Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Modern institutions like to euphemize their worst habits, and nowhere is this more evident than in the meat industry. Animals have been reduced from sentient individuals to material commodities that contribute to the production of capital. Hence, they are captured, caged, raised, poached, trapped, skinned, traded, or sold as “exotic” pets or for their fur, body parts, or supposed medicinal value.

The semantics of meat-industry terms is itself revealing. Such terms as “poultry”, “beef”, “pork”, and “livestock” all connote a type of material to be processed (in the most efficient manner possible, of course), rather than individual animals (turkeys, chickens, cows, pigs) to be slaughtered—thereby glossing a lethal activity. This is somewhat analogous to what anti-war protestors did in the 1960s to dehumanize policemen by calling them “pigs,” thereby justifying violence toward them. To justify treating animals as mere material, butchers de-individualize them. In ordinary language, “stock” is some non-living thing you can store on a shelf or in a warehouse—not a “live” animal that is capable of suffering. The term “meat production” itself ought instead to be called “animal slaughtering,” since that is what the industry entails. The industry prefers to hide its activity under the misnomer of “animal agriculture”—an oxymoron to be sure—and then dares to call it “humane.”

Hunters employ rhetoric that is equally dubious. They call their activity a “sport” that seeks to acquire a “trophy.” Their victims are labelled “game” animals even though they are unwilling participants, know nothing of any rules, and the “playing field” is hardly level or fair. Deer or elk, which weigh more than the shooters and are no less sentient, are commonly said to be “harvested,” though they bear no resemblance (physically, mentally, emotionally, or ethically) to crops.

A pig farm in Manitoba, Canada, recently suffering from drought and high corn feed prices, apparently decided to withhold water and feed from its animals in order to “depopulate” the herd. The animals are reduced to widgets whose value is at the mercy of the marketplace. Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said “Troubles in the pork industry mean weanlings are now essentially worthless.” So farmers are “depopulating” their barns of the young animals. Of course, “depopulate” is the current euphemism for “kill” or “let die through deprivation.”

One can only hope that the evil institutions that plague our planet will as least begin to “tell it like it is” and that the rhetorical doublespeak will cease.

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Comment by Paul Hansen on October 2, 2012 at 18:59

Hi Caroline. My comment alludes to a refutation of naturalism—where ‘naturalism’ is understood to entail the debatable claim that humans are “just another step up (or down) the evolutionary tree.” If humans are only “natural” beings, then on what grounds can we be blamed for killing prey—a behavior that permeates wild nature? But humans do hold themselves morally accountable for harm; therefore, humans must also be “meta-natural” beings. Obviously, the term ‘natural’ can be used ambiguously. When used to justify hunting or slaughtering, it refers to what has in fact happened. But humans are also ‘naturally’ inclined to say what ought to happen. Given this “moral sense,” I contend that naturalism fails to adequately explain the fact-value dichotomy, or provide a foundation for ethics that is more than contractual or pragmatic.

During the past two decades, a body of literature has emerged to try to explain, on an evolutionary basis, how morality developed, or how we became moral creatures—such as James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Oxford, 1990). Other books and anthologies, pro and con, followed. Here is a very short, partial list:

Michael Bradie, The Secret Chain: Evolution and Ethics (State University of New York, 1994).

Paul Thompson (ed.), Issues in Evolutionary Ethics (State University of New York, 1995).

Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss (eds.), Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological & Religious Perspective (Eerdmans, 2004).

You might also take a look at the new book just published by philosopher Thomas Nagel (who is not a theist), MIND & COSMOS: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (Oxford, 2012).

However, I must warn you that none of the above titles is “easy reading.”


Comment by Caroline Raward on October 2, 2012 at 17:05

Hey Paul, interesting points you made there re; either most (carnivorous) creatures on the planet are “guilty” (blameworthy), or no creatures on the planet are guilty. Do you know where I could read more about this, specifically what the arguments against this view may be? Thanks for any help.

Comment by Paul Hansen on September 11, 2012 at 3:33

Thanks, May. Dunayer’s book looks great—exactly the sort of thing I’ve been talking about. Incidentally, I can anticipate a possible objection to my closing suggestion that hunting and consumption of animals are “evil” institutions. After all, (1) haven’t humans been doing that sort of thing for centuries? and (2) isn’t violent predation the norm in wild nature? The answer to both questions is Yes. So the moral justification for abstaining from (or prohibiting) both practices has to reside somewhere in the notion that humans are categorically exceptional in that they are FREE to avoid violence & harm. The implicit argument is: If we can avoid violence & harm, then we ought to do so. If humans are NOT unique in this respect, then either most (carnivorous) creatures on the planet are “guilty” (blameworthy), or no creatures on the planet are guilty.

Comment by May on September 11, 2012 at 0:57

Another great book is "Animal Equality: Language and Liberation".

Comment by cassie ito on September 10, 2012 at 0:30

This is so true.  Boy do people look at me oddly when I drop the euphemisms - they are so deeply ingrained.  Bit by bit we can change this. 

Comment by Paul Hansen on September 6, 2012 at 3:07

Thanks for the recommendation. It looks interesting. (It seems I have no more room in my library to store books, so I’ll have to start ordering Kindle e-books instead of hard copies!)

Comment by Tim Gier on September 6, 2012 at 0:08

I highly recommend the book Less than Human by David Livingston Smith.


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