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?