A Film that Explores the Links between Animal and Human Exploitation

photo: 123rf.com

photo: 123rf.com

After hearing an interview with director Mark Devries, we decided to inquire more about a particular theme that seems so central to his new film, Speciesism the Movie, due out this summer. The theme is that of exploring the common links between human forms of genocide and those that are widely and systematically perpetrated against animals today on factory farms. Approximately 60 billion land animals and another 1 trillion aquatic animals are bred, raised and killed, for the most part, completely outside of public view every year. We asked Devries to elaborate on why he finds the connections between human and animal exploitation so important.

Based on what we know about Speciesism the Movie, it appears that you are attempting to draw some compelling connections between human and animal atrocities. Why is this connection important to you?

The comparisons between human slavery and the institutionalized use of nonhuman animals are inextricably linked with the comparisons between racism and speciesism. In fact, knowing what I know now, it would be difficult to even imagine making a film about the latter without taking a head-on look at the former, as this film attempts to do.

The reasoning is this: speciesism is described as a prejudice or bias against taking the interests of members of other species seriously, just because those individuals are members of other species. If we replace “other species” with “other races” in the previous sentence, it describes a form of racism. And just as racism is essential for justifying the institutionalized use of humans, speciesism would appear necessary for justifying the current institutionalized uses of nonhuman animals.

Can you cite modern-day or historical examples of this connection?

First, we should consider what we are actually doing when we examine, for instance, the comparisons between human slavery and factory farming. Certainly, we are not trying to determine whether the institutions being compared are exactly the same. Instead, I think, we are looking at two different institutions, and examining what features they do have in common and why those commonalities may be instructive.

For example, among the reasons human slavery stands out as particularly atrocious is the level of forethought and design that goes into it. Slavery is not a sudden, thoughtless act of an angry mob. So it stands as a reminder of how people, when blinded by ideology, can consciously do what would otherwise seem unthinkable. Among the lessons we can learn is that we should always be willing to question our beliefs and assumptions, even if — perhaps especially if — we feel strongly about them.

What did you learn about this connection from the interviews you conducted for the film?

Some of the interviews taught me just how tangible the comparisons can be. I spoke with a Holocaust victim, for example, who spent time in Auschwitz and then narrowly escaped the gas chambers. Some of what she described was uncomfortably similar to what I saw — and filmed — on factory farms.

How do react to those that take offense at comparing humans and non human animal atrocities? What do you think is behind this?

That is a very interesting question. I have listened to many explanations from people who take offense at the comparisons, and they all seem to begin with the assumption that speciesism is justified. Someone will say, for example, that such comparisons belittle the victims of human slavery. How can that conclusion be reached, but for the unquestioned assumption that the institutionalized use of nonhuman animals is comparably insignificant?

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  2. Pingback: A Film that Explores the Links between Animal and Human Exploitation | WHY I OCCUPY

  3. I have seen parts of this movie and it is good.

    The one thing I don’t understand is why do people believe that we are more important than other species? Was it not that God’s creatures were put on this earth first and foremost? And then man was created? I guess most people hear the words ‘that we were created in the image of God’ yet I have to wonder each and every day, what kind of God would do what we do and see it as right? I can’t imagine any God who created all the species would see this as anything other than wrong. I also think that the reason we put ourselves above others is so we can do what we want to them, and feel that it is okay with God to do so, I mean he did say we were created in his imagine??? But then when the great flood happened, he did save the creatures too. Not all of them, but he did destroy the earth because of man. So once again, we will see this happen again because we have chosen to be the most feared on this earth. I cannot understand how any body would want to take that trophy! But we proudly do!

    The number of God’s creatures being destroyed these days is so great that no one knows that number. When I became an activist back in the late 80’s I always hoped that change would happen. It hasn’t and it won’t. The important things to man have nothing to do with living, breathing creatures. It has to do with their cars, homes and I could go on. So for them to change now, I don’t think that will ever happen. The people that I talk to that still eat flesh make a joke of it. They laugh at me for trying to show them the harm they are doing. I have been told that they will continue to eat flesh because they like the taste! They also tell me that God has given us the right to eat them?? Not so, but try telling them.

    We are justified in focusing on them, that is what I think makes us human. I could never stop what I do just because someone makes me feel uncomfortable. These creatures are just as intelligent as we, and they were given rights, the same as us. So to feel we have the right to take that away is just wrong and selfish!

    • Couldn’t agree more! It can be difficult to stay committed in the face of so much opposition, sarcasm, and joking while the suffering continues and the pathetic laws passed are full of loopholes and without real intent to enforce. But staying the course is the right and the moral thing to do.

  4. I hope this film gets a lot of positive attention and inspires people to get think about the issues and work for change. Animal activists may be called misanthropic and be accused of not caring about people. However, that is unfair. Human suffering is almost universally condemned as wrong by human rights activists, by most political systems, and by most religions. Animal suffering, on the other hand (much of it caused by human beings) is often ignored and even justified by the very religious and political traditions that seek to help people. Do people still have problems? Yes. But most of the aid organizations and most of the money in the world is targeted for them. I believe those who truly care about the suffering of other animals are justified in focusing on them. If reasonable comparisons can be made between the sufferings of both to illustrate the need for change, then that is good.

  5. This sounds like a great film, and I look forward to seeing it. But I am dismayed by Devries’ characterization of all critiques of comparison as being based in speciesism. In fact, many animal advocates (myself included) balk at comparisons that are not rooted in true appreciation of the human suffering to which animal suffering is being compared, especially if those comparisons are being made by people other than those oppressed by that particular kind of exploitation. Why? Because it’s not OK to use somebody else’s pain just to make a point. That’s exploitative in its own way. Many holocaust survivors (or their relatives) make the comparison with factory farming, and that’s OK. It’s also OK to say something along the lines that Devries said, “I heard about x and it reminded me of y.” But, for example, for a white activist who has not confronted the continuing privilege she or he experiences as a legacy of slavery, much less done any anti-racist work, to simplistically state, “it’s just like slavery,” that’s not OK because it’s exploiting somebody else’s pain to make a point. That’s not what Devries is doing here, it sounds like, since he talks about the strategy of identifying structural similarities. But it has been and continues to be done and be problematic. If we want to make some headway in getting people to see the legitimate comparisons, we have to be willing to accept the legitimate critiques of the illegitimate comparisons that AR activists sometimes have made. Back in 2007, the annual United Poultry Concerns Forum was on the topic of comparisons and included much thoughtful discussion about when and how it is both ethically acceptable and strategically useful to make comparisons. I believe that DVDs of that conference are still available via UPC.

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