PC reached new heights last Wednesday when PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) tweeted out its suggested revisions of age-old idioms referencing violence toward animals. The group asserts that the offending phrases are on par with racist and homophobic language.
Should the changes take hold, water-cooler talk or lunchroom patter might go something like this:
“Shiela over in advertising is done feeding a fed horse. She’s ready to take the rose by the thorns.”
“Yeah. The Hadley account would boost our bottom line and give us a foothold in e-commerce. We could feed two birds with one scone!”
“I don’t want us to be the test tube. At the end of the day, I still need to bring home the bagels.”
Levity aside, it is true that animals - both wild and domestic - have become the butt of our superstitiousness and endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of humans. It is also true that we have woven a few cutting threads involving animals into the fabric of our language.
Our current political climate has taught us that words do matter. At least they can matter. I know it would do me good to consider substituting well-worn slang with a few, select and thoughtful words. Personal words. For example, instead of telling a person who's hit a rough patch in life that their troubles shouldn’t happen to a dog, I might say, “You must hurt a lot right now.”
Yes, words do matter - between humans. Animals are not offended by our words. They don’t care of what we speak. Show me a bull more wounded by a matador’s words than by his lance and I’ll show you a man inside a bull suit!
One of PETA greatest successes has been consciousness-raising. Though I don’t subscribe to some of their principles, I’ve found others that resonate deeply. While grocery shopping, my wife and I avoid factory-farmed sources of protein (to the best of our knowledge). Every Monday I go meatless. We also strive to buy cruelty-free household products whenever we can.
But PETA’s equivocation between human suffering and animal suffering is, I believe, a bridge too far (I trust I’ve offended no bridges here). It is as arrogant, unfounded and presumptuous to equivocate the suffering of animals to the suffering of minority groups as it would be for one minority group to compare its suffering to another’s. Or for me to compare my suffering to yours. Such comparisons both reveal the short-sightedness of the one doing the comparing and trivialize the experience of the one being compared.
This is one PC arena where making everyone equal makes everyone less-than.