I kind of go along with this, although I am happy to eat bloody steak. This is quite a complex issue to deal with on FB, and there may be some pretty astute academics who will read this, so I am wary of making a fool of myself. I first looked at Animal Rights for one of my Philosphy final papers 30 years ago. Animal Rights was new then, and a department the University I attended was the first place in the UK to be targeted by Animal Rights Terrorists. Foucault and others have discussed how language is the prison from which we perceive the world – so, while the way we talk about animals may not affecte them directly, but it frames our attitude towards them.
We have a little Jack Russell, and that statement in itself describes a relationship of power and ownership. She may not always realise it, but she is in a subordinate relationship to me. Georgina doesn’t see it quite the way, seeing her more as an equal. I often refer to her (the dog) as ‘the bitch’, which annoys Georgina, but having grown up with dogs and bitches as my primary companions, to me they are ‘dogs’ or ‘bitches’, not quasi-people.
Living in a different country has highlighted (for me) the different approaches to animals here. Our neighbour has three dogs, and they treat them the way many people in rural communties here seem to, which I am uncomfortable with. ‘Pet’ seems to be central to how we treat domestic animals. It expresses a relationship of power, where animals are things we own, and can do what we want with. Even if that might seem like neglect. I take a different view, animals are entrusted to us, and once we take on a relationship with any animal, we have a duty of care and responsibility for the welfare of that animal. There may be a personal cost in pet-ownership.
This week, our water ran out, and I got somebody out to clear the tank of critter-filled sludge. Part of me felt sad that all those creatures were being sucked out of their moist little sanctuary. But that was overriden by my gut-feeling (literally) that water should be clear, not brown, and critter-free – especially when it comes to making tea. I know of no better way of describing the mess of pond-life infesting our water supply.
Farm folk seem to relate to animals in a different way to pet owners. The relationship is of one ownership of a commodity. Some such people seem oblivious to suffering endured by the animal. They are seen as farm animals, lower than pets, usually ending up butchered for meat, so what happens to them (apart from anything that relates to yield) doesn’t really matter.
Here, there are creatures that are regarded as ‘vermin’, just as there are in the UK: rats, possums, feral cats & dogs. They threaten the habitats and lives of indigenous animals. There needs to be some easy descriptor diffentiating ‘wildlife’ and ‘vermin’, especially if some need culling and some need protection. Here, the more recent introduction of mammals means the demarcation between indigenous and introduced creatures is quite clear; somewhere like the UK that is not so obvious, but it is a problem that still needs tackling.
The problem with this desire to change language is that it assumes an ideological position as if it were correct and right. Others may disagree. But, there is an important point here. Some of the language does frame how we relate to animals. What needs to change is the relationship, and then the language follows. Although the discourse frames the relationship, it also describes the relationship; the relationship will not change by changing how we describe it; if the relationship changes, then the way we describe it would change, then the language can change, and there will be a shift in discourse. The way this is presented is antagonistic – it puts the cart before the horse, so to speak.
Whether animals have rights is at the heart of this, and when I wrote on this 30 years ago I was inclined to think they did. Now I would say that outside of any relationship with humans, the idea of animal rights is nonsensical. Before we had a concept of rights, or any relationship with animals, animals could have no rights. It is only with the development of the idea of animal rights that we began to and attribute rights to animals. The only rights animals can have are the rights we give them, and we can decide the nature and quality of those rights. Animals have nothing to say about their rights. We decide what rights they can have.
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