28 April 2011

Animal language needs rethinking

From Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics news release 'Animal Language Sends Wrong Message' of 26 April 2011
A call for a new “animal language” has been made by some of the world’s leading animal ethicists who say words like “pests” and “vermin” send out the wrong message and even our most common terms such as ”pets” and “wild animals” need updating.

The editors of a new Journal of Animal Ethics (JAE) published this month by the University of Illinois Press say derogatory words like “pests” and “vermin” should be dropped altogether and “pets” replaced by “companion animals”, while “wild animals” should be termed “free living or free ranging animals”.

“Despite its prevalence, “pets” is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers. Again the word “owners”, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint … In addition, we invite authors to use the words “free-living”, “free-ranging” or “free-roaming” rather than “wild animals”… For most, “wildness” is synonymous with uncivilized, unrestrained, barbarous existence. There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided.”

“Our existing language about animals is the language of past thought – and the crucial point is that the past is littered with derogatory terminology: “brutes”, “beasts”, “bestial”, “critters”, “sub-humans”, and the like. We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves to use less than partial adjectives in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them,” they argue.
Read more, including details about the journal.

Some of the suggestions may seem far-fetched to some people. The notion of 'ownership' of 'pets' is worth thinking about. I have often been uneasy about the concept of 'owning' other living creatures, which is basically, the lives of other sentient beings. Hence, the alternative notion of humans as 'carers' or 'guardians' of pets and other domesticated animals make more sense. This reinforces the need to treat other creatures with respect and dignity, free from cruelty.

'Pets' or rather 'canine or feline companions' then become adopted rather than bought.

The question isn't academic but rather an ethical one.

Much of our values concerning animals are based on cultural and religious views. In Judeo-Christian-Islam ('people of the book') traditions, living creatures have been given to humans by God. In most native American cultures, animals have spirits (or souls). It might be time to re-examine our views.

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