It’s common to see comparisons where an animal’s intelligence is measured against that of a human. To some, the nonhuman animal’s own, innate intelligence and sentience is not sufficient and is considered only relevant as it compares to our own. Quite the self-preservation strategy for humans, isn’t it? Would we as a species ever really allow an animal to be more intelligent than we are?
As quantifiers of intelligence go, brain size is out because ours are swiftly dwarfed by the porpoise, elephant, and sperm whale, respectively. Brain-to-body ratio, perhaps? It sounded good-that is, until studies showed that many birds have very high brain-to-body-mass ratios.
When one thinks about how animals are treated in our world, it becomes clear that humans have a vested interest in justifying their cruel actions by stating that humans are at the very top of the species hierarchy. How do we ensure sole occupancy? Comparison! And certainly no brain on the planet can compare with ours! Or could it?
Consider this: If a human were the recipient of the most comprehensive education from the most prestigious academic institutions and was gifted with an extremely high IQ, would it enable that same human to easily build a better dam than a beaver? Or to camouflage himself or herself as adeptly and quickly as an octopus? Absolutely not.
Each species has an innate intelligence that is their own; none more or less intelligent than another. Rather, each species is a unique genius in and of itself. That is, until we compare that species to us. Then and only then do they become less intelligent—or sentient—or intuitive—or whatever ill-conceived reasoning vivisectors and other animal-abusers use to justify their cruel treatment of animals.
The most common term to describe the assigning of different fundamental values on the basis of their species is speciesism. The term was created by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1973 to denote a prejudice against nonhumans based on physical differences that are given moral value.
How will this change? We can start by countering these perspectives with historical reference. Social justice movements occur when injustices are recognized. Women were once denied the right to vote, children were once legally unprotected from parental abuse or being forced to work, and people of certain races were denied basic civil rights. Each of these injustices was considered the “norm” until someone saw the unfairness and stepped forward to create change.
We can be the change agent right now. We can speak for the innate intelligence of the animals who are oppressed and exploited, and together, we can create the social justice movement for them. And if we can touch even one heart-and change even one mind—we can start to change the world and have a positive impact on the lives of countless animals. And that may well be the most significant social justice movement of all.