The Birth of Speciesism: An Allegorical Thought Experiment

I’d like you to imagine an alien planet similar to our own which is inhabited by a variety of complex, intelligent beings. Imagine that these beings are distant relatives of humans, and possess the ability to think, feel, perceive, create, problem-solve, express emotion, and have meaningful relationships. Imagine that all of these highly-complex, intelligent beings lived together in a single colony. However, I’d also like you to imagine that for some strange reason, in order to keep the majority of the colony from dying, a certain number of these intelligent beings had to be randomly sacrificed every so often.

Also imagine that as time progressed, a select group of alien beings within the colony accidentally came into contact with a rare type of cosmic dust which enhanced their innate abilities, giving them a slight competitive edge over the rest of the colony. Furthermore, imagine that the accidental discovery of this cosmic dust, once absorbed into the skin, gradually made its discoverers it so advanced that they eventually could no longer relate to their fellow beings in the old colony. Armed with their enhanced intelligence and abilities, imagine that these more advanced beings sought to create a new colony alongside and within the larger existing one.

Imagine that in this new colony, the slightly more advanced beings figured out a way to keep society running smoothly and keep the majority of sentient beings alive without the need for random sacrifice. Now imagine the slightly more advanced beings looking back on their old colony with a sense of wonder and kinship, but also with sympathy for their sad predicament, having no way of communicating their newfound knowledge with their fellow-creatures.

Though rid of the need for random sacrifice for survival, imagine that the more advanced beings gradually started to take a kind of nostalgic pleasure in observing the sacrifice of other sentient beings – a vestigial urge inherited from the old colony. Suppose that in the pursuit of this pleasure, they then began to selectively capture beings from the old colony and sacrifice them against their will. Imagine that they did this so much that they soon became addicted to sacrificing them.

Furthermore, imagine that the demand for the sacrifice of intelligent beings from the old colony became so great that in order to satisfy their desire they began imprisoning these less-advanced beings, forcibly breeding more of them for the purpose of sacrifice, and feeding them and their offspring a special diet which made them sick, but ensured that they became as large as possible so as to make the sacrifice more enjoyable. Imagine the growth of a massive industry devoted solely to the sacrifice of these beings.

Imagine generation after generation of advanced beings raised in the second colony with a rich cultural tradition of observing and enjoying the needless sacrifice of other sentient beings. Imagine that they are exposed to this tradition during infancy so as not to question it. Imagine various texts proclaiming the divine right of the beings in the second colony to invade and exploit the older colony while dismissing the rights of the beings that are exploited. Imagine the ubiquitous advertisements and institutions describing the joys and benefits of watching the needless sacrifice of these less-advanced beings.

Imagine the unshakable conviction of those living in the second colony that the sacrifice of these beings for pleasure is normal, natural, and necessary. And finally, in a last moment of tragedy, imagine these advanced beings looking back on their old colony once more, no longer with a sense of wonder, kinship, or sympathy for their fellow-creatures, but with a sense of ego and god-like superiority which insidiously masks and denies the long-forgotten truth of a shared brotherhood.


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