The Supremacy Myth Argument: FAQ and Responses
In advocacy for nonhuman causes, one seeks to explain the issues in a way that answers all objections and prevents a discussion from being sidetracked or ignored. But often the emphasis is placed on the obvious—that nonhuman victims suffer needlessly, and that it is therefore wrong. The disagreement usually focuses on whether the victims actually suffer, or whether it is needless, and inevitably leads to attacks on the advocate. We are so accustomed to this that we take the defensive posture as if it is normal or desirable. Instead, we should be challenging the beliefs that block accepting the truth of the nonhuman rights position.
Strip away the philosophical theories and scientific data and you are left with a self-evident Golden Rule kind of truth: “how would you feel if you were born in a cage, taken away from your family, deprived of sunlight or the freedom to move, physically mutilated and finally killed for an unnecessary diet or practice?”
The purpose of the Supremacy myth argument is to focus and control discussions so that you are giving an overwhelming yet simple and intuitive case for nonhuman rights, thereby making it impossible for skeptics to ignore the truth because their own interests in fairness and justice are threatened if they do. If they do not accept it they are left in a demoralized position: they think they are right but cannot prove it, while you the animal rights advocate have presented an argument they cannot refute.
You use reality as an instrument, the unquestionable fact that humans can and do exploit other humans despite idealistic moral codes and laws to discourage it (excluding the codes and laws that actively encourage it). The central belief is “humans are superior in moral value to the victims.” Every time an attack on an “animal rights” position is made, you can answer by debunking the claim of human superior worth and using examples of human exploitation of humans to reinforce it. Essentially you cannot have “human rights” without accepting nonhuman rights. It is simple but powerful.
To summarize the argument, humans defend exploitation of nonhumans in farms, zoos, labs, hunting, fishing etc by the claim that humans are worth more—that humans are superior in moral value, which leads to grotesque double standards in ethical policy. This supremacy claim is usually taken as axiomatic-something self-evident and beyond question. There is usually criteria put forward to support it, that humans possess an immortal soul, the favor of a divine (yet mute and invisible) supreme being or beings, some kind of intellectual attribute—from “reason,” to consciousness to the ability to understand moral codes, to the ability to write symphonies. Or it is simply called “might makes right” or “survival of the fittest.” It does not matter what the criteria is—it can be one or a thousand, they all have the same problem, that it cannot be shown that all humans possess this criteria (and equally) or that all nonhumans lack it, and regardless, it cannot be shown the criteria is validated by an absolute authority. It can be questioned, doubted. If humans are morally superior how come they get no preferential treatment from weather or gravity? If it can be doubted—it cannot be absolute—which means it is biased personal opinion, just like the claims made by racial supremacists that skin color or specific interpretations of a particular religious text are absolute in importance. The most axiomatic and self-evident denial of this claim of human superiority is human behavior. Humans can and do exploit other humans—regularly, regardless of codes and laws to discourage it. This means that a human supremacist denier of nonhuman rights cannot effectively argue against a racial or gender or religious supremacist since they both adhere to biased personal opinions to make their case.
The human supremacist either has to allow anyone to exploit as they see fit, or extend moral regard to nonhumans in order to solve this problem.
This argument has advantages over the traditional “nonhumans are sentient/feel pain” argument in that it makes the issue entirely about human superiority claims which are always assumed even if not specifically expressed, and removes the ability to divert the discussion to trivial distractions. It keeps pressure on the beliefs of the person who denies “animal rights,” which is what should happen if you seek to change the status quo and champion common sense.
In the following we present common statements used to attack animal rights which reveal a human supremacist double standard, and how to respond in a way that highlights it and puts the critic in the defensive position.
Better to Have Lived and Suffered Than Not Live at All
1. “Animals in farms etc wouldn’t even exist if not for their use in exploitation so it’s better that they exist and suffer than not at all.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Therefore, it is better that slaves were born in captivity and suffered, than not exist at all. It is better that the victims of the Nazis were born and suffered, than not exist at all. It is better that a victim of child abuse have been born and suffered, than not exist at all. This has no bearing on the morality of the systemic practice—if slavery and concentration camps are immoral and wrong, so are labs and farms.
Wasting an Exploited Life is Worse than Exploiting
2. “If you exploit an animal it is important to use all parts of the animal (in respect of their sacrifice).”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Then the Nazis weren’t wrong when they exploited their victims, taking their money, their gold fillings, and using their skin and hair for furniture. They would only be wrong if they exploited their victims half-heartedly. As long as you exploit a victim fully, it is acceptable.
3. “If we have to respect nonhumans then they have to respect us. If they don’t, then they deserve to be exploited systemically in labs, zoos, farms etc. Human rights codes and laws are in every human’s best interests.”
The Supremacy myth answer: The idea that nonhumans must respect our moral codes is a biased personal opinion not absolute objective fact. What unbiased authority says they must understand moral codes in order to benefit? Various kinds of human from children to criminals can either not understand or deliberately violate moral codes and still receive much better treatment. Nonhumans already do “respect” us by not putting us in zoos, farms or systemically exploiting us for non essential survival related activities. They follow our moral concepts better than we do. To demand that nonhumans follow human moral codes when observable reality shows us that they do not and can not, is like demanding an armless man catch drowning swimmers and punishing them when they fail. You are making unrealistic and unfair demands.
And who says codes and laws are in every human’s best interest? Clearly criminals and dictators can violate this assumption and have lived quite well without caring about other humans. Same goes for humans living on one side of the planet-why should they care what happens to humans in another continent? Why should nonhumans be left out when clearly such codes would be in their best interest? If you say they are excluded you open the door for justifications as to why some humans deserve to be excluded too (since human supremacy/superior moral worth is unproven).
4. “Plants/bacteria are alive (and or feel pain) therefore you are causing harm even if you do not eat animals.”
5. “We can’t be perfect in morality when it comes to nonhumans, insects, plants, bacteria, therefore we don’t have to refrain from exploiting them systemically in zoos, farms, labs etc.”
The standard reply to this kind of statement is to deny that plants (or bacteria) can feel pain or that harm done to plants/bacteria is comparable to the harm done to nonhuman animals. Usually the person who brings up this issue does not care about “plant rights” or “bacteria rights” and is already aware that plants or bacteria cannot be proven to scream. Therefore if you answer their objection, you are not really explaining why meat eating and vivisection are wrong. You are diverting the discussion from it. Instead of going into a lengthy debate on plant pain or bacteria, you can instead assume they have a good point for the sake of argument, and show how it would affect human rights issues if we followed their logic and weren’t blinded to the double standard morality.
The Supremacy Myth answer: We can’t be perfect in human rights morality either—we have car accidents, child abuse, homicides, and yet do we say human rights morality must be abandoned because it isn’t perfect? If the failure to be perfect in dealing with insects or plants or bacteria justifies farms and labs, then car accidents and child abuse should justify concentration camps and warfare.
6. “You live in a society where the exploitation of nonhuman animals has benefitted you, therefore you are a hypocrite for not being morally perfect.”
The moral perfection demand leads to a variation argument that accuses the advocate of being a hypocrite—that they are not really opposed to or in no position to criticize exploitation if they have benefitted from any aspect of exploitation. Although they often actually mean inconsistency, hypocrite carries a stronger negative tone. Once again you can use the talking points raised to show how human rights are compromised by the same logic.
The Supremacy Myth answer: We live on land taken in wars, we pay taxes to governments that exploit humans, we have benefitted from the medical research conducted on humans without their consent (Dr James Sims, former AMA president, Jonas Salk-who infected mental patients with influenza, Dr Josef Mengele who experimented on concentration camp prisoners, and the Pfizer scientists who experimented on African villagers in the 1990s). If one must be morally perfect to be in favor of nonhuman rights, then one must be morally perfect to be in favor of human rights.
Hypothetical Emergency Scenario “Your child or a dog/rat/spider..”
7. “If you had to choose between a dog or a human child in an emergency, who would you save?”
8. “What if you were stranded in the Arctic or a boat and either kill an animal or starve?”
These questions are often thrown out there in a “either you are with us or against us” kind of loyalty test as well as attempting to discount animal rights if the advocate admits they would choose a human in an emergency situation. If they would not choose a human, then they are made to look like a crazy misanthropic traitor. The issue of personal survival is used to negate the entire concept of nonhuman rights—thus finding yourself stranded in the Arctic (why you would be in the Arctic or deliberately place yourself in a situation where your survival is threatened is also worthy of moral analysis) is equated with unnecessary systemic practices like hunting, fishing, zoos, the meat and dairy industries etc. without justification. Basically, the goal is to delegitimize “animal rights” by ignoring what such an argument would mean if applied fairly to human rights situations.
The Supremacy Myth answer: Let us turn the tables. What if the scenario was about human rights? What if the emergency choice was between a familiar human and a stranger—someone of your race or gender or religion or language or a foreigner? Who would you save? If you choose the familiar does that mean the loser deserves to be systemically exploited in farms, labs, etc? If not, then the same applies for a nonhuman rights situation. Emergency situations tell us nothing about systemic morality practices unless you concede that racial or gender or religious preferences matter as much as species ones.
9. “Morality is based on the concept of seeking to reduce suffering as much as possible—therefore eating meat is less suffering than growing plants where animals will be killed in cultivation.”
The unfortunate reality of philosopher created “animal rights” arguments is the allowance for theoretical and idealistic investigations into harm reduction. This can lead us further away from common sense and allow opponents of nonhuman rights issues to distract and divert attention.
The Supremacy Myth answer: If reducing suffering as much as possible is the true motive then why isn’t utilitarianism or least harm calculations used in determining the moral value of same sex marriage or whether a particular war is good for the long term happiness of the planet? These kinds of calculations only seem to appear in discussions of nonhuman rights and reveal a double standard. If we say that direct harm is preferable to indirect harm (i.e. that raising animals for food or shooting wildlife is better than vegetarian/vegan diet where animals can be indirectly or accidentally harmed) then it should be applicable to human situations. If someone was driving along and came to a forked road-one side foggy, the other side with people in the middle of it, then by the logic of the least harm meat eater, one would be better off driving over the people you could see as opposed to taking the foggy road where you may kill more, or to get out and walk (which is the equivalent of less destructive crop cultivation methods—who said heavy destructive machinery must be the only way of gathering crops?).
See Moral Perfection/Hypocrisy section for further information.
10. “Different moral codes for different cultures. We can’t criticize other cultures for their treatment of nonhuman animals.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: What about their treatment of humans? By this logic one can’t criticize any culture for not following our standards of human rights either.
See Human Hunting section for more information.
Might Makes Right/Survival of the Fittest
11. “Morality doesn’t matter—it’s survival of the fittest. Humans are stronger therefore they can exploit the weaker animals.”
They may say morality doesn’t matter but the double standard is still there.
The Supremacy Myth answer: If survival of the fittest is your motto and morality doesn’t matter then you should be fine with humans exploiting other humans according to the “fittest” claim as well. There is no reason to remove humans from the consequences since human superior moral worth can’t be proven as anything other than a biased personal opinion.
12. “Meat eating and exploitation of nonhuman animals was necessary for the development of humans/civilization.”
The standard response is to challenge the idea that meat eating was/is necessary—but we can bypass the distraction by answering that the person can’t delegitimize nonhuman rights claims by referring to history or necessity unless they also want to accomplish the same for human rights.
The Supremacy Myth answer: And slavery, war, and various injustices towards humans were also necessary for the development of humans/civilization and yet we still hold to moral values that suggest these things are wrong. The same goes for present day exploitation of nonhuman victims.
13. “Even if nonhumans deserve moral concern, human problems must always come first.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: If you claim morality follows such a hierarchy of importance, then one could further refine and prioritize morality based on the importance of race, gender, age, religion, family, language, territory, etc. since any such boundary is based not on fact but personal opinion. Many would say we should not prioritize morality and charity based on bias and personal opinions but follow the general aim of doing good in any situation, and if we agree with this, then nonhumans are just as valid for equal consideration.
Never Ending Exploitation
14. “Meat eating, hunting or other nonhuman exploitation will never be stopped (and thus we should not even try).”
The Supremacy Myth answer: human rights causes are just as unlikely to be eliminated completely and in some ways even less so than nonhuman rights ones.
The failure to eliminate homicide or child abuse does not seem to foster a view that we should not even try to curb them. In fairness the same should be true for nonhuman rights issues.
Nonhuman exploitation by humans is due in large part to domestication which requires immense effort to maintain. By contrast, human slavery, child abuse, and homicide have existed as long as humans have, and will likely continue to do so in some form as long as humans can reproduce. The elimination of the former is actually a more realistic hope when you consider it from a practical standpoint.
Top of the Food Chain
15. “Humans are top of the food chain.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: How can you prove this? Humans are just as mortal as all other life and subject to death and decay and being eaten by other organisms. If humans were top of the food chain, it can also be asked, are humans who prey on other humans (some for cannibalistic dietary preferences) “more” on top of the food chain than other humans who do not?
No Pain No Gain
16. “Nonhuman animals don’t feel pain like us or have consciousness therefore it doesn’t matter how they are treated.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Only an idiot would say that nonhuman animals who can bleed, make sounds when harmed, and seek to avoid being harmed do not feel pain. The horsewhip was invented on the belief that the animal being whipped could feel it. But if we can believe that an animal scream is merely an illusion of pain, then we can also make the same assumption about other humans. We cannot be sure that what we perceive as an individual is true reality—thus we can easily claim that other humans are just soulless mechanical objects for our use. If one wants to have human rights, or believe that other human-like beings have souls and can feel pain, the same courtesy must be extended to nonhumans to close this “anything goes” loophole.
17. “God Gave Us Dominion Over Nature/Animals Have No Souls.”
One can claim anything when it comes to invisible mute deities but we know that humans are mortal and subject to the natural phenomenon as other life forms. There is no evidence that humans have a special quality or soul that leaves the body upon death which nonhumans do not possess. Faith is not fact.
Also, there are religious views that believe nonhumans have souls and deserve respect and compassion. In the end you have a “my god said this and your god said that” disagreement which has been the basis for endless violence and warfare in the name of invisible mute deities.
The Supremacy Myth answer: If someone can say that their deity sanctions the systemic exploitation of nonhumans than someone else can justify the systemic exploitation of humans by claiming their deity gave them dominion over other humans. There are cultures that have and continue to do this. Whether secular or spiritual you cannot have human rights without nonhuman rights since human supremacy cannot be proven as anything other than biased personal opinion. We do not allow people to justify human slavery even though the Bible supports it, therefore nonhumans are just as worthy of moral respect.
Violent Stewards of Nature
18. “It is necessary and moral for humans to kill invasive species or ones that get too numerous in the wild.”
The Supremacy Myth Answer:
If it is acceptable to kill members of other species to keep them from crowding out other species, then the same should apply to humans if we were fair and just since humans are incredibly destructive. How can humans claim they are managers when they cannot even manage themselves? Morally, humans have no right to intervene in the life of other species and claim they know what is best for them. Observable reality tells us that other species have managed themselves quite well long before humans came along, and can do so if humans do not allow themselves to get out of control.
19. “Humans are hunters and meant to kill other animals.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Real natural born hunting animals do not depend on tools for killing and consuming other animals as humans do when it comes to any animal larger than an insect. The same tool-making ability that is used for hunting non human animals can also be used for digging in the soil to plant seeds or to kill other human beings. You do not often hear about tigers and wolves planting gardens or killing other tigers and wolves. Thus humans are not natural predators unless homicide is also natural. In addition, humans also accidentally kill themselves or other humans when hunting. This can occur with guns or spears. It is unlikely that true predator animals accidentally kill themselves on their own claws or mistake a fellow lion for a gazelle. Natural predators have no “hunting seasons.” It can also be pointed out that the dismissive regard for the “accidental” deaths of non-hunting humans killed in proximity to hunting areas (walking, jogging, sitting in their homes) suggests that the lives of humans are considered less important than preserving the activity of recreational killing of nonhumans.
20. “Hunting by non-caucasian or poor people is justified.”
The basic idea is that the closer humans live to Nature without industrial means, the more one is entitled to commit acts of violence and discrimination against members of other species.
If one is poor and of any racial extraction, it is not usually considered permissible for the person to exploit and kill other humans for subsistence or basic survival. If one lived in an environment where a need to kill other humans for survival was a routine occurrence, then it would be strongly encouraged or demanded that the person or persons relocate or alter their survival patterns to be in harmony with accepted moral standards. The morality of exploiting other humans when it is not absolutely necessary would trump any lifestyle or tradition argument. Even a Caucasian critic would not usually have to worry about being called a racist because they oppose these activities of non-whites.
If we are to be fair and just in our moral principles, then racial character and economic status would not be deemed an excuse for harming innocent lives when alternatives exist.
If a tribe was killing humans for food, we would offer support to stop this from happening. Ideally, this should be the same principle when dealing with any human group in their systemic exploitation of nonhuman animals if we regard all humans as equal.
This is not extreme or unreasonable; it is merely exercising fairness and consistency in moral policy.
This basic concept of morality is like the sun—people in different regions have different words for it, but they all mean the same object. The moral principle of regarding yourself and others as equal and deserving of respect is universal to any human society on earth—we are simply refining it for consistency and fairness. If a member of a pre-industrial tribe would say that it is wrong for anyone to harm their tribal group while at the same time claiming it is morally justified for the tribe to systemically harm nonhumans, they are guilty of the same double standard morality and bigoted views demonstrated by their urban counterparts.
The practicality of implementing a more ethical lifestyle is not relevant to the ethical argument. As we pointed out—morality is not perfect and one can only do the best we can, but systemic exploitation is not doing the best you can.
We know that humans of any racial heritage are capable of discrimination, unfairness, bigotry, and exploitation. We also know that humans of any ancestry have dealt with wars, crime, slavery, illness, disability, and injustice. We do not allow someone descended from a family who was slaughtered in a war to justify their own behavior against others because of their ancestor’s plight. Thus to be fair and just, someone descended from a designated ethnic group that experienced slavery does not mean they have the right to justify their own discrimination and exploitation of others by citing this link.
Human societies that have access to industrialized technology, and in fact live in association with urban societies while at the same time seeking to maintain pre-industrial lifestyles, exhibit a double standard in their moral values. They are willing to embrace modern technology and instruments but reject any notion that they should give up violent behavior that arises from their own particular version of Manifest Destiny.
If they are willing to give up human slavery or human sacrifice (which was also practiced by some tribes) than surely it is no outrage to suggest they treat other living beings as they would wish to be treated themselves. An Inuit would no doubt say that a Canadian of European descent has no moral right to exploit them, so what right do they have to do the same to seals, polar bears, elk etc? They cannot claim they are natives of the Arctic as a polar bear is, since the latter requires no artificial means to survive-while humans do.
If one truly believes that humans are equal then race is irrelevant. To suggest that some humans deserve special consideration or moral exemptions because of their ethnic or cultural background is to endorse an ethical double standard.
The Supremacy Myth answer: If non-caucasians or poor people are human and held to a concept of equal rights and responsibility then they should be obligated to hold to standards of fairness and justice. If they would say it is wrong for others to systemically exploit them when alternatives exist or refuse to seek out alternatives, then the same must apply to their treatment of nonhumans being systemically exploited by them.
21. “Animal research is necessary.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: The ridiculousness of the claim that nonhuman research is necessary is demonstrated if you ask the research supporter this question: If they had a choice between a drug tested only on rats or chimps, and a drug tested only on humans, which would they deem safer for human use? The answer determines one’s actual belief in the importance of nonhuman animals in research.
The only reason this logical hypothetical is not asked is because of the double standard morality created by the human supremacy myth and intellectual blindness to it.
22. “If you had to save the life of your child, would you not sacrifice a rat?”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Ignoring the fact that scientists cannot find cures for illnesses by simply torturing one or a few or thousands of rats to death no matter how much they want people to believe they can perform magical miracles, the answer to this should be no less controversial than the following alternative scenario.
23. “If you had a choice between your child and a neighbor’s, who would you choose?
If you chose your child, does it mean you want the neighbor’s child to be tortured in a lab? If you refuse to choose, does that mean you do not love your child as much as your neighbor’s? This type of question is not raised, even when common sense tells us that the best and safest research model for human disease is another human. If finding a cure for disease is so important, why aren’t scientists and patients advocating the use of criminals or volunteers in medical experiments? Humans are the best and safest model for research, and we send healthy people off to be maimed and killed in wars for natural resources, religion and political ideology, and yet the war against cancer is only considered of dire importance when it comes to the discussion of abolishing nonhuman animals in research. This exposes how the double standard of the human supremacy myth is the driving force in defenses of vivisection. The more recent claims that genetic engineering can alter the physiology of nonhuman animals so they are better models for human research also exploits public ignorance since it requires faith that scientists understand Nature so well that they can predict how the physiology of other species will react to the altered genetics. But even if they could turn a nonhuman into a perfect copy of human anatomy with the same responses to chemicals, the torture and death could not be justified by the discriminatory ethical arguments based on the false belief in human supremacy as mentioned earlier. Citing alleged benefits of an action is not the same as providing ethical justification for it.
24. “Animal rights activists cannot protest animal research if they have benefited from research that has been linked to nonhuman animal research experiments.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Then human rights advocates have no right to protest either since no one is perfect. Lethal research on humans against their consent has also been done and the research preserved. Do we make the same demand of human rights activists that they cannot use anything that may be traced back to human experimentation? The work of Joseph Mengele is well known, but there is also James Marion Sims, former head of the American Medical Association who experimented on black slaves and was awarded for his humanitarian efforts by a statue in New York’s Central Park. And there is Jonas Salk, reported to have deliberately infected patients at mental hospitals with influenza.
Researchers say they need to use nonhuman animals for research because they are like us–-and yet they say they deserve no rights because they are not like us. This highlights the real issue: the motivation for animal research beyond money and sociopathic tendencies is an arrogant belief that humans as a species are superior in value to all other life, based upon biased personal opinion criteria conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination and exploitation. Sims and Mengele and Salk thought the same way about the use of humans they deemed inferior.
If one cannot be against vivisection if they were unwitting patients of corporate medicine, then the same is true for those using Pfizer drugs (who experimented on humans in the 90s). Or those using any medication that can be linked to the Nazi research (which was kept for human medicine). Or anyone with medication treatments linked to Jonas Salk or James Sims. Beyond that one should not be advocating for human rights if they live on land that was taken in a war—or pay taxes to governments that finance human rights abuses or warfare. No one can be perfect in an imperfect world. If human rights supporters are not expected to be perfect than the same holds true for supporters of nonhuman animal rights causes.
If we say that someone who is ill does not have the moral right to demand that other humans be used for research to find a cure (even though the results would be far more beneficial than using nonhumans) then logically since humans cannot be shown to be superior to other beings (as all standards and criteria are based on biased personal opinions like they are for racial supremacy etc.) they cannot make the same demand when it comes to nonhumans used in vivisection. It is not complicated–it simple and fair morality.
25. “Animal rights activists must come up with alternatives to using nonhumans in research.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: If one seeks to find cures for human illness, the onus is on them to do it in a way that does not violate basic and consistent standards of moral conduct, not the animal right advocate for pointing out the immorality of a practice.
26. “Only privileged people can afford to think about nonhuman rights. Regular people are too busy dealing with their own problems to be concerned about trivial things.”
The Supremacy Myth answer: Only privileged people can afford to think about human rights. Regular people are too busy dealing with their own problems to be concerned about trivial things (like fighting racism, sexism, gender discrimination, children’s rights and other interests which don’t necessarily impact an individual’s quest for survival). Concern for nonhuman rights demonstrates an unselfish and sincere interest in social advocacy and justice, which is not necessarily the case with those who seek human rights for their own self-interest.