Anthropomorphism and Sentimentality: Flawed Rhetoric Harming Animals

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Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion

Anthropomorphism and Sentimentality:
Flawed Rhetoric Harming Animals

By Mike Jaynes

As an animal rights writer and activist, I'm often shocked by the amount of apathy concerning animals I encounter. There seems to be the belief that animals are used for food and that's just how it is and softies like me should just be men and understand that's how the world works. I find myself doubtful these people can actually believe this, that they are truly this callous. Often concern and regard for animal wellbeing is written off as sentimentalism or overly romanticized anthropomorphism. And this anthropomorphism is the subject of this small article. My argument is that the very concept of anthropomorphism is flawed and what is regarded as sentimentalism is actually cold hard logic and that we have failed in our duty to be compassionate caretakers of the planet and its amazing animal life.

Anthropomorphism is generally defined as the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena. To lump animals in with inanimate objects and natural phenomena seems flawed to me. Having central nervous systems and the ability to feel pain, regardless of Descartes' insanity, and very developed consciousnesses, it seems animals deserve more than being piled in with inanimate objects and natural phenomena. But to me, the discussion of the human world and the animal world seems moot. What are humans but highly evolved naked primates. Yes, most humans believe in some sort of God and I am among them; however, to assume that we are in a completely different world than the animals God created seems the heights of puerile arrogance. To assume human motivation, characteristics, and behavior are somehow separate from animal counterparts is misguided. To me, it is only the animal world. Human and non human animals have coexisted on this earth for millions of years and it is of late that we are running roughshod over the whole rest of our animal brethren. Also, I am not saying humans and all animals are equal or should be considered equal the same way I do not believe all animals are equal. Some animals are smarter, better equipped, and kinder than others. Varying levels of intelligence also exist in the animal world. Humans seem to have the most developed sense of reason and intelligence of all the world's animals, as far as we can tell. Therefore, the whole idea of anthropomorphism the realists of the world warn us against seems fundamentally flawed if one does not recognize a distinct hierarchical divide between humans and the remainder of the world's animals. It's not necessarily that animals have human characteristics and behaviors; it's that humans have animal characteristics and behaviors.

The animal rights writer Steven M. Wise has much to say on the issue of factory farming and other aspects of the animal rights world. He says more than ten billion non human animals are annually slaughtered for human food in the United States alone. Hunting, biomedical research, entertainment, clothing, fur, leather, suede, and other human activities constantly contribute to the destruction of animals. Wise also points out that "over three hundred mammals and birds die each time your heart beats" (Wise 1). My argument is simple; if we are the most sentient and intelligent animal on the planet, why can we not be good stewards of the earth? The answer is easy: fear.

Human are scared to change the way they live. In order to care for animals, one must give up things; one must alter one's life in significant ways. Adopting as close to a plant based diet as possible means one has to give up hamburgers, chicken fingers, ribs, and veal. It means one can't take the kids fishing for some outdated patriarchal bonding blood sport ritual. And to change one's ways, one has to make a significant commitment. It is easy to run through fast food lines and pick up some processed meat product for a quick bite. It's easy and doesn't take any time at all. As a result, no doubt, one can easily observe the fast spreading waistline and hips of the average American. After one gets educated on the horrors of mass confinement factory farming, one must change. No rational sane person could witness the standard confinement and slaughtering practices of American factory farm abattoirs and not make a change. So people violently refuse to witness the undercover investigative videos that are available. People don't want to change; they can't be troubled. Therefore the billion dollar meat industry continues to roll with its spokes alternately greased by its consumers' money and apathy.

And then people hold up the misguided mistranslation of the word dominion as some sort of cosmic ordering system approved by God himself. Being a Christian myself, I urge Christians to consider the word dominion and what it means when God gives Man dominion over the animals. To have dominion over something is to be in charge of its well being. We are called to be caretakers of the planet's animals; we are not given free reign to slaughter them in the billions, to abuse them in our homes by making companion animals live on chains their entire lives, or to abuse them in Tyson chicken plants in their last few minutes before their short miserable lives end. Parents have dominion over their children, and no one would permit someone to torture and eat their children. Also, the Queen of England has dominion over her subjects and this does not mean she can abuse them at any whim of fancy she may have. If you believe in the Judeo-Christian bible, it calls for you to be peaceful stewards and caretakers of animals. Even farm animals were to be rested on the Sabbath and it is suggested that a good man is kind to his beast while a wicked man is not.

So, didn't God give us the right to eat animals? That's a question not easily answered. In Genesis 1:28-30 it is clear humans were originally directed to maintain a vegetarian diet. However, man sinned and after the fall new things were put in place. Later, certain animals were declared as food. My argument is similar to others I have read before: Perhaps God did allow Man to eat animals when there was no other way mankind could receive the protein and nutrients he needed. However, we now have the technology to provide a wide array of meat-less products and meat substitutes that not only adequately sustain us, but sustain us healthier. The point is that even if God gave us permission to eat some animals, he does not require us to. And now that we have the technology and nutritional knowledge to survive without slaying our animal brethren for food, it seems a shameful waste and crime to continue to do so. And surely God never meant for his creatures to undergo what the billions of animals go through every year in the American mass confinement factory farms where 82,000 pigs, 130,000 cattle, and 1.2 million chickens a day are killed in some of the rankest and most inhumane conditions imaginable. What it has come to is the work of man, the work of evil. For a complete discussion and overview of Man's dominion over animals, I highly recommend Matthew Scully's beautiful and terrifying book Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Even though public interest in factory farming is being raised due to investigative videos and activism, a huge majority of people still do not feel for the plight of the animals. These moral norms which treat animals as property and see animals as somehow less important than human beings remain powerfully embedded in the human subconscious. Wise and other animal ethicists have pointed out that our moral norms that have changed for the better (norms regarding race, non-marital sex, contraception, suicide, feminism, homosexuality) have not changed as a result of philosophers, but as a result of passionately committed activists. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not trade highly erudite papers with his academic peers in highly jargonized and respected journals; he took to action and changed the world. Many of the most influential feminists have not been philosophers or academics. It is the people of action who will stir the collective mass of humanity toward permanent and positive moral change. Philosophy does not cause change, Steven Wise says, it follows it. I truly believe the way to actually change the world for animals is to adopt as close to a pure vegetarian lifestyle as possible and to actively write, think, protest, and tell people about animals who are suffering right now, unseen by us and in sheer agony.

So now we are active and we remain active and we are pulling the machinery of hatred and abuse toward animals down around us in great flaming walls of glory. After the fact, after animals are afforded rights and intrinsic value, we can let the philosophers come in and analyze what all this meant. As for now, please tell someone about what the factory farming meat industry does to animals. Tell someone how anthropomorphism is faulty due to its supposed delineation of the human and animal worlds. Live an animal friendly life and use your reason to fight for, speak out about, and try to educate people about the helpless animals dying at our uncaring human hands. Never be silent about animal apathy and lastly, if anyone calls you an idealist romantic who just doesn't understand how the big world works, or even better, if they call you a sentimentalist, wear those words like a badge. Be proud of your big and caring heart. And always remember the animals.


Mike Jaynes is an emerging voice in the Animal Rights world. He teaches English and Western Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His research interests include Animal Rights, Animal Ethics, Bio-Conservation, Greek Mythology, Ufology, Tom Robbins, and the Embraced Rogue. His academic and creative writing has run the gamut from editorial to cover story in peer reviewed journals, nationally circulated magazines, newspapers, ejournals, and books including UFO Magazine, Animals' Voice Magazine, Animal Liberation Front: Worldwide News and Information Resource on the A.L.F., The Animal Rescue Site.com, All Creatures.org, Animal Rights Militia, Farmhouse Magazine, The Riverwalk Journal, Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction, Aalst Magazine (U.K.), Raunchland, the Central California Poetry Review, and others. He has been interviewed by university Ph.D. programs regarding Bio-Conservation and has made radio appearances speaking on behalf of animal rights and the decline of human compassion.

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