sentient beings

The last word on Speciesism

By AC Grayling, The Guardian UK, April 2000

Animals are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time. – Henry Beston

A striking fact now rendered familiar, even platitudinous, by the triumphs of recent genetic science is how closely all living things are related. Humans share more than half their genes with worms and fruit-flies, and almost all their genes with chimpanzees.

Yet this intimate familyhood of life does not stop people from spearing worms on to fish-hooks, or testing drugs on chimpanzees. Nothing surprising there, you might say, given the way humans treat humans; in the face of gas chambers, racism, war and other avocations, what chance has a monkey or a cow? There are lessons to be learned from the way humans justify their treatment of animals, not least of those evolutionarily closest to them – the apes.

We locate a difference that we find threatening or that we despise; we thereby make the other fully Other, so that we can close the door of the moral community against him, leaving him outside where our actions cannot be judged by the same standards as apply within.

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