On Fighting for “Animal Rights”
Being featured on ARZone's worldwide Live Guest Chat has reinvigorated my thinking about a couple of topics (here's the transcript). And then I read the "OMG!!!!!OED!!!!!LOL!!!!!" in today's New York Times, and I couldn't resist posting.
A couple of years ago I wrote about whether it's a good use of my time to be a purist about the term "animal rights" when most of the world doesn't have the same understanding of the term as I do. (I'll look for the post and link to it later, but while Baby Sky's not up yet I want to at least post something.) Likewise for "abolitionist."
Regarding the additions of OMG and LOL, the editorial says that they:
bring to mind the words of William Safire, The Times’s former master wordsmith, who climbed down from the conservative ramparts in the culture wars 25 years ago to accept that “words come to mean what most people think they mean, not what we say they ought to mean.”
I spent several years writing, daily, and often with shock, about how, for instance, the NYT--the New York Times (OMG!!!!!)–would call HSUS an animal rights group (after all, HSUS doesn't even do that). Or how a paragraph would refer to animal rights and animal welfare as if they're interchangeable.
Of course, I say to myself, language is worth fighting for. But is it? Won't the battle always be won by common usage/the majority? Isn't my time better spent fighting for actual animal rights than the term "animal rights?"
I think of the time I spent writing about or talking about "Francione-style abolition," and "abolition." Francione has defined abolition in a certain way and if you don't adhere strictly to his definition, you are not a Francione-style abolitionist. The rest of the animal advocacy community, which is the vast majority, who call themselves abolitionists, are abolitionists. They don't satisfy all of the requirements of Francione, but their goal is the abolition of the use of sentient nonhumans by humans. They are abolitionists, just not Francione-style abolitionists.
It would be wonderfully dramatic to be able to say: I'm going to fight for animals rather than for language, but it's not that clear cut. Fighting to maintain the integrity of the words humane, love, euthanasia or compassion, is also fighting for animals. And it usually involves exchanges with non-vegans. It helps them focus on what's really being done to animals. But fighting for the term animal rights or about the term abolition ends up, in the real world, being about fighting with other vegans (and I don't know if fighting is the proper term–it very likely isn't–but I'm out of time to get into that).
I could debate about language all day, with vegans and non-vegans. But I have to think about which words I focus on, and whether they're going to help me in my quest to get more people to stop killing nonhuman animals/having them killed when they don't need to.
Finally, I think that there are a variety of reasons you might want to talk about language or use language that the average person isn't accustomed to. But for the average discussion with the average dog and cat person, I say stick with the language they use ("I love animals," "I only buy meat that was humanely raised"), and use those opportunities to educate them and point out the inconsistency in their claims. I say don't start talking about terms that mean nothing to them or using language that might alienate them.
But that's me . . .