Stop Calling Animals It
People always call an animal an it
, whereas they call a human a he
. But why do we call an animal an it
? A chimpanzee, horse, cat, cow or a mouse is as much a he
as is a human. Calling an animal an it
makes him inanimate material, a depersonalised object. As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham said:
"animals...stand degraded into the class of things." An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1789, xvii 311.
Once a being is depersonalised down to the level of an it, like a stick or stone, we feel we can do anything we like to it without moral thought. Kicking a stone or throwing away a stick has no moral consequence. We compound the offence by calling our own inanimate human creations, like a car, ship or country, a she
, as though they are real beings.
Animal-sympathetic people, even if they did nothing else, could make an important contribution to animals by giving up calling them it
and start calling them him
Where should you draw the line? Should we call insects and other invertebrates him
? The answer is yes, because by creating barriers you create uncertainty about where to put the barrier. Furthermore, invertebrates may be deserving of more respect than people generally give them. Science is discovering that insects are not as simple-minded as they may appear. Insects rely much more on learning and less on instinct as hitherto assumed, and some insects can recognise other individuals - and even individual humans - by their faces (see photo).
Insects are not so dumb. Yellow-jackets (Vespula germanica) are social wasps who can recognise each other as individuals by their face markings (eg Tibbetts E A. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 2002). Photo: Richard Bartz.
Are you tired of saying "him or her"
when speaking of others? Say 'han' as an alternative: see the entry 'Han means He or She'.
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