly in the third area, advocacy, this review focuses on those chapters.

Briefly, old speciesism endorses rights only for human animals; new speciesism advocates rights for some, but not all, nonhuman animals; and nonspeciesism advocates rights for all sentient beings. Dunayer categorizes much nonhuman advocacy as "old-speciesist," although she is careful not to label individuals or organizations "old-speciesist" based on a particular campaign or choice of language. Examples of organizations whose actions come in for criticism are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (www.peta.org) and United Poultry Concerns (www.upc-online.org). At the same time, Dunayer (personal communication, 1 June 2005) believes that many of the same organizations also use some nonspeciesist language and strategies. Dunayer uses the term "welfarism" for old-speciesist efforts that would continue the exploitation of nonhuman animals but under other conditions. For example, in the case of nonhumans who are imprisoned and killed to be eaten, she explains that advocating for free-range conditions is old-speciesist. Any such effort, she writes, "is old-speciesist because it doesn’t seek emancipation or legal rights for any nonhumans. Instead it accepts keeping nonhumans within some situation that violates their moral rights" (p. 58).

New-speciesist advocacy attempts to gain rights for relatively few nonhumans, based on their similarity to humans. For instance, in the new-speciesist view, chimpanzees deserve rights but bees do not because chimpanzees are more like humans. Dunayer argues instead that sentience should be the basis for rights and that we need to move away from the use of humans as the guideline against which other species must measure up in order to deserve protection. She presents evidence of sentience in invertebrates and so-called lower vertebrates. Indeed, since the publication of Speciesism, such evidence has continued to mount.

Critics of the status quo are often known more for what they oppose than for what they propose. However, in the philosophy and law chapters of the book’s third section, Dunayer presents her vision of a nonspeciesist world. For Dunayer, nonspeciesism demands basic rights for any creature with a nervous system, including worms and radial invertebrates such as jellyfishes.

The book’s final chapter offers many suggestions for nonspeciesist advocacy. Among other strategies, Dunayer recommends abolitionist bans, which she contrasts with welfarist ones. A ban on the production and sale of foie gras or on the use of elephants in circuses is abolitionist, she explains. Such a ban prevents the exploitation itself. In contrast, a ban on sale of the flesh of cows confined indoors is welfarist. It does not abolish holding cows captive; it merely alters the conditions of their captivity and opens the door to sale of so-called "free-range beef." Additionally, Dunayer recommends abolitionist boycotts, such as campaigns to discourage the purchase of clothes made from pelts. Similarly, she endorses promoting a vegan lifestyle, which reduces demand for products inconsistent with nonhuman rights. Language also receives Dunayer’s attention as a means of combating speciesism. She urges that advocates not only ask themselves whether their arguments and proposals are nonspeciesist but also consider whether the language they use reflects a nonspeciesist perspective. For example, do they use who instead of which for all animals? Do they say "chickens reared for slaughter" rather than "broiler chickens"?

Speciesist attitudes underlie humans’ exploitation of other animals. Dunayer believes that we must directly address these attitudes. For this reason she criticizes efforts to help other animals that aim to modify speciesist exploitation and do not specifically counter speciesism. For example, encouraging people to eat "pink veal" rather than "white veal" in order to reduce the severity of calf confinement seeks to modify calf captivity and slaughter.

Critics might label Dunayer’s approach as too uncompromising, rejecting opportunities to loosen the bonds of the enslavement of other animals. Dunayer would counter that the only responsible position is to oppose enslavement, not to argue for better treatment of the enslaved. She concedes that we are not going to see a ban on eggs any time soon, nor are most humans who currently eat eggs likely to stop doing so in the immediate future. Nonetheless, advocating better treatment of hens via the production and sale of "free-range eggs" promotes an alternate form of exploitation, thereby discouraging the adoption of nonspeciesist views. Dunayer holds that we can’t end speciesist exploitation without clearly and consistently opposing that exploitation. She also holds that because speciesism lies at the root of humans’ abuse of other animals, we must, then, counter speciesism itself.

Reading this book, as did reading Dunayer’s earlier book on the language humans use with regard to nonhuman animals, challenged my own views and practices, and provided me with ideas for talking with other humans. Thus, I recommend it to others as a tool for reflection and a source of ideas for communicating with other humans on the many important issues the author raises.

Speciesism is available from Lantern Books (www.lanternbooks.com), Amazon.com, and other booksellers.