Taboo of the Day: Does Language Correlate to Behaviour?

Readers that have been with Get Out & Go Hunting since the beginning may well remember an earlier reference made in the course of my pointless and esoteric blogging to “academic jerks”.  This reference at the time was made partially in a tongue in cheek fashion, since I do have some friends in the academic realm that are exceedingly polite and normal.  But this post is not about them.

Others in the academic sphere draw a fair amount of ire from me; self-styled “philosophers” in particular.  Generally it is their aloof, dogmatic, detachment from objective reality that I find especially maddening.  So it is with the inaugural edition of the Journal of Animal Ethics.  In the foreword to this scholarly journal, and by scholarly I mean based in academia…not that it is necessarily scholastically sound; that argument is best left to other self-important philosophers, one Oxford academic posited the notion that we, that is to say humanity at large (because why make small, incremental suggestions when you can righteously propose a paradigm shift for global society?) ought to rethink and adjust our terminology, or to use the oh-so fashionable academic term, our “discourse” when it comes to referring to our relationships with animals.
How you ask?  Here are some REAL EXAMPLES gleaned from the media reports and my actual perusal of the article.  My thoughts are an accompaniment in italics.
  • The word “pets” denotes a master/slave relationship and should be replaced with the term “companion animal”.  Imagine, a world where the structure of the relationship does not change (I don’t imagine pets will start buying owners anytime soon) nor will this squelch the market on roadside giveaways of free kittens…or should I say free companion felines?  Think of the costs and effort associated with renaming PetsMart to CompanionAnimalsMart.  No longer will you buy fish food…you’ll purchase chum for your icthyo-chum.  And so on…
  • The term “wild animal” will change to “free-living animal”.  They’ll need to change the constitution of a number of countries globally as well since this redefinition of the word “free” will take some getting used to…get the Webster’s people on adjusting their definitions of “free” as well.
  • All anthropocentric terms designed to cast animals in a lesser stature than humanity should be discarded including “dumb animal”, “beast”, “vermin”, and even “animal” at large to name a few.  These are considered “insulting” to non-humans by the animal ethicists as a group.  Yes…they actual refer to animals as “non-humans”…talk about reverse arrogance, why should animals be re-defined in nomenclature via a relation to their divergence from humanity?!  Are we the “standard”?!  Humanist clap-trap I say.
Some of my own independent thoughts on the matter?  Why yes,, here you go.  I suppose the term “Kingdom”, that is in its use as say ‘animal kingdom’ or ‘wild kingdom’ is phallocentric and most certainly denotes imperialism and class division within the animal community at large so I guess it ought to be discarded as well….Mutual of Omaha is going to have to re-brand a lot of old television shows.  I imagine they’ll be getting right on that.
What about our biblical sins?  Will we have to re-name the sloth?  I suggest freaky-assed looking tree mammal that does nothing all day long aside from existing.
Can I still call the unpleasant, offal consuming types of people in my life (lawyers, bankers, televangelists) vultures?  Mildly insulting to vultures I do admit but still apt.
On the plus side, my wife will have to stop calling me a pig.
This is the of course me taking this to the ad absurdum realm to show how silly this could become.  Yet, this is the proposal designed (I’m quoting the journal now) to “discipline ourselves to use more impartial nouns in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them”.  Read: unless you think and speak the way we suggest you think and speak, you’ll be an outcast in our culture of defined language and philosophical boundaries.  I love how free-thinking academics can be when dealing with their realm of self-anointed expertise.
Basically, to my mind…and I’m not an animal ethicist so I’m sure my argument will be attacked for the locus from which it springs as opposed to any attack on its potential (and likely numerous) flaws…this journal sets out to do three things with this inaugural issue.
First it is looking to lay down a ground work of jargon, industry-speak if you will, that is intended to identify those who belong and ascribe to a set of beliefs from the infidels who do not, in this way asserting the group’s individualism and demonstrating just how dang superior they are morally and intellectually to you and I, the unwashed and unenlightened layman.  For some it will certainly make them seek this group’s approval and endorsement.
Second, instead of laying down a mission statement for the journal’s approach to the scholarly, legal, and social issues surrounding animal ethics, as a foreword ought to do, this is what we get.  This leads this (again completely outside-the-fold) reader to believe that this paradigm shift in the language of animal relations is their primary mission…in which case, our society is clearly doomed to inaction at the expense of quibbling over semantics.
Lastly, and this is the most likely, this foreword and the surrounding attention it has gathered (and admittedly not only am I late to this party, I’m just validating the sheer lunacy of it all) is really just a mechanism that serves the actual (i.e. cynically intended) purpose of generating attention for this movement and its adherents.  Which is not a pejorative statement in any way, after all we all need to make the rent somehow and speech is (for the most part) free, a principle which as a writer I endorse.
For the hunter?  Animal ethics are an important issue, in fact in my mind from a hunter’s perspective they are arguably the most important issue (although I’d also rank habitat conservation as at least equally important…perhaps a debate for a future Taboo of the Day?).
How we relate to animal life as active, visible consumers is a topic that for many reasons (guilt, ignorance, lack of interest, and so on) is given short shrift by the hunting community.  That death and a modicum of suffering is part and parcel to the hunting experience is not up for debate.  It is, period.  Justification is a good start, but it is not reconciliation.  I can justify my hunting activities in a way that satisfies myself and a good lot of others but for the most radical animal ethicists, vegans, and naturalists.  No, I won’t go into it here, but if anyone ever wants to have this debate in a civil, respectful way over a cold post-hunt beer, I’m not opposed at all to that.
Still, I fear that the introspection necessary to actually reconcile any and all harm caused at the hand of humans at large (and that includes hunters) to wild animals…I’m taking back the term…is sorely lacking.  Occasionally it is just flat-out ignored at the behest of defining our own cultural identity, but it is usually covered up in some sort of neo-Darwinian, survival of the fittest, law of the jungle argument that inevitably falls into the anthropocentric patterns that the likes of the Journal of Animal Ethics seems to be opposing.  Most of these arguments require heavy revision if the definition of “fittest” and “evolved” and would take up far, far more space than I could give them in this forum (even if I wrote a lifetime of these types of posts) so I’ll just close with this panacea of advice.
Everyone, from animal ethicists to hunters to the policy makers that inevitably are drawn into these debates ought to consider action and tangible improvements on the microcosmic scale before making far-reaching goals to shift the way people think, talk, and relate.  After all a law is much easier to change than a mind, and actions (in both the positive and negative camps) will always speak louder than any words…no matter who thinks the words are apt or not.

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