• Becci Pigeon

Veganism and the Social Dominance Orientation: how speciesism and racism are linked

Have you ever noticed that people who oppose human rights are more likely to oppose animal rights too? This isn't a coincidence: these connections between interlinked bigotries are the result of a person's 'Social Dominance Orientation' (SDO). But what is Social Dominance Orientation? Simply put, it's a personality trait which measures an individual's support for social hierarchy and the importance they place upon the domination of the group with which they identify over 'lower-status' groups. Such biases can be either overt or subconscious; either way, they indicate a predisposition towards anti-egalitarianism--not just with regards to out-groups but within their own group.

Previously most research focused on the connections between bigotry with regards to various human rights causes, but due to growing interest in the topic, multiple studies have now proven that beliefs about the rights of non-human animals are equally relevant to SDO. (This shouldn't be surprising to those of us in the movement, who recognise non-human animals as the outgroup with the lowest status.) One such study, carried out by Dr. Gordon Hudson and PhD student Kimberly Costello set out to answer an important question: Might our sense of being different from and superior to non-human animals lay the foundations for the mistreatment of other people, particularly 'others' we consider animal-like? (source)

The answer? Absolutely.

Thanks to this study and many others, we know that people who adhere to SDO are more likely to be opposed to various social justice causes, including animal rights. But what's more fascinating about this particular study is that it also showed that the link wasn't just correlational but causal--that is, reinforcing beliefs about the superiority of humans over animals actually caused study participants to be more bigoted towards human outgroups.

They demonstrated this fact by giving some study participants a scientific editorial reporting on evidence for human superiority over animals; other participants received an editorial reporting that animals share many of the same traits and emotions as humans. The outcome was that afterwards, participants in the second group were more likely to express empathy towards a human outgroup--specifically, immigrants. In short, the study authors found that 'reducing the status divide between humans and animals helps to reduce prejudice and helps to strengthen belief in equality amongst human groups.'

Of course, they aren't the first or only people to have proposed this connection: scholars and activists Aph Ko and her sister Syl Ko (of Black Vegans Rock) discuss the topic at length in their books Aphro-ism and Racism as Zoological Witchcraft. I recommend checking them out!

Adherence to Social Dominance Orientation isn't just limited to speciesism and racism: as I've said, it has been proven to be connected to all forms of oppression. This is not to imply that vegans can't be racist or sexist, unfortunately: we have seen far too many times that sometimes they are. (In his excellent short video below on the topic of SDO, activist Seb Alex points out the necessity of keeping racists out of the movement.)

The fascinating takeaway from this study and those like them is that as foundational and deeply entrenched as it is in our society, destroying speciesism might just be the key to true liberation and equality for all of us, human or not.

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