Specism: A Moral Framework
Every person and every animal has built in a desire to survive and to better themselves. Upon this self-centric axiom systems such as Objectivism are built. Such systems lack something central to the human experience – desire for the direct betterment of the group, even at the expense of the self. They range from the Randian capitalist’s soulless lack of recognition of the value exchanged in being with another human apart from a cash transaction, to a hedonistic / anarchic existence focused on self alone. Neither ultimately fulfils because they separate us from the plane of our fundamentally social and caring existence. We were built to empathize, to seek excellence not only within ourselves but to bring it forth from others.
A moral system that encompasses the reality of the full human condition seems more likely to be a good fit. Humanism attempts to enter in here, but denies us a belief in God. And yet the reality of the human condition is that many people believe in God and find that
belief to be a substantive part of their experience of the world. A system that denies them this cannot be fulfilling for people to whom a belief in God is an irremovable tenet and reality of their existence. Far from being rare, this includes most humans, including
So what if we took the essence of humanism – a focus on the betterment of the species, and turned that into a moral framework alone? Such a species-oriented outlook could accommodate any number of religious beliefs. We could call such a system specism.
We find in nature every species works to the benefit of their species. The ant gives one of the best examples of specism, working as a colony to build a better tomorrow, each serving the colony however they can, with full autonomy. And yet a single ant seems to have little intelligence or capability – it is the full colony that is bestowed with adaptability and apparent learning. Animals thus often work for the benefit of the group even to their own sacrifice but rarely will sacrifice themselves for another species. Specism is a
deeply inherent part of our wiring as living creatures; indeed, without the drive to congregate for the good of the many, multicellular organisms could not have been made manifest, let alone societies.
The axioms of most religious beliefs not only accommodate specism, but are practically defined by it. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and “love others as you love yourself” are both specist tenets. Similar exhortations to care for others are given
throughout the core portions of most world religions.
Use of specism as a moral code, then, can seemingly be accomodated by a number of spiritual beliefs, provided that those beliefs permit a continued focus on the betterment of humankind. This is a strongly distinguishing trait from humanism.
A specist views the world by considering the impact of his/her choices upon humankind both immediately and in the long run. Two specists may or may not agree on the proper course of action, largely because of the impossibility of knowing the full effect of one’s actions in the distant future. A surprising diversity of moral conclusions spring from applied specism, permitting a complete moral framework for decision-making that is at least unified in its process, if not always in its conclusion.
One of the more interesting venues for consideration of this balance comes up in the case of the environment. A knee-jerk reaction would be to suppose that the specist cares not for the environment and would support efforts such as drilling for oil in Alaskan refuges and so forth. But it’s the long view that’s key here; since access to clean nature is of such base importance to humans, keeping the Earth fresh is important for long-term human happiness. A specist may decide to eat meat, given that it is in our nature to do so (and it can be very tasty). But a specist could also decide that the eating of meat could end up imperiling the species by producing too great a burden upon the Earth’s resources. Both would be valid outcomes.
Some environmentalists decry specism, equating it to racism. And yet this argument is without substance and emotional. When I meet another person, regardless of their skin color, I can communicate with them as a peer and they are as likely to be able to assist me as I they. We have brains that are roughly made the same and are, with perhaps some effort on both sides, capable of some real understanding of the other. The color of one’s skin does not change the reality of this human connection. And yet, when I meet a mouse or a bug, while there is something to appreciate there, even deeply, I do not meet such animals as peers. For no amount of schooling will help a mouse be able to have a candid discussion with you. (Although certain hallucinogens might be able to effect such a result.) We all want to be part of a group – and yet the sense of group is lost beyond members one can reasonably consider a peer. While non-humans can be contributors to a group, such as a dog assisting a hunt or giving companionship, it is impossible that a non-human could be a true peer and thus a true member of the group. In this way racism is rendered distinct from specism, because racism is a prejudice against surmountable barriers to equality whereas specism addresses insurmountable barriers.
If environmentalists were not specists, they’d do the best thing for all other living things – they would find a nice patch of soil, die, and fertilize the Earth, instead of consuming its resources. The fact that they don’t do this says to me that they do indeed value their lives specially over that of the Earth in fact if not in rhetoric.
On the issue of animal testing to produce products that increase human safety, survival, and comfort, I feel that a specist has an obvious take. Even PETA (which campaigns against animal testing) has a Vice President (MaryBeth Sweetland) who, being diabetic, requires insulin shots (that contain animal products and were tested on animals) to survive. It’s wrong to be unneccessarily cruel, but it’s hard to deny the factual benefits that animal testing gives the human race.
****Some might worry that the specist seeks to create the perfect human experience or the perfect human. But the pragmatic specist notes that the success of most systems decreases rapidly as diversity decreases. Having a population of people / ideas / cultures that is diverse is the most likely way for the population to survive and succeed. If you plant a large number of crops of the same variety in a field you can very efficiently harvest them, but one disease could wipe out all you own. The Irish potato famine is one example of this
working against the betterment of humans. Similarly, different approaches to a problem may turn out to yield valuable inputs; the more diverse set of views are brought to a subject, the more complete one’s understanding will be and the better we will all be off
collectively. As such, the specist embraces the full diversity of humankind, including those who disagree with specism, as necessary ingredients for a healthy system.
****Killing yourself is foolish from the specist’s perspective largely because it is wasteful. A person who prematurely ends their life before their productive capacity has been terminated is disposing of a chance to better others. As a specist, you exist for the pleasure of the species; the goal of your life should be to maximize your contribution to other humans and the world. An early end deprives others of the potential benefit you could have given them.
****Raising children well is the most valiant act a specist can perform. In the necessary sacrifice of time, money, and energy, the parents give up something of themselves for the direct purpose of furthering the species. There is no greater act of service.
Euthanasia & Capital Punishment
****Some might think that specists would innately support euthanasia and capital punishment both, since the humans in question in both cases have been judged to no longer be capable of contributing to the species. The issue beyond the surface here is the cheapening of human life. If people who are terminally ill or criminally insane have their
lives ended, it could cause others to think that life was a cheap thing. In both the case of them applying this supposition to themselves or to others, people suffer. So by the specist code, the “sin” in euthanasia is not the termination of the individual but the supposed cheapening effect such an end would have on people’s perception of the value of life. As on many of these issues, it’s likely that specists would disagree about the proper course of action, but specism at least gives them a common, areligious basis upon which to consider the merits and drawbacks.
****Knowledge-sharing is an inherently incredibly efficient activity, since the acquisition of information, its processing, and its digestion collectively take vastly larger amounts of time than the actual receipt of that information. This is how we have whole decades of human experience wrapped up in a paragraph, or the life’s acheivement of a mathematician summarized in a quick graphic. While a humbling realization that the best one can hope for by way of posterity is perhaps an abbreviated footnote in a text, in truth the scope of influence this affords is tremendous.
This brings us to one of the hardest issues in achieving the aims of specism.
Do you take a local action that strongly affects a small number of people or a global action that lightly affects a large number of people?
The answer is to take the action that, given the circumstances, lets you maximize your positive contribution to humankind. In truth, actors on the full scope from aiding a singular person to aiding all humans are needed for the system to work properly. If you feel your skills and desires are more in line with being able to effect a large-scale change, then that should be your course of action. Likewise, if an obvious opportunity presents itself for powerful local change, then that would seem to be the right venue.
In short, be Good with what you’re good at.
inspired in part by a conversation with sean parker four years ago