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PETA versus Twitter

This one is for those who continue to conflate the plights of humans and non humans and simultaneously those who continue to get offended over it. It has gone too far. Has history desensitised us and robbed us of our compassion?

Yesterday PETA shared a light hearted list of reimagined idioms for the world to muse over.

PETA said: {Just as it became unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are and start ‘bringing home the bagels’ instead of the bacon."}

The internet did not take it well. Fair enough, the idioms under scrutiny are not slurs; rather they are figures of speech not aimed at inciting hatred or violence toward any animals. People are angry that they should compare figurative speech to hateful slurs. However I don't see PETA doing that here. They clearly say 'phrases'.

One user tweeted in response, 'Before you start comparisons, let's see if you can tell the difference: "My loved one sure does bring home the bacon" vs "Die you ni***r".'

"Die you nigger" is addressed to an individual. "Bringing home the bacon" is not. Is PETA comparing these idioms to slurs? It seemed obvious to me that rather than comparing these phrases to slurs they were recalling old phrases that were never directed at individuals nor meant to harm them but consequentially did so by containing offensive words i.e. "that's retarded" or "that's so gay". Unlike humans however, animals who do not share language with us are unable to be offended as a consequence of these idioms being used.

As someone who’s against policing language I took the post as a joke but rather than equating the suffering of animals to that of humans I think it’s quite clear that PETA's point is that neither should be trivialised.

What is disturbing however is that judging by responses on Twitter, people are repulsed at the suggestion that the unethical treatment of animals is equally unethical as the unethical treatment of humans.

Having read What It Means To Be Human by Joanne Bourke I get that equating human and non human suffering is not conducive to the animal liberation movement. Many have said, PETA should redirect their energy elsewhere. I agree. However I find the lack of empathy toward animals in the way people have reacted to the thread profoundly disturbing (although it’s not something I haven’t seen before).

The rationality set out in What It Means to Be Human logically claims that if you’re going to equate human suffering to non human suffering (not recommended), your only choice is to measure the level of suffering of each, which will differ depending on the act of cruelty.

Essentially you're asking 'what's worse?' Being bullied or being butchered? Living in a wheelchair or living in a gestation crate? Being raped or forcefully inseminated to produce lactose? Being massacred or being massacred? And the all time classic... concentration camp or factory farm?

The more you compare, the more absurd and unhelpful the comparisons become. One-upping someone on their plight is usually a manipulative attempt to trivialise his or her problems and it is disrespectful - although I would argue that given the gravity of violence inflicted on animals, if anything the comparison emphasises the gravity of the plight it's being compared to.

One tweet from yesterday stated {I have a brother with special needs, and for you to compare his struggles with those of animals is completely absurd.} Given that I hardly picture the author’s brother in a factory farm being gutted alive, I would call it absurd.

One twitter user penned, 'responses here have really brought out the carnism and over elevated the importance people ascribe to themselves and our species'.

Hate or prejudice is directed at humans but it's not the fact that they're humans that makes it appalling. It's the fact that it's appalling that makes it appalling. So why are the conditions on factory farms that animals endure any less appalling?

Is it that animals aren't intelligent or sentient enough or that the pain being inflicted on them is minor? Is it that one's own species matters more? Or is it simpler than that? Is it not about the animals and more about the act of conflating one thing with another that consequently causes offence?

Even if the latter is the case, it would seem that humanitarian causes are frequently linked under intersectional politics. People talk about resisting racism, homophobia, misogyny and transphobia as a united movement against the same oppressive forces. Why is this never considered conflation? Their common enemy, that being colonialism, patriarchy and toxic masculinity render these parts of a common cause. People’s attitudes seem to show however, that as soon as animals are mentioned it’s considered to detract from the cause.

Are animals really the lowest of the low that the thought of their suffering is flippant to us? Is that what makes the fact that 60% of the world's animals have disappeared in 45 years acceptable? Or is something bigger at stake? Human compassion perhaps? Something basic and intrinsic that costs nothing. Is it being jeopardised by profit? Is it really the masses on social media that are fuelling the debate on identity politics, or are there more powerful influences attempting to desensitise us ahead of the imminent mass extinction of animals and the global homogenisation of intensive farming practices?

Put it this way. I get that it's inappropriate to conflate causes but I just don't think it's normal that people should give so few shits about animals given what they go through, which leads me to only one conclusion. They don't know what they go through.

But why is it that I do? I've seen footage of factory farms in America and the dolphin massacre in Taiji, seal clubbing in Canada, the dog meat trade in China. Do people ignore these or are they just desensitised to them? Or has the plight of our fellow humans desensitised us and robbed us of our compassion to the extent that we cannot sympathise with non humans at this point?

‘Animals are dumb. That is what makes it unsympathetic to compare them to us’.

I genuinely fear that that precise sentiment is what’s behind people’s anger here. If so, we live in a deeply compassion lacking and ignorant society that would do well to sit in front of a couple hours of Attenborough.

I get the whole annoying-vegans-making-you-want-to-go-and-eat-a-steak thing. Only yesterday some guy walked into the office selling dairy free rice pudding. I declined because they were in plastic containers and then he started interrogating me about what I put in my body. When he tried to imply that I wasn’t vegan enough I just didn’t care. Logic not labels, I told him.

I am critical of preachiness and political correctness in as much as the backlash received today proved that it only alienates its target. However that same backlash has now deemed animal suffering as flippant - which it isn't.

We have gone so far as to convince us of our own superiority to the extent that people are able to take offence at their plight being equated to that of animals, something that is seemingly immeasurable.

As previously stated, drawing said comparison in the first place is not conducive to any cause, however we are kidding ourselves by being this out of touch with animals and the reality that they suffer. Horses are living beings whose lives are just as important to them as yours and mine are to you and me. And that’s just simple.

In human societies some groups exercise greater privileges than others, creating barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice that escalate to violence. However the privilege that we humans collectively exercise as we sit at the top of the food chain shrouds in the same way, our ability to empathize with animals the way our ancestors did. This is why this sense of human superiority over animals is not as prominent in indigenous cultures where in many cases they may still be considered diet but not exploited on a mass scale for profit.

So where does this sense of human superiority come from in Western culture? Either Christianity has a lot to answer for, or it's a myth people are afraid to speak out about for fear of not being able to justify the source of their meat or their fashion sense. This comes at a time when only last year did Britain have to battle for animal sentience to be recognised in the EU withdrawal bill because we go so far as to deny animals feelings.

Where do we go from here?

Logic prevailed after enough lobbying on behalf of the scientific community and compassionate folk for the Brexit deal to recognise animal sentience but the farm lobby continues to pose a threat to said rationality.

That being said, the general public who does not hold a vested interest in the mistreatment of animals is open to persuasion however persuasion is an art the animal welfare lobby must relearn. At the time Britain first joined the EU, steadfast animal welfare lobby group Compassion in World Farming brought a piglet to Brussels to demonstrate the creature's sentience before 28 member states. Laws to uphold humane standards were subsequently written and ratified. Things went significantly downhill from there in terms of enforcement and regulation.

The good news is that when you refrain from screaming and shouting (a tactic we need to unlearn that social media may be significantly to blame for), we are considerably more persuasive.

Not all humans believe that human life is more important than non human life. Enough humans do believe this and it is an uncomfortable fact. Those of us who are dedicated to both animal welfare and human rights will be disturbed by the human superiority complex of many of our friends and the wider Twittersphere. But I think our best bet is to ask respectful questions.

A lot of opinions are based on gut feelings but the art of conversation and questioning the reasoning behind these feelings edges us closer to busting the myth of human supremacy once and for all.

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