Having an anthropocentric belief system means to consider yourself and other human beings as occupying a significant and perhaps even the most important existence in the universe, while interpreting the world only in terms of human values and experiences.
Anthropocentrism, also known as homocentricism, is a philosophy of human supremacy. Entire religions and mythologies have been constructed around anthropocentric principles. Theism—whether involving the existence of one God or multiple gods—goes hand in hand with the idea of anthropocentrism. It implies a symbiotic relationship between human and god where, because humans perceive ourselves to be the only intelligent beings in the cosmos, we must have been chosen by a deity to take the responsibility of being moral agents.
Archaic beliefs of geocentricity further support the anthropocentric worldview which frivolously placed humankind at the centrepiece of existence—that Earth, the human planet, was at the orbital centre of all celestial bodies. This geocentric model held sway in most parts of the world up until the 16th century where contemporary cosmology was gradually superseded by the heliocentric model of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. Though, there was much resistance to the transition between these two astronomical models by Christian theologians who were reluctant to reject a theory that agreed with Bible passages.
The accepted geocentric science of that day wasn’t only disproved, it was revealed for what it was—a contributing philosophical and politically motivated worldview of anthropocentrism.
The philosophy of human supremacy and superiority over non-human animals follows similar patterns to that of race and gender supremacy. It’s also a key factor in why humanity chooses to dominate over other living beings and see the need to “develop” most of the Earth.
Anthropocentric beliefs have contributed directly to the form of oppression called speciesism, where humans privilege the interests of their own species over the interests of the members of other species. These beliefs have also shaped our behaviours toward and the treatment of the Earth’s natural environment where instead of the acknowledgement that we exist within an interdependent web of life that forms complex, yet fragile, ecosystems, we instead dominate and inflict pollution, mass deforestation and irrecoverable damage on the very environment that sustains us.
To Believe This is Privilege
It is very convenient to believe that we humans are the most important, with the most value and superiority. From our vantage point, it appears that everything in this world was made for our benefit in one way or another. Animals are no different and have been used to benefit humans as far reaching as the history books go. But this wasn’t because they undoubtedly did, it was just because humans had learned to condition animals to behave in certain ways so as to benefit us—primarily through the animal husbandry process.
Humans learned to condition animals to behave in certain ways so as to benefit us.
Belief systems cascade through generations and without consciously understanding this process, it would have seemed logical that animals existed for us to exploit. Here in lies the point which still remains today—that it is beneficial for humans to consider ourselves superior to everything else. That as we are able to dominate and exploit others, it somehow is our right to be in that position—that we are entitled to it. The various religions and world views have simply worked to support and justify those prejudices.
To believe in the anthropocentric world view means to exist within a position of privilege. Privilege is a special right, advantage, or immunity that is available only to a particular person or group. Privilege is about not being disadvantaged and this video explains privilege perfectly for everyone to understand.
Of course, animals are not at the back of the ‘room’—they’re not even in the room. They are out in the corridor with no knowledge of the ‘game’ nor the ability to articulate their very clear disadvantage. Those within the room have thought very little, if at all, about those who exist outside the room—those outside the realm of consideration.
Humans have certainly managed to create a global construct that systematically excludes animals from consideration, while oppressing and assigning them very little value. When such a hierarchical institution exists from which humans benefit directly from in many ways—food, clothing, equipment, entertainment, profit, medical testing—it is little wonder that more people haven’t stopped to consider the privilege they were born into.
For those who have managed to stop and consider, the social justice movement of veganism is an incredible way to stop being part of the anthropocentric systematic oppression of non-human animals and to be a voice for the billions who are voiceless.