When discussing animal rights it becomes apparent just how much of an impact our language has. Words are powerful, emotional devices. Words have history and are often open to interpretation. More importantly, words also have the power diminish and repress the reality of atrocity before our eyes.
There is a large gap between our intellectual reasoning and cultural practices. Our linguistic limitations stand in the way of making wider social progress in the sphere of animal rights, or any other area of social progress.
Firstly, let us examine our definitions of meat. We normally refer to prepared cow flesh as “beef” – generally no one says we have cow for dinner when sitting down for a family meal. We consume “pork” not “pig”; “veal” not “infant cow”; “lamb”, not “infant sheep.” Whilst “chicken” maybe prove an exception, nonetheless people talk of eating “chicken,” not “a chicken.” To critics this seems like pedantry and semantics. However, this is naive; the impact of our euphemistic terminology diminishes the reality that beef is in fact a cow.
“We know it’s cow,” you may say, however this doesn’t change the fact that referring to a piece of cow meat as beef, you are unknowingly minimizing the meat-eating process in your consciousness, reducing your knowledge of suffering. Many of us may well lack the moral scruples and be perfectly capable of killing an animal; however for the vast majority, they couldn’t do it. Many men erroneously believe that the ability to kill an animal somehow confirms status of manhood – let it be clear that violence and murder are not prerequisites of being a good man.
Other words we use to desensitize ourselves to the process of pain and suffering that comprises meat consumption are terms such as livestock. To compassionate ears “livestock” is an incredibly vile term – to reduce a living, feeling, sentient being to an object is cruel and impersonal. These terms destroy the very individuality of an individual animal-being, it is the height of degradation. “Livestock” exemplifies our reduction of living beings to mere things.
When discussing pet overpopulation and control measures we use the terms “destroyed” and “eliminated.”
“The surplus-to-requirement chickens were destroyed.”
The simple use of this choice of verb accomplishes the complex task of reducing a living sentient morally significant beings to that of an object. This is inhumanity of the highest order – to totally disregard moral status of a living being goes against how we would all like humankind to be .
Words which are generally reserved for human beings only include “murdered” and “killed”; words which invoke emotion, conveying the waste and immorality of unnecessary death. We selfishly reserve these moral words for ourselves.
Exclusive possession of these words sustains the common cultural model that humans alone are worthy of respect, yet non-human animals are not. The suffering and immorality is depersonalised by our use of these words – our language clouds our perception and masks the reality of our use (abuse) of animals and our flagrant disregard for their rights.