Human exceptionalism

Overlap with concept of speciesism

The belief that there is an impassable divide between humankind and all other life

Unquestioned assumption underlying much thought in our society

Philosophical underpinnings of our society largely ignored


"...a prejudice or bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species" Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1975

Come to have a wider connotation, such as the difference in treatment we require of pets and farm animals

For example pigs are allowed to be kept in a concrete floored sheds in their own filth legally, however domestic dogs have great protections. This despite evidence showing that pigs have a higher order of intelligence


The real "creation" story...

Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago

Life began as early as 3.7 billion years ago

Current estimates are 8.7 million species

Late comers

Mammals 320 million years ago

Primates 85 million years ago

Humans and chimpanzees separated 7.5 million years ago

Homo sapiens somewhere between 250000 - 400000 years ago

Humans have existed for less than 1% of 1% of the journey of life


Extinction of species at least 1000 times the "natural" rate

Quarter of all remaining mammals at risk of extinction

Less than 10% of large fish remain in oceans compared to 1950 levels

Loss of 50% of all vertebrate wildlife in last 50 years

Using resources of 1.5 planets every year


"Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the likely background rate of extinction" - The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection, Science 30 May, 2014

"Of the 5,487 mammal species assessed, nearly one-quarter of species (22.2 %) are globally threatened or extinct, representing 1,219 species" - IUCN Red List 2016

"we estimate that large predatory fish biomass today is only about 10% of pre-industrial levels" - Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities, Ransom A. Myers & Boris Worm, Nature 15 May 2003


"humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded what our planet can replenish. We would need the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to provide the ecological services we currently use"

"in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half"

- Living Planet Report 2014 - WWF, Zoological Society of London, Global Footprint Network, Water Footprint Network



56 billion farm animals imprisoned and slaughtered each year

Untold numbers of sea creatures, much of it "by-catch" - only counted in tonnage

We kill more animals every day than humans who were killed in all wars of the entire 20th century

Branding, dehorning, castrating, tail docking, debeaking, all routine

~200 million animals used in experiments worldwide

Mass refusal to acknowledge the problem or even engage with issue


56 billion animals - FAO Stats 2009

1 - 3 trillion wild fish - Fish Count 2016

Cattle treatment in Australia, see Meat and Livestock Australia

"We can only estimate the number of vertebrate animals used in experiments worldwide because not all experiments on vertebrate species are recorded in all countries. However, it is believed that around 200 million vertebrate animals are used for scientific experiments each year."

Environment and Livestock

The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global - UN FAO, 2006

30% of the earth's entire land surface dedicated to livestock

Percentage in Australia slightly higher

30% of Earth's arable land dedicated to livestock feed

Overpopulation - More cattle, and 3.5 times more sheep and lambs than people in Australia


Land surface and arable land from Livestock's Long Shadow, FAO 2006

Cattle numbers from Meat and Livestock Australia

Other Australian statistics from Australian Bureau of Statistics, Land Use and Livestock sections, 2009-2010


Major religions

The earth and everything in it created for humans

Human life is either the highest, or the only meaningful life

Only humans have an immortal soul or human males are the highest form of perceptible life

Earth is just a staging ground for the "true" reality in the after life

God being all powerful controls all things


"Three focus groups held with Muslim, Christian and Secular participants...Beliefs in divine intervention and afterlife reduce perceived climate change risk" - The impact of religious faith on attitudes to environmental issues and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies: A mixed methods study. Aimie L.B. Hope, , Christopher R. Jones

"Our results show that members of Judeo-Christian traditions are less concerned about environmental protection than their nonreligious peers, and that religiosity somewhat intensifies these relationships for evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and mainline Protestants" - The Role of Religion in Environmental Attitudes, Matthew B. Arbuckle1,* andDavid M. Konisky2


"Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Genesis 1:26

"The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man" Corinthians 11:3

Repeated that faith is more important than works. Romans 3:28, 5:1, 4:1-5 etc.

Heaven and hell destination for all - Mathew 25:31 - 25:36, Luke 13:23-28


Animal sacrifice still practised. On the Haj each pilgrim required to sacrifice a goat, cow or camel

"The Earth is green and beautiful, and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it" - Hadith

"Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other" - Quran 4:34

"those who believe and do good deeds, they are dwellers of Paradise, they dwell therein forever" - Quran 2:82


Christian creation story taken from Judaism, earth is mans dominion

Humans created in the image of god

Idea of Elam Ha-ha (the world-to-come) which the righteous will be resurrected in not clear, most believe it to be another realm similar to concepts of heaven


Life release, involves often buying an animal destined to be slaughtered and releasing it

6 realms, in which humans inhabit the second highest

Many schools consider reality to be something of a dream

The real sky is (knowing) that samsara and nirvana are merely an illusory display — Mipham Rinpoche

Nirvana - final state "it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself" - Surangama Sutra


Animal sacrifice still common, though not as common as in ancient times

Reality an illusion, a staging ground for karma and rebirth

Ultimate reality is moksha, union with Brahma

Secular belief

Whilst a civilising influence, has not led to a consistent dramatic change in values

Killing god brought us little closer to other species

Athiests have maintained many of the core concepts of religion

Human life still generally considered the only meaningful life


Meat consumption not strongly correlated with religiosity

Eg Denmark one of the least religious countries in the world, also has one of the highest levels of meat consumption - Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations, Gallup 2010; Current Worldwide Annual Meat Consumption per capita. FAO 2013

Factory farms common in countries with both high and low levels of religiosity

Environmental footprint follows income more closely than attitudes

Scientific belief

Scientific method our best tool for understanding reality but...

Human exceptionalism in much of science resembles religious ideas

Obsession with the separation of humans from all other animals

Hubris - often an inability to understand its own limitations

Glossing over of the huge environmental problems it has caused

Historical indifference to the interests of other life

Benefits of narcissism?

Believing we have ownership of the world allows us to act selfishly

Psychological status pay off in unquestioned superiority

Simplifies world view, us and them - "What men really want is not knowledge, but certainty", Bertrand Russell

Who are we?

Named ourselves the "thinking" or "wise" ape, however evidence for this from our actions inconclusive

Many individual counter examples, but taken together as a species, humans destructive, selfish and short sighted

Appear to be an instinctive intricate being, rather than a reasoned philosophical one

Have the ability to think at a high level, so there remains hope if it can be fostered

Re-thinking us

Motivation is key, and the general primary motivators are status, happiness and the sex drive

Status needs to be moved away from wealth, power and competitiveness, to traits we want to encourage, contributions, selflessness and cooperation

Sex drive needs to be reoriented from repressed shallow rewards based system, to one which helps free us emotionally

Happiness based on selfish consumption tried for decades, perhaps centuries and failed

Studies appear to show happiness based on good works, community, health and perspective change offer hope


Freud's basic analysis that we are motivated by the sex drive and need to be important are consistent with evolutionary theory

GDP growth more than doubled 1950-2000 - Australia's century since federation at a glance, Australia Government, Treasury

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness - Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco working paper May 2009

American's average buying power has almost tripled since the 1950s, while reported happiness has remained almost unchanged. (Happiness data from National Opinion Research Center General Social Survey; income data from Historical Statistics of the United States and Economic Indicators.)

The Skill of Happiness By Matthieu Ricard


We are stuck in a pre darwinian conception of our place in nature

Darwin unfolded our creation story and showed that all beings were inter-related

We share around 50% of our genetic makeup with plants, 99% with bonobos and chimpanzees

Our treatment of other animals ignores how much of ourselves is reflected in them

We share DNA remnants from at least two other hominin ancestors, neanderthal and denisova

Ideas for progress

Zulu concept of "ubuntu" - I am because you are

Taking individual responsibility - Libertarian Socialism

Deep ecology based on empiricism

Rational humanism

Categorical imperative

Peter Singer - Animal Liberation and Effective Altruism


Competitive society offers happiness only for those who perceive themselves as winners

We are formed in opposition to the rest of reality

Happiness probably best achieved in a society which is conducive to it

Libertarian Socialism

Also called anarchism, though other schools of anarchism

Freedom for all only possible if correlated with increasing concern for each other

Worker self management

Social structure without hierarchy

Individual responsibility

"It's not the world which needs to be anarchist, just myself"

Deep Ecology

Counter to early environmental movement that preserved nature as something useful or desirable to humans

All creatures have a right to be

Human destruction of the ecosphere is a crime against all other life

Wild Law a compatible framework


Basing knowledge on the senses

Evidence and experience over logic and intuition

Assumptions about reality need to be tested

Acknowledges truth often counter intuitive


Concerned with human potential and flourishing

Rationalism and empiricism over dogma and superstition

Secular, science based view of the world

Poorly named, and does suffer from human exceptionalism

Categorical imperative

Immanuel Kant

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

Useful guide to contemplating the morality of our actions

Has implications for the environment, human welfare and many other fields

Ultimately we must become self limiting

Animal Liberation

Written by Peter Singer in 1975

Explains the cruelty inherent in the farming and experimentation industries and asks us to boycott them

Now an Australian wide movement advocating for animals

Movement largely vegan but not exclusively so


Effective Altruism

Much charitable given motivated by instinctive reactions

Complex worldwide problems required greater thought

Utilitarian concept of how each of us can do the greatest good

Charity evaluation to see which charity helps the most for a given donation