Language has a very powerful effect on our perceptions. This is nothing new, of course, but in this age of instant video and streaming images, it often seems we are more connected to visuals than words. And for many, this may be true, but there is still a lot of power in a word, and words are the foundation of communication.
As a writer, words are my thing, my “thang”, my vibe, my feelz; I’m very conscious of grammar, spelling, and context, how a message is delivered, how it is received. I was the kid who read the cereal box in morning while having breakfast. I didn’t just read it, i read it in DIFFERENT VOICES!
Ok maybe that’s not something you need to know….
What I have noticed as an ARA (Animal Rights Activist) is words really define our relationship to others. ARAs think of non-human animals as persons equal to themselves. That’s the basis of our credo in veganism: no one life is more important or less important than another, especially based on species. In other words, (pun noted), all living beings are equal and deserve the right to live their life as they choose, not be subjugated and oppressed and used by another species.
So simply calling the pigs on the trucks he or she, rather than “it”, emphasizes their equality to us. The same way we call our pets – dogs, cats, etc. our fur babies, our children; the same way we identify to our pets as their mama or papa; the same way we call our different species pets “siblings” to others in our homes, all this brings their legitimacy as family members, not animals, into societal norms. And we’re ok with that – everyone does it. Even non-vegans.
It stands to reason, then, the same would happen with so-called livestock animals or wild animals or marine animals. Humans in general want to keep that demarcation line in place differentiating higher consciousness creatures from alleged lower consciousness creatures so we can justify using them for our own gains. We’d never put our human sister on an auction block when SHE became too old to work; but it’s ok to do that to a horse because IT is a different species. Notice one is a SHE and the other an IT. That is the inherent power of words.
And with great power comes great responsibility, as Spiderman’s Peter Parker Principle states (say that three times fast!)
As ARAs, we make a concerted effort to use appropriate labels on non-human animals, as we do on human animals: he, she or the binary “they” for some. It’s respectful to acknowledge an individual’s personhood, how they identify, who they feel they are; as citizens of the world, most of us wholeheartedly acknowledge these identifiers and label them appropriately.
However, words can also prove to emphasize the emotional disconnect we experience too.
We use words like rapiers, cutting away reality and carving out a whole new perception with only an infinitesimal connection to the original meaning because it’s less offensive, less stark, more PG, just more pleasant. We don’t like nasty stuff. That’s for horror movies on Saturday night, something we can pretend is not really there because we can shut it off before we go to bed.
Really, we are just pulling the wool over our own eyes.
The fact is, we can call it what we want, it is what it is.
Case in point: I’ve noticed an increase in interest in small-scale farms: considered more sustainable, ethical, moral, and beneficial in many ways. Certainly, one could argue at least with regards animal welfare it’s an improvement over factory farming. I mean not much of an improvement but still….it is the latest argument popping up for proponents of eating meat. The animals live pleasant lives in a homey, small farm setting, with fresh air, blue sky and gently rolling hills to meander before they are harvested and processed by the farmer…..wait, what?
What does that mean? Harvested and processed. “We raised Millie the cow from 3 months old, she was basically a member of the family! and my 5 year old son and i just took her to be processed so we can have steak all winter long!”
What the fuck?
The google meaning of processed is:
“perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it.”the various stages in processing the wool”
It doesn’t mention stunning the animal with a stun gun, hanging her up on a hook by one leg, slitting her throat, then chopping her into tiny pieces. THAT’s what actually happened to Millie. Yet, the whitewash perpetrated on the butchering of a “family member” has to take place to keep the small scale farm ethical and humane. A neutral, vanilla term such as “processed” keeps the reality hidden from view, so everyone can wander around singing the praises of small scale farms.
In actuality, a sentient, loving girl, (maybe Millie, maybe someone else) was raised alongside other animals, felt connection, safety, security and belonging, only to wake up one day to be horrifically betrayed, terrified, hurt, and ultimately killed in as bloody a manner as is possible, to return home in little brown paper wrapped parcels, only flesh and bone chunks, so her family can chow down on her body with little to no thought about her feelings.
But by using the words “harvested” or “processed” the actuality is glossed over quite effectively to better assuage the conscience of the farmers AND the general public who think purchasing “grass fed” “organic” and “homestead raised” is a better and more humane way to eat meat.
Better or more humane for whom?
The animal still dies a bloody death and what’s even worse, she has been lulled into thinking she was safe, loved, part of a herd, protected. She was oblivious to the fact that the human animals who were raising and protecting her didn’t care about her at all as an individual, but only in so much as what she could provide for them.
So I have a word for you. For all of you who use words like “processed” or “harvested” in order to justify supporting an industry replete with cruelty, abuse, murder, and inhumanity; for all of you who try to hide behind the pretty flounces of the curtain of the English language to avoid having to think unpleasant thoughts, who employ the trappings of word magic to effectively eliminate any culpability for the pain and suffering of millions of creatures here on earth.