At the Compassion Consortium, we celebrate diversity. We believe every being brings a unique view to the community that we co-create when we gather together. So, each month, we publish an essay which provides a view from our community, a slice of one human's journey of compassionate living.
Who is Social Justice for?
A Call for a De-Anthropocentric Social Justice
by Adriana DiFazio
Throughout history, social justice movements have almost exclusively focused on the exploitation, oppression, and marginalization of humans. While environmental and ecological justice movements aim to address the relationship between humans and the natural world, the “Earth” is often flattened, and other animal, plant, and fungi species, and natural features are lumped together into the umbrella term “environment.” I believe this lack of specificity weakens the environmental justice movement’s ability to properly address and resist the oil-driven forces of neoliberal capitalism. Moreso, the inability of all human-centered social justice movements to properly recognize the intersectional domination and oppression that ties humans with specifically non-human animals only reinforces the objectification, alienation, and exploitation the movements aim to rectify.
The centering of the human experience and perspective in social justice movements is a symptom of a larger anthropocentric orientation of what social justice is. It raises the question: Who is “social justice” for? Is justice only relevant to homo sapiens? Mainstream understanding and application of social justice frameworks end up excluding, if not devaluing, the experiences and perspectives of any being deemed less-than-human, including marginalized humans themselves (Calarco, 2020). This idea is one of the main threads of thinking supporting the contemporary animal liberation movement—an offset of the environmental justice movement that not only focuses on the plight of animals in their natural habitats but those in factory farms, labs, zoos, aquariums, circuses, and other human-controlled natural spaces. The term animal liberation—popularized by Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer and his book of the same name—pertains to the recognition and protection of non-human animals on the ground that animals suffer and therefore deserve moral care and recognition.
For mainstream social justice movements, the suffering of non-human animals is often perceived as secondary or inadmissible to the plight of human suffering. Anthropocentrism, the assumption of human superiority, begets the aim of human-centered social justice movements to reduce human-suffering. Social justice movements that do not highlight the intersectional nature of power and oppression across the spectrum of humanity and animality disenfranchise both animals and marginalized humans (Boisseron, 2018). I believe the strength of any human-centered social justice movement is directly congruent on whether or not it can meaningfully disengage anthropocentrism and engage the animal liberation movement. Without doing so, anthropocentric frameworks of life value and sentience will continuously subjugate the activism of all movements. By not properly addressing the intersections of the exploitation of non-human animals and marginalized humans, justice for all beings risks not being genuinely realized.
Boisseron, Bénédicte. Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question. Columbia University
Calarco, Matthew. Beyond the Anthropological Difference. Cambridge University Press, 2020.
About the author
Adriana DiFazio (she/her) is a third-year MDiv student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City studying Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement. She is completing her Field Education for her MDiv degree with the Compassion Consortium and is a student in the Ordained Animal Chaplaincy Training.
Adriana was drawn to the Compassion Consortium for her field education experience to bridge and supplement her human-centered chaplaincy training to include the more-than-human world. She is most excited about developing her theological thinking in company and collaboration with other eco-animal centered spiritually oriented humans.
You can follow along with Adriana's MDiv thesis research on Instagram @vegantheologian.