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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Spell Check Confirms Rampant Speciesism

The view we have of animals can easily be summed up by my computer’s spell check. Each time I refer to a cow, chicken or pig in a story as a “who,” spell check quickly questions my usage and suggests I substitute a “what” or “that” instead.

In an op-ed article regarding animal testing, I wrote about great apes “languishing in cells, who have never experienced climbing a tree or feeling the warmth of the sun.” Even though I ignored the rule change suggested by spell check, the editor of the newspaper took the liberty of changing my sentence to say “great apes…that have never experienced climbing a tree…” I wrote “suffering is universal, regardless who is experiencing it.” The editor thought this sentence should read “regardless who or what is experiencing it.” This does not strike me as "editing," but rather an unjustifiable license to strip away the exact point which I am making- that animals ought not to be treated as inanimate objects to use and abuse.

How does a "what" experience anything? Beings have experiences, lifeless matter does not. Without getting into a grammatical debate, it seems perfectly logical to use pronouns like "he," "she" and "who" when referring to animals because they are sentient beings. The above example, while seemingly minor to some, illustrates for me our innate discrimination of non-human individuals, or what is called speciesism. Defined by the dictionary, speciesism is human intolerance or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of animals. Our society's treatment of animals as commodities, rather than as individuals, is so insidious that even mundane spell check reminds us not to think about them as living creatures "who" feel and suffer.

With the exception of companion animals – mostly dogs and cats – we rarely come in contact with animals during our daily lives. Most of our interaction with farm animals comes only after they have died, usually as dissected and disguised parts and pieces on our plates. Animal body parts show up in all kinds of consumer goods, masked with unfamiliar names or concealed within others like "natural flavors" and other ingredients. Animal skin, bones, and connective tissue are used to make gelatin, found in Jell-O and gel caps; the blood of pigs, masquerading as “processing aids,” is used in filtered cigarettes; a compound of formaldehyde and animal urine, known as diazolidinyl urea, is found in mascara. Even insects, specifically Cochineal bugs, are crushed and renamed carmine, an ingredient used to color juice drinks and yogurt.

Sadly, even children are oblivious, unconvinced that many of the meats they eat actually come from animals because they are camouflaged with names like pepperoni, ham, nuggets, hamburger, bacon, wings, bologna, etc. They are indoctrinated early on with Oscar Mayer jingles, Ronald McDonald and "Happy" Meals. There is nothing happy about the extermination of ten billion land animals every year in the U.S. just for "food." There is nothing joyful about the millions of animals who are tortured and killed for clothing and research. There is nothing cheery about the exploitation and incarceration of animals for so-called amusements like circuses, rodeos, zoos, water parks, racing events, and movies.

Destructively, we regard living beings as a means to an end, consuming them as if they really were commodities, inanimate objects ready to be pulled off the shelf at a moments notice to fulfill a manufactured want. In our desire to consume, we have desensitized ourselves to animal suffering just as a soldier desensitizes himself to "the" enemy. And like a bad science-fiction movie, we have mass-produced individuals, somehow convincing ourselves that this is acceptable. Perhaps, a world with Soylent Green isn’t so far off.

Here’s the truth: animals are not belongings; they are living, sentient beings. Some are male and some are female. Some are young and some are old. All have had mothers and fathers. Some remain in tight-knit family groups, while others go off on their own. All seek comfort and contentment. And all avoid pain and suffering. Sound familiar?

Like racism, sexism and homophobia; speciesism has no place in a civilized society.

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