Every night, millions of children are called to the dinner table to eat dead animals, their body parts, and their secretions. Most of those children have no idea what has been done to these animals, though older children at least have some idea that animals are killed for food. Some do not think about it, a few are a bothered by it but shut it out of their minds (with much cultural encouragement). If a young child asks why we eat animals, they are quickly set onto another topic. Everything in the macro-culture reinforces the normalcy of eating animals. There are “Got Milk?” posters in the schools. There are advertisements on television and fast food gimmicks that assault kids regularly. Even their cartoons are filled with food imagery — Sponge Bob and Crabby Patties are a happy twosome. When I am present and a child asks those questions, I often get that look, warning me not to answer. It is as if really discovering what is on the dinner table is forbidden; we all know but no one is willing to really talk about it. The truth is that all too often, it is who is for dinner, not what.
Denial at the Dinner Table and In the Military Maintains the Status Quo
In the military, where homosexuals have served with honor for decades, it serves the status quo to allow them to serve but to deny recognition of who they are — that homosexuals are honorable members of the armed services — because to admit who they are would challenge members of the public who are uncomfortable with that reality. The animals that are to be killed that day, and the next, and the next, must not be seen; the denial at the dinner table must exist for the status quo to be effective in keeping a lid on reality. What’s for dinner? Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Heterosexism, speciesism, racism, misogyny and racial intolerance all share traits in common:
- There is a separation from the designated group of Other.
- There is a reduction in value assigned to the designated group of Other.
- There is a fear of the designated group of Other or what they represent.
- There is disparagement of the designated group of Other that causes compartmentalization.
- There is a use of demeaning terms and stereotypes onto the group of Other.
When I was in graduate school, we were shown an entire film that documented the way African Americans were seen in earlier times. It was horribly demeaning, with bizarre caricatures, cartoons, drawings and cruel imagery. It devastated me to know that adults could behave so stupidly and so cruelly to other beings; it impacted me viscerally. That racism met all five criteria, yet it is still quizzical to me that human beings can so exploit other beings and then vilify those very beings. Who has the right to outrage here? Of course, I realize the disparagement allows those who perpetrate crimes of bondage against another group to rationalize their behavior in some way. Yet here we are, once again denying an entire group of citizens their civil rights due to prejudice and misunderstanding, while using them in ways that endanger their very lives as they serve us in the twenty-first century. And the speciesist talk about animals goes on so continually it is hard not to notice how we refuse to acknowledge the individuality of animals, too — another group denied personhood and disallowed into the moral community.
Fighting to Reboard the Titanic
It is like we are swimming to get back on board the Titanic even as the hull is beginning to disappear in the ocean. But those parties! Those elegant dining events! We cling to a past this is already lost. I see some of us swimming for dear life to get back on the sinking ship, fearing the loss it represents and unwilling to accept the inevitability of change. Yes, the water might be cold for awhile but getting off the sinking ship is the only way to save our hides. Our “isms” aren’t working very well for us, yet we cling to them for dear life. We desperately need the very personnel in the military that we are expelling, and we are expelling some of the very best. Recent polls show that most Americans want DADT repealed, but some of the Old Guard are too prejudiced to realize what is going on in the world around them; they would not even let it be discussed in Congress. In an era of crass fear-mongering and the destruction it has wrought, it is time to start noticing the downward trend of the ship we once believed in and start looking for alternatives. Reality is a good starting point.
So here we are, refusing to see the animals we exploit, refusing to talk about the reality of their lives, refusing to acknowledge anything that might cause us to have to change from traditional patterns of behavior. Every night, we subject our children to the lies about their food, silent lies that omit the truth. It is past time to allow people to tell the truth. And for the animals, who have no voice, it is imperative that animal advocates tell their truth loud and long. Let’s make Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be a thing of the past for all of us, both human and nonhuman animals. There are lives that depend upon us for justice.