You Animal!

Another blog about habits of speech and why they might need some scrutiny. When a human does something especially vile, it is common to refer to them as an animal. There are a number of problems with this.

For a start, it reinforces the idea that humans are fundamentally better than other animals but that we can fall, through our actions, to being at the same lower level as animals. This in turn backs up all the ways in which we otherwise mistreat and exploit other life forms.

Secondly, it gives the rest of us some rather unreasonable insulation. If we give truly offensive humans animal status, we tell ourselves that they are not us. They are not like us. We are not part of the problem. If the perpetrator in an animal, we don’t need to talk about rape culture, or how fascism is permeating our culture, we don’t need to talk about reasons for radicalisation, or gun control or anything else. Refusing to identify a terrible human being as a terrible human being, we let ourselves off the hook for perhaps helping provide the context in which they have acted.

Thirdly – and this generally applies to men – it suggests there was no scope for them to do better. We often apply animal language to men who sexually offend. They are sharks who can hardly be expected to avoid a piece of meat. Which is shitty logic, because it perpetrates the idea that men can’t control themselves, can’t make rational decisions and so forth. It also suggests that rape is a natural/animal thing and it isn’t. Most species have all kinds of complex things going on around sexual selection. Most often it is the female of the species who chooses the male. Mallard ducks aside, most creatures have reproductive strategies that are either cooperative, or about showing off to attract a female.

At the same time, we deny our fundamental animal natures. We are animals. We are mammals the same as all the other mammals. We are different in some ways but there are plenty of differences between other mammals, too. If we reserve ‘animal’ as a term for those we don’t want to recognise as human, we make it that bit harder to identify ourselves as animals, because it becomes a term of insult. We need to recognise our animal selves, and that all humans are animals of the same sort, stop pretending we are separate from nature, stop denigrating nature and stop creating ways to ignore unacceptable human behaviour.

Changing the words we use won’t change everything overnight, but it is an easy place to start. Change the words we use and we can change how we think about things, and that in turn changes behaviours, and ultimately, cultures.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “You Animal!

  • syrbal-labrys

    I rescued ferrets for years; hearing politicians being called “weasels” offended me deeply. Being ex-Army? I found ordinary profanity preferable to slandering our four legged brethren!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I rather like being an animal,and enjoy animals often more than humans. My cat is my best friend. We each know what to expect from each other, what each needs, even what we can get away with and how long. Each enjoy being with each other, and yet need some alone time as well. He will reach out and touch me with his paw, rest up next to me, lay his head on my hand, or arm. If I delay too long doing something that he wants, he will likely stick a claw in my skin to help me get the point that he was waited long enough.

    So it is a good arrangement for both of us. He gets to play wild cat outdoors, without giving up the advantages of being a civilized cat with two kinds of food, both moist and dry, several lounging areas, two hidey holes , two beds, one which he allows me to sleep in and a door man to let him out and let him in, when he does not feel like shoving the door open when he wants to come in. Then he will push the door, let it slam back, and repeat until I come and open it for him.

    He supervises me indoors, when I open the shop outdoors, close the shop, and while I water and feed to wild birds and other wild animals.

  • TPWard

    Since you’re being particular about language: this is a blog post about this topic, not a blog about it. The blog (web log) is your entire journal when it’s a noun. When you blog, you’re writing a blog post.

  • lornasmithers

    I’ve had this one thrown at me a few times. I see it as compliment. I just grin and say ‘Yes…’

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