“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” – Bertrand Russell
Why do we go out of our way to care for some animals, but turn others into products? What allows us to continue to pay for animal slaughter, despite feeling distressed when we witness the process? If we live in a world abundant with rich food sources, why do we still kill for a meal?
Psychology & Veganism is a platform to discuss the animal-human relationship, politically, ethically, psychologically and philosophically. It is a hub of questions and discussions about the many contradictions and foibles that exist in our current view of, and behaviours towards other species. Much is misunderstood about the animal rights and vegan movement. Similarly, much is overlooked about the intricacies of species other than our own and how our treatment of them defines our own worldviews.
Psychology & Veganism is written by an Australian psychologist and animal advocate with the aim to help bring these areas of knowledge together for both sceptics and advocates alike in the animal liberation movement. In particular, it is written to remind readers that animal rights no longer concerns just the lives of animals, but also our planet, our wellbeing, and our moral progress. The human-animal relationship has great and diverse implications for our fellow human relationships, another reminder that this is a much needed conversation for us all to enter.
This website is written for fellow animal advocates, cynics of the movement, vegans or those interested in veganism, proclaimed ‘animal lovers’ (as well as the indifferent), and anyone with an interest in ethics, moral philosophy, and the human-animal relationship.
A note about language
Throughout this website, certain terms have been highlighted to convey that while these words may be used regularly in general discourse, they serve to further normalise speciesism and the objectification of animals. These terms are distinguished from others to remind readers of the embedded and often hidden language of oppression.
The following are descriptions of terms that will frequently be used throughout this website.
What is veganism? Most commonly, it is referred to as a diet or a lifestyle that involves abstaining from animal and animal-derived products. While accurate in how it is applied, this definition of veganism misses the ethical rationale on which it is founded. Veganism is the philosophical and practical rejection of deeming animals as commodities to be used or exploited, and the rejection of causing unnecessary harm to other sentient beings, as far as is practically possible. Veganism is a social justice movement inspired by the recognition that countless lives are taken every day on the basis of habit and profit, an unsound moral reasoning.
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Similar to other forms of discrimination (e.g. ‘racism’, or ‘sexism’), speciesism involves refusing respect, freedom, or moral concern to members of a particular group, in this case, nonhuman animals. In speciesism, humans are arbitrarily assumed superior to other species. The term was first coined by psychologist Richard D Ryder in 1970 who in his efforts to protest animal experimentation, noted that if animals were considered biologically similar enough to humans that they could be confidently experimented upon, then they ought to be treated morally consistently. Speciesism is a contentious term however, and rejected by some who argue that it is too simplistic in its comparison of humans and animals. In his renowned publication Animal Liberation, a foundational book in the animal liberation movement, Peter Singer describes speciesism as “…a prejudice or bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species”. The basic notion of protecting the interests of one’s own species over another, is common to most species and not a necessarily refuted stance, ethically speaking. Speciesism however becomes problematic as the dignity, basic needs, and rights to freedom from harm of other species become dismissed or seen as inferior in the face of human desires, regardless of the level of significance of those desires.
The term animal rights is often confused as implying that animals should be treated equally to humans. It is difficult however, to treat species as equal to our own in the absence of evidence that their desires are beyond the basic needs that we can confidently assume we share in common (such as survival, and freedom from physical or psychological harm). In essence, animal rights is about affording animals intrinsic value and the rights to these basic needs, due to the knowledge that similar to other sentient beings such as humans, animals have the ability to experience psychological and somatic pain and suffering.
This term will be used as an alternative to ‘equality’ when talking about the treatment of some members of a group compared to other members of a group. Sometimes the term ‘equality’ is misunderstood or interpreted as meaning that we should treat someone the same as someone else. But what’s usually being meant is that we should give one group of members equal consideration to another group of members, based on their interests. Peter Singer introduced the Principle of Equal Consideration of interests (PEC) which is the idea that when deciding on moral behaviour, one should consider the interests of those involved with equal weighting, including animals.
Just as there is a term for the conscious rejection of the commodity status of animals (veganism), the term carnism has been coined to define the active choice towards a commodity status of animals. Initially introduced by professor of psychology and vegan advocate Dr Melanie Joy, Carnism describes the ideology, or unidentified conditioned choice to eat animals. The key feature to carnism is choice. Joy explains that due to the lack of necessity for most people in the world today to eat animals, it is often forgotten that eating animals is indeed something we choose to do, based on a belief system, rather than a need or a given. By defining this choice, Joy has highlighted the inconsistency in our perspective and consequential treatment of animals (see ‘the meat paradox’) and has made the default consumption of animals an act to be questioned and deconstructed as much as is currently the act to reject the consumption of animals.
About the Author
I am a clinical psychologist and an Adelaide-based animal rights advocate. Along with working with individuals suffering from various mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias, personality disorders, interpersonal difficulties, and trauma, I also run evidence-based group treatment programs for women suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
External to psychological practice, I volunteer with Aussie Farms and co-coordinate a grassroots volunteer group (Animal Rights South Australia) in collaboration with a team of activists who are engaged in street outreach, education, and demonstrations raising awareness of issues concerning animals.
Though it accounts for a large portion of my practicing identity, I cannot define myself as either of these roles. I am just as much a dancer, gamer, chess player, keen lounger, traveller, and wishful astrophysicist. There are a few areas of interests and experience from which I may draw my musings, and activism is one of those areas. And if you perhaps think to yourself that the worldview of a vegan or activist is too foreign to yours to consider, then I hope that finding something more familiar in me may be a catalyst for you to pick a new lock, even if you do choose to ultimately close it.
Not everyone however need identify as an advocate to make a meaningful difference in the lives of animals. This is one of the most important elements of veganism and the animal rights movement, it relies not just on the outspoken minority, but on the simple contemplation of the majority. Whether it be through reading, talking, consuming consciously, donating to organisations, or questioning; each individual has the capacity for making meaningful choices every day. And it is these choices that will inevitably see the change that is so very needed in the liberation of animals.
For further information about my experiences and perspectives as an animal advocate and psychologist, find a detailed profile in the below article: