The Human Superiority Complex

A recent online discussion I had reminded me of how frequently I confront an attitude of human privilege, particularly when there is a conflict of interest between a human interest and an animal interest. I’ve come to identify it as “the human superiority complex,” revealed in statements like, “I’ll always put a human before an animal” or “Humans are more important than animals.”

Let’s put aside whether or not these statements are credible in themselves and, for a moment, just look at what they reveal. Such statements beg the question: given that we humans clearly have the upper hand over animals, why do we find it necessary to continually invoke our self-professed superiority?

Could it be that we are so deeply insecure about our alleged superiority — in relation to the other life forms on this planet that predate us by millions of years — that we feel compelled to continually remind ourselves how important we are? Could it be that our understanding of our own “intelligence” — in relation to that of the other thousands of intelligent life forms we don’t fully even understand — is so grossly underdeveloped that our claim of superiority is akin to the tantrums of a spoiled child?

Not only do we assert our supremacy over nonhumans, we act upon it at every opportunity. The notion that human interests “trump” animal interests when we create an imaginary conflict of interest is particularly delusional when one considers that we wantonly kill 60 billion land animals and kill another trillion or so aquatic animals every year just to suit our pleasure in eating them, not for any legitimate need to survive.

In fact, professor Gary Francione of Rutgers University continually points to the schizophrenic nature of our relationship with animals. Francione simply asks us to look at the big picture: 99% of our animal use is unnecessary and for purposes of pleasure, entertainment, curiosity and education. At the same time, we generally admit it is wrong to harm animals unnecessarily. In essence, we say we take the interests of animals seriously and then act in direct opposition to that belief by using animals to satisfy our own trivial interests.

What for us are trivial pleasures is all too often a matter of life and death for animals. And yet all we have to do is invoke the all-powerful affirmation that humans are more important than nonhumans, and this assertion of superiority justifies any and every act we perpetrate on animals, no matter how illogical, immoral, or destructive.

I’m going to argue that the only thing here that is superior is our pretentious attitude, but perhaps even our attitude would suggest that what we really suffer from is an inferiority complex. If we were secure about our position at the “top of the food chain” or “natural order” as some like to refer to it, why do we need to defend it so desperately when it is questioned? And why do we attack those who question it? Why do we vehemently defend the dominant culture’s destruction of both animals and the earth when this destruction is so obviously against our own interest in survival?

The other day I debated someone about the merits of animal testing for medical research. My mistake. I don’t condone this practice, but I should have not taken the bait. I quickly came to realize that person was pathologically intent on proving the point that experimenting on animals to defend human health and save human lives means that — in at least the medical field — placing human over animal interests is righteous and morally defensible.

In the big picture, the issue is not that we still test on animals, whose numbers constitute less than 1% of the animals who suffer at human hands. Instead, the issue we should be focusing on is that we have no moral justification for exploiting the remaining 99.5%.

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About Robert Grillo

Robert Grillo is the director of Free from Harm which he founded in 2009 to expose the food industry’s exploitation of animals and foster greater empathy for farmed animals. As an activist, author and speaker, Grillo focuses awareness on the animal’s experience and point of view, drawing on insights from sociology, psychology, popular culture, ethics and social justice to bridge the gap between humans and other animals. As a marketing communications professional for over 20 years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts where he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. His new book, Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal Consuming Culture, reveals how popular culture uses a variety of fictions that condition us to consume animal products and perpetuate fasle perceptions of animals that make us feel better about exploiting them


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  3. I completely disagree about testing on animals being morally and justifiable. Torturing animals is never justifiable. Especially, since the drugs that are made are actually more harmful to both humans and animals. We have already witnessed those on plant-based diets being able to completely discard all pharmeceuticals. Furthermore, herbology wether it be Chinese, Ayurvedic African or Western, has powerful plant medicines, in which pharmeceuticals are derived from, that can be more powerful and virtually side effect free. For example, look at out typical high blood medications. They provide a quick fix but DO NOT prevent heart attacks, strokes, have dangerous side effects and even promote cancers. Pharmeceuticals are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually due to known side effects and med errors. Pharmceuticals are just another money making, immoral and unethical way of handling disease. Diseases and chronic illness arise in defense to our lifestyle choices. Putting tampons up animals, making them smoke, trapping them down so they we can inject harmful chemicals into their eyes other other body parts, or purchasing them, keeping them alone in cages only to remove them to poke them or remove organs should never be morally or ethically justifiable. After these animals are used up they gas them, cut them up into pieces and burn them. I know since I spoke to employees at Columbia Presyberian Hospital. On the other hand garlic is a potent Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, heart protective, promote healthy bacteria and on an on. Studies have even shown that the antibacterial properties are more powerful than the antibiotics on the market. It’s been shown to fight cancer. Why don’t we use garlic? Doesn’t make money.

  4. Great article.
    The one thing I wish would be changed, the fact that we call them ‘animals.’ Man has given this title to them because it makes them appear as ‘animals’ when in fact it is man who has become the animal. God himself calls them ‘his creatures.’ So please from now on, please give them the respect that God himself gives them.

    As for our intelligence…I often wonder if maybe we are the way we are because we aren’t that intelligent. I mean of course we can read books, learn what is taught, but we are being taught by man and what he has come up with. God himself has given us what we need to survive and do good. But we don’t follow his words. It is man who has decided that God has made many mistakes and he must change them, for God.

    As for religious institutions making it seem to appear that God gave man the right to torture, and kill his creatures, that just isn’t correct. Yes they do teach this because they were taught by man. And of course man once again is showing his not being so intelligent will make it what they want it to mean. But in God’s book he gives you so much information about his creatures and how he wants them taken care of, because he has given us the right to be on that upper level, above his creatures. If you know his book, he gives man dominion over his creatures…but in his book it also says that Christ was given dominion over man!! now the one thing I have learned about God is that he doesn’t use different meanings for the same word or words, not like man does. And the reason for this is because man needs so many excuses to use to explain why he does such evil things! So look to his book to give you the right and wrongs that we seem to think we shouldn’t care about. I mean look at how great we have made this earth and everything on it! Man must be great!

  5. Yes, unfortunately, human beings tend to feel and act superior to other animals. Generally through history we have been mean-spirited, arrogant, stupid, ignorant, self-absorbed, and greedy in our relations with animals. We have the legal and religious institutions to support our claim of “otherness” and superiority and the power to subdue, use, and destroy other lives. Sadly, those lives do not have the means to stop us. Pretty ugly!

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