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Equality: Language and Liberation
by Joan Dunayer
Dialectic of Deceit
(Extract] Interview by Claudette Vaughan
Tom Regan didn't call Joan Dunayer's new book on speciesism and language,
Animal Equality: Language and Liberation "brilliant and devastating" for
nothing. In it Dunayer shows that deceptive, biased words sustain injustice towards nonhuman animals. The book presents compelling evidence of nonhuman thought and emotion, and unmasks speciesist attitudes and practices that
resemble much racist and sexist language. It advances the understanding of how humans have been indoctrinated to use words as weapons without even
thinking about it.
Animal Equality: Language and Liberation illustrates the need to legislate a new definition of nonhuman animals: as persons, not property. Vocabulary and style guidelines show us how to speak of all animals with honesty, fairness and respect. Carol J. Adams said of this book that it is a giant step for animalkind-and she's right.
Joan Dunayer and her husband are animal rights veterinarians who work out of Washington DC in the US. They have four cat companions and thirteen rat friends. Here Joan speaks to Vegan Voice for the first time ...
Joan, in order to establish a new and completely different relationship with nonhuman animals, what are you suggesting in Animal Equality that we do?
To end humans' exploitation of other animals, we need to persuade many more people that vivisection, sportfishing, food-industry captivity and slaughter and other forms of speciesist abuse are morally wrong atrocities, in fact. We can't do that without a radical change in the way we speak about nonhuman oppression and murder. When we adopt the language of the abusers and refer to vivisection as "biomedical research" or food-industry enslavement and slaughter as "farming", we undermine our efforts to end these practices. Used as a synonym for vivisection, biomedical research erases vivisection's victims and rewrites suffering and death as healing (medical) and life (bio). Most vivisection doesn't even pursue medical goals. Also, biomedical research includes numerous benign research methods, such as studies of disease trends within human populations, the use of cell and tissue cultures, and clinical studies of human and nonhuman patients. When we use the word vivisection, we're actually being more accurate. Dictionaries define vivisection as harming animals, especially for research purposes. That's what we're objecting to, not biomedical research. Vivisectors hate the word vivisection because it evokes images of cruelty, images repugnant to the general public. All the more reason to use the word. When we substitute biomedical research, science, or even animal research for vivisection, we assist vivisectors by omitting any suggestion of harm or immorality.
Some animal rights advocates have said that they avoid using the word vivisection because they don't want to be dismissed as "biased" or inflammatory. We should be proud to show our strong opposition to as cruel and unjust a practice as vivisection. If the very word vivisection has come to shock (because it's censored so often), so be it. Vivisection is a shocking practice. I don't believe in downplaying our moral outrage and staunch commitment to abolition. I think that's self-defeating. I'll go further: I think it betrays the victims. We should refer to nonhuman
victimization the same way we refer to human victimization, with candid, negative language that conveys protest. Many people who readily condemn human
victimization as "heinous" or "evil" consider moralistic language sensational or overly emotional when applied to atrocities against nonhumans. They prefer to couch nonhuman exploitation and murder in scientific, culinary or other non-moralistic terms. That way they avoid acknowledging immorality.
Among others, Nazi vivisectors applied the quantitative language of experimentation to human, as well as nonhuman, vivisection. Slaveholders have applied the economic language of "animal agriculture" to nonhuman and human enslavement. Most people find such morally detached language offensive and grotesque only with regard to the human victims. We should find it equally offensive and grotesque with regard to the nonhuman ones. Cruelty, injustice and other moral issues call for moralistic language whatever the victim's species. To speak of vivisection in the cold,
sanitized language of experimentation is to place it where the abusers want it outside considerations of morality.
Chickens, pigs and other animals held captive by the food industry literally are enslaved. They're held in servitude as property. Yet few people speak of nonhuman enslavement. Instead, even animal rights advocates refer to chicken or pig enslavement as "farming". Saying that animals are "farmed" equates them with plants. They aren't cabbage; they're thinking, feeling individuals. Farm also falsifies by evoking an image of a traditional farm. Today relatively few enslaved animals are kept on farms. Instead, they're crowded into dirt lots or imprisoned in intensive-confinement buildings. Even before the
mechanization of the food industry, applying the word farming to the enslavement and murder of nonhuman animals
euphemized and misled. However primitive, rearing animals for slaughter doesn't necessarily entail any cultivation of crops; it entails consumption, by nonhuman captives, of cultivated or naturally growing plants. Most importantly, "farming" sounds benign. It fails to acknowledge
victimization. My test for speciesist language is this: Would you use that language if the victims were human? If not, the language probably is speciesist and euphemistic. Would we ever say that humans imprisoned and killed for their flesh were "farmed"? No. Then, we shouldn't be saying that other animals are "farmed".
We also need to avoid
oxymorons like humane slaughter and farmed-animal welfare. Food -industry slaughter is the needless killing of innocent individuals. Even if slaughter were freed (miraculously) of all terror and pain, it wouldn't be humane. Similarly, animals who are enslaved and murdered for their flesh, milk or eggs certainly lack well-being (welfare). Even under the best of circumstances, they're held captive and deprived of natural environments and communities. Our language never should suggest that
fundamentally unjust situations can be morally acceptable, "humane" or compatible with the victims' "welfare".
Read the rest of this interview in the December issue of Vegan Voice, due out late November