You are here

Species-ism: a displacement attitude to racism?

The other day whilst walking on a quiet bush track with a friend, we came across a magpie standing on some grass surveying the scene, including the pair of us. My friend said rather scornfully "I don't like those birds!" People who would never dream of vilifying a group of people on the basis of their race seem to have no compunction in vilifying members of an entire species often on the basis of nothing. Comments may seem harmless enough at first but on further reflection one realises they can be an incitement to harm. Is there a moral difference between racism and "species-ism"?

Magpie maligned!

The other day whilst walking on a quiet bush track with a friend, we came across a magpie standing on some grass surveying the scene, including the pair of us. My friend said rather scornfully "I don't like those birds!" I felt anger rising and I asked her why she didn't like them. She said "because they are big. I like little birds" Then she added "They're everywhere!" (We had seen 4 in about half an hour.) I felt really troubled. Someone who says this about a creature and all the other members of the species will shoo the birds from her garden with impunity. I felt that her dislike threatened the birds. I tried to educate her, alerting her to the magpie song, telling her who it belonged to as we heard it amongst numerous bird calls. She was not interested. She was looking for a rare wildflower, not s creature that was "everywhere". I was annoyed and worried by her prejudice.

...and the wattle birds!

Similarly I feel very irritated when I hear people saying that they don't like wattle birds because of the sound, one which is hard to describe but which I hear only rarely where i live. I would love to have wattle birds in the garden and have tried to grow flowering native plants without much success due to insufficient sunlight.

..and the black swans!

Strolling in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens recently I could not see any of gardens' signature black swans. Instead I saw punts on the lake with people aboard. The gardens were extremely busy with functions, picnic-ers and a new kind of sport looking a bit like croquet with square hoops embedded in the lawn. I said to the people I was with "Can't see any swans!" "No" one of them said "perhaps they've got rid of them" adding,as if to justify what may have happened "They can be aggressive!" Once again my blood boiled. I have been visiting the Botanic Gardens since I was a child and the swans have always been there. Sometimes they are on the water and sometimes they stand on the grassy banks of the pond. I have never seen a swan attack a person. Maybe someone's unsupervised child teased a swan and it defended itself or its young, not knowing that the small aggressor was someone's precious offspring? I felt affronted at the swans being described as "aggressive". To attribute them thus justifies any measures that humans may take against them.

....and of course kangaroos...

Kangaroos are another species that get bad press. Their supposed "crimes " are that "they jump out in front of cars" (thus committing suicide - just to annoy motorists I suppose), and they are accused of being in "plague proportions" ! When an animal is accused of being over plentiful, it is in grave danger, and the kangaroo is. They are just slaughtered, for a mixture of "reasons" - "for their own good as they are eating themselves out of house and home," "there are too many of them," "they are competing with farm animals for pasture," "they are a good healthy source of of protein and can form an export industry". These animals now live a hazardous life on the fringes of golf courses taking their lives in their paws as the white missiles fly off the gold clubs or they inhabit the edges of the ever growing city as their habitat is swallowed up with roads and housing.

Thylacine highly valued now extinct!

I'm sure the Thylacine had similar bad press up until it was too late to save the species. Of course the Thylacine committed the added sin of being a predator . Now people so want to see a Thylacine that they imagine they have detected those hallmark stripes flashing past in the under- storey of the Tasmanian forests. Discrimination against an animal on the basis of its species is in my opinion a prejudice which I will call "species-ism" , surely a displacement attitude to the forbidden attitude "racism".

Motivations and origins of attitudes

What motivates species-ism and what motivates racism? What do these attitudes have in common? The first motivation that comes to mind is the desire for the loathed group to be anihilated. Why would we want a people or members of s species to be annihilated? The obvious answer is that they are in the way. If you want to take over their land you put them in an inferior or undesirable category, or a category where they and their welfare don't count, where it is pragmatic for them to be dismissed as a consideration. On having gained the upper hand and having taken over, further excuse to keep killing or marginalising is so that the takeover can continue and expand with no real challenge. Just as racism is unfair and really dangerous for members of its target group, species-ism is unfair and dangerous for members of the target species. Racism and species-ism both serve to vilify a group or groups and making their members not matter. Both come from the same place in the human psyche. The objects of their enmity are innocent.


I hear you quark, loud and clear! We are becoming a nation of sadistic native animal haters. You've hit on 2 of the whipping sticks of Australian society: the maggie and the roo.

I love magpies, not the Collingwood variety, they are extremely intelligent birds and may become companions for years. I had a pair nest in a flowering gum in my backyard for some 12-13 years until a storm blew the nest out of the tree. After they left I was plagued with Indian mynas which saw many other smaller native birds also disappear. Last spring a pair of crows, another vilified bird, set up camp next door in a giant river red gum and thankfully most of the mynas have gone.

However, I am most bemused by the relationship between humans and kangaroos. May be it's me or is it something I just don't get. The pathological hatred of these beautiful animals by most humans. Committing hari-kari by jumping onto the road thus penalising the motorist who, knowing that roos frequent the area, are travelling at breakneck speed to their destination - running late as usual.

The kangaroos are feeding at the road's edge because rain has run off the bitumen onto the verge producing tender green shoots that the roos love. They are traumatised by vehicles arriving on the scene like a bat out hell. Immediately taking flight, they jump usually in the direction they are facing which tends to be towards the road.

Calls for kangaroo culls are common as you say especially from motorists including those who live in the bush, who have grown up with roos as part of the environment. The old adage of driving: is that you drive to the prevailing conditions. However, many motorists prefer the adage that if the speed limit is 100kph then that is the speed that drive at or more. Instead of giving themselves plenty of time to make their appointment, they give themselves the minimum and, thus, speed to their destination.

Another matter is that of why kangaroo numbers have exploded and they do because the top predator is not around to keep their numbers in check. Dingoes, the most maligned of Australia's native animals, has been hunted until they themselves have become an endangered species. This is in itself a tragedy and a snapshot of the society we have become.

It is interesting how people prefer miniaturisied versions of animals and less plentiful animals. They will crane their necks to see a rare rock wallaby in the desert yet fully approve a kangaroo cull closer to their urban or regional cities and towns. Small birds are OK but not big grown-up looking ones that might be able to take care of themselves. Are the small animals accessories to the bush setting and the tiny birds living decorative mobiles in the native garden?

Great article Quark. I love magpies, and have shared my veranda with a pair and generations of their offspring for years......until this year when the male, who I called 'Knock Knees' due to his odd stance, has disappeared. Maybe displaced by a younger male, or maybe squashed by a car. Watching and interacting with my magpie friends was a delight and I am missing Knock Knees and our daily eye contact badly. But, I suspect the Magpie tendency to interact with us humans contributes to why so many of us seem to hate them.

Wattle birds: I like them too, but as they are not at all interested in forming a relationship with humans I have less to say about them, as do most other people it seems. Their rather loud call, mostly at daybreak, is amusing to me, sounding like "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here". They don't tend to swoop us, and don’t beg for food from us, so perhaps we are not seen as such a threat to them - other than removing their habitat of course to build our fence to fence houses.

Swans in the Botanical Gardens: Yes, there are stories about the RBG swans getting in the way of a lovely day out for us humans, for example: maybe they just had to go! .

Our human-centricity is getting embarrassing isn't it?

When I saw the heading I thought the author may be writing with tongue firmly in cheek, however it appears not. Europeans arrived in Australia and felt homesick so they bought their pets and a vast amount of flora and fauna that should not (sorry but its true) be here. Check out the Camel, Carp, rabbit, fox, cat, all hard footed animals ...and perhaps far to many humans.

I nearly choked on my toast at that drawing of the swarm of humans emerging from Flinders Street Station!

This morning, I woke up before 5 a.m. to hear an interview with a "professor" or some such from the Grattan Institute talking with presenter Rod Quinn re tollroads. A few irritating bits from the professor - female - were that it's not as bad 'here' - meaning Sydney or Melbourne - as it is in parts of South America or other overcrowded cities - (although she did not use the term 'overcrowded'.)

Rod Quinn reminded her twice that the private interests /share holders of the tollroads rely on traffic volumes for income. They want the roads crowded. Both times he said this Mme. Professor deflected it with a sort of airy "hmm" or "yeah"! She was full of bull shit and devoid of solutions. She declared a couple of times that Australia is very "car dependent" as though this was profound or a personal failing on the part of motorists. (It's the same as what you describe here in 'speciesism': People in Melbourne and Sydney are demonised as 'car dependent', 'selfish' (because they don't want to lose their backyards) and 'racist' because they don't want to be invaded by masses of people who already have homes overseas. It's all just an excuse to be able to push us around and find new populations of more tractable consumers.

Oh and the 'solution' to traffic was a "congestion tax". Don't tell me that overpopulation pays for itself; you and I pay for it! they quietly turn our cities into Hell.

Good stuff Daisy! Like the housing and construction industry, the transport industry is just another Ponzi Scheme where roads, bridges and tunnels are built not because we need them, but because Transurban, Macquarie or whoever need another get rich quick scheme to maintain their ever growing profits. And, of course, the mainstream media are compliant with this and have formed a cosy little alliance with these companies who hire "professional advisers" to substantiate their work!!

The Germans exterminated Jews not primarily because they didn't like Jews or thought they were inferior (the classic left wing, hijacked definition of racism). They did it because there was a perception that there were too many of them and that they were taking all the money out of an economy where most were poor. Like too many Magpies threatening to attack as you walk past their nests or too many immigrants "taking our jobs" or too many cars on the road (because of too many immigrants) or no seats on the train (because of too many immigrants). And of course, if some of those immigrants are of a particular race (like Chinese or Indians), and their numbers have rapidly increased in recent times, it is only to be expected that they become the target of the frustration of people who feel disenfranchised.

The Hutu government in Rwanda supported genocide of the Tutsi. Rwanda is around 400 sq km of overpopulated, relatively infertile land. There have been reports of people starving and actually killing their neighbours to gain access to small plots of cultivatable land. Surely this is the ultimate example of the too-manyism endgame? It's not about who you are; it's just about the perception (or reality of the fact that) there are too many of you?

This is a mind-bogglingly lucid comment. 'Too-manyism' sums it up and tears through the sophisticated ideology we are daily subjected to.

Unfortunately speciesism is not a new term nor a new thing. It has been with us since the year dot. Some people are, fortunately, waking up - their compassion has been born. If you just stop and think 'What would it be like to be in the body of that creature right now?' That's all it takes and you're there looking through their eyes. But because we are accustomed to eating a particular species or it's byproducts (especially in the case of cows or other farm animals) we are in huge denial of the many ways in which they suffer and because they don't speak English, we assume they have no feelings. WRONG!
Thank you for writing from your heart Quark.
We all need to speak up on behalf of all the other species because otherwise how will people ever wake up? People have watched me go to great lengths to save a small insect and it has touched them deeply. We have a long way to go with 7 + billion ignorant, selfish humans on the planet but every step helps on the journey of 10,000 miles.

Everyone is now so removed from nature and insulated from anything unpredictable that are not only afraid of nature, but also physically and psychologically weak.

Once 97% percent of people were involved in farming (or hunter gathering) both of which brought one in contact with, or at least close range to, animals large and small.. Cities like London were swarming with animals, as they were driven to markets etc. It is our modern 'sanitised' cities that allow nothing but the most tame nature. I think it should be a human right to be able to husband animals, as people have done for millenia. In my area Frankston City Council brought in a by-law to ban people having goats - why? There was no goat problem - no hordes of goats swarming streets - it is just a bias against nature and towards a sanitised and note well - CONTROLLED - community.

Similarly as Quark points out - Kangeroos - up near Myrtleford I read a letter in the local paper where a woman called a local MP 'an idiot' for suggesting that they would just have to live with Kangeroos. Really who is the real idiot - Myrtleford is surrounded by forest and mountains - this letter writing lady is advocating mass slaughter of Kangeroos - at much expense, and unlikely to be completely successful - not to mention the terrible detriment to the environment. Once she did this she would probably complain that the grass - once eaten by Kangeroos - is now to rampant and the solution is chemical spraying!! Really why don't we just destroy all nature - oh yeah - that's right we are - we have been for the past 200 years or so!