Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work and Speciesism

Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work and Speciesism

Article excerpt

Jane Addams (1940) perhaps the most prominent of the founders of modern social work, describing the impetus to dedicate herself to the welfare of others and develop Hull House, wrote, "We had been to see a bull fight rendered in the most magnificent Spanish style, where greatly to my surprise and horror, I found that I had seen, with comparative indifference, five bulls and many more horses killed" (p. 85). Jane's companions were horrified immediately by the needless killing, although Jane "had not thought much about the bloodshed." Later in the day, however, "the natural and inevitable reaction came and in deep chagrin I felt myself tried and condemned, not only by this disgusting experience, but by the entire moral situation which it revealed... Nothing less than the moral reaction following the experience at a bull fight had been able to reveal to me that so far from following in the wake of a chariot of philanthropic fire, I had been tied to the tail of the veriest ox-cart of self-seeking" (p. 86).

Perhaps Jane Addams was a sentimentalist. After all, the NASW Code of Ethics (NASW, 1996) describes the primary mission of the social work profession as being "to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people" (p. 1). There's no mention of bulls, horses, or any other animal species. Maybe Jane Addams's feeling for the pain of animals was misguided emotion. Or it may be that Jane Addams, with her concern for these animals, can serve as an important role model for today's social workers.

Social Work, the Environment, and Oppressed Populations

Meyer (1981) discussed noxious "-isms," such as racism, sexism, ageism, jingoism, and militarism, that are woven into the fabric of American society. These "-isms" by their nature tend to marginalize those who do not fit under the rubric of one's group. Witkin (1998) identified attention to marginalized groups as a defining attribute of the social work profession and stated that we must consider which groups the profession is not serving. It is suggested here that the profession should at least consider the issue of speciesism. Speciesism is discrimination based on species, and social workers are urged to reflect on and discuss the issue of whether differential treatment based on species is justified. Furthermore, a core value of social work is appreciation and respect for the inherent dignity and worth of all persons (NASW, 1996). It is worth deliberating over whether our treatment of other species, in places such as slaughterhouses, is associated with our own sense of dignity and self-respect.

Many authors (Berger, 1995; Berger & Kelly, 1993; Hoff & Polack, 1993; McMain-Park, 1996) have emphasized the importance of social workers becoming aware of and involved in environmental issues. Berger described environmental decay as "the gravest threat to our social welfare" (p. 443). Animals are an essential component of our environment and a key element in maintaining ecological balance. Thus, a person-in-environment orientation warrants concern for our treatment of animals.

There are many connections between our treatment of animals and environmental integrity; these touch on issues such as hunger, poverty, and war. Toffler (1975) suggested that the most practical hope for resolving the world's food crisis is a restriction of beef eating that will save billions of tons of grain. Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1972) reported that production of a pound of meat requires 40 to 100 times as much water as the production of a pound of wheat. Altschul (1964) noted that in terms of calorie units per acre, a diet of grains, vegetables, and beans will support 20 times as many people as a diet of meat. Singer (1990) wrote that the reduction of U.S. meat consumption by only 10 percent for one year would free about 12 million tons of grain for human consumption and added that the amount of food wasted by the slaughter of animals in the affluent nations would be sufficient, if properly distributed, to end both hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. …

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