Beyond category: Seeing animals as individuals
In my previous entry, "Vegan... for your own good" I claimed that eating meat is not in your own interest as an animal has more to give alive than dead. Killing the animal for food is to sacrifice a unique individual for the sake of inferior food. There is a major possible objection to this, and that is: You do not, normally, meet the animals you eat. They are not in your life whilst alive, but the meat products they are turned into, can be. If meat is unhealthy, it still wouldn't be worth it to exchange your money for something that is damaging to yourself. However, let's go down a different road. Would you be thinking the same way about humans?
Individualism versus collectivism
Often, nonhuman animals are viewed as categories rather than separate individuals. That is, whilst Angelica the human has properties ascribed to Angelica, the individual, Penny, the horse, has properties ascribed to the horse species. While it would be scandalous for Angelica not to be named, Penny being named is optional.
Individualism means seeing those you meet as individuals rather than as representatives of their group membership (often not assigned by themselves but by the human individual who defines). This can encompass individuals of other species as well as humans. A given individual of cat species can matter more to you, yourself, as an individual person, than another given individual belonging to the human species. You might care more for Penny, the horse, than Angelica, the human, or vice versa depending on who enriches your life the most.
This view, however, is controversial. Many people seem to think you ought automatically to place every single human above every single individual of another species just because of their species membership. This view is collectivistic. Which club you are in matters more than who you really are. This is twice damaging. First of all, it teaches us to automatically view any nonhuman individual as inferior to a human one. This is unfair to the animal who isn't even permitted a true evaluation. Second, it is potentially damaging to the human who buys into the collectivist view. If Penny the horse is good to this human, and Angelica the human is not, he tries to place someone worse above someone better.
Individualism also entails viewing the judgment of an individual more important than the customs and prejudices of society. That is: The fact that the collectivist view of animals is prevailing in society, should not matter.
The supremacy of the human species
What is there to say for the view that all humans are more valuable than all nonhumans?
Intelligence is often mentioned. Humans are simply more intelligent. While this seems to be true when speaking of the species as a whole, there are exceptions, and a claim stating that ALL humans are more intelligent than ALL nonhumans would be false. Grown up crows are, as a rule, more intelligent than human infants or grown up humans with certain brain damages. While the grown up crows might be able to make simple tools and communicate between themselves, the human infants and brain damaged, might not. If intelligence were all that mattered, these grown up crows would have higher value and more rights than the humans mentioned.
Other traits and properties proposed to be of defining value also elude being relevant for all humans and no nonhumans.
The Egoist Viewpoint
From the Egoist viewpoint, the value of another individual doesn't depend on what species or group he belongs to, but rather as to what he means to you, yourself, for better or worse.
This blogpost is based on my article "Veganer for ditt eget beste" on Masterbloggen (in Norwegian). Here, I chose to divide it into two separate articles. The article is based on my master thesis "The Ethical Egoist Case for Dietary Veganism, or the Individual Animal and His Will to Live".