Are you like so many Canadians – a pet owner?
If you are, are you prepared to consider changing your thinking about your family pet – at the behest of a group of academics who brand themselves as animal ethicists?
The group is known as the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and is dedicated to “pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching and publication.”
The “independent think tank for the advancement of progressive thought about animals” has just published the first issue of its new Journal – and succeeded (probably beyond its wildest dreams) in drawing a lot of unflattering media attention and public flak with its leading editorial article which unloads some peculiar notions for changes to animal names, terms and descriptions, which amply demonstrate to me that “progressive thought” may be something of a misnomer.
These are times when a democratic society usually tends to say “do your thing” … and so long as you don’t want to interfere with the lives of others, everybody says get on with it.
However, it’s been my experience that anyone entering the thinking zone of ethics or morality seem determined to foist their views upon us with somewhat religious zeal, demanding that we all listen and adopt their rationale.
Looking more closely, these deep-down attitude “missionaries” usually have some theological links, so preaching their “progressive” views is not unusual.
The director of the Centre is the Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey, PhD, DD, a member of the Faculty of Theology at the prestigious University of Oxford. In addition, among numerous honorary appointments, he is the first Professor of Animal Ethics at the Graduate Theological Foundation, Indiana.
Professor Linzey previously held the world’s first academic post in Theology and Animal Welfare (a peculiar pairing to my mind) at Mansfield College, Oxford (1992-2000) and subsequently at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford (2000-2006).
From 1987 to 1992, he was Director of Studies of the Centre for the Study of Theology in the University of Essex, and from 1992 to 1996, he was Special Professor in Theology at the University of Nottingham.
So, he has spent a lot of time in the academic environment (perhaps, it appears, not a lot of time in any one place!) but still, he could be expected to add some learned credibility to the subject of animal ethics.
Instead, the Centre’s first journal editorial message appears to be a new twist to “political” correctness in English speech usage, advocating that terms like family pets to renamed “companion animals,” with wild life to be known as “free living or free ranging animals.”
It is very down on such identifying cliche phrases connected to animals – as “sly as a fox,” “stubborn as a mule,” or “drunk as a skunk.”
Prof. Linzey himself, in the lead editorial suggesting existing animal language sends the wrong message, even sees pets as a derogatory term, as well as pet owners, which could more appropriately become “human carers.”
More derogatory terms like “pest” and “vermin” should vanish forever, it is recommended.
So clearly ownership of a family pet may have taken on new responsibilities in terms of how we think about them or refer to domestic and animals under our care, or not.
Prof. Linzey in an interview, even suggests the publication has started an “important new debate” that will lead to people think more deeply about the way we treat animals.
Perhaps so, but somehow I don’t think so.
That being said, after the thoughts have been trashed and ridiculed – the fact remains there are some important issues about the treatment of animals, just as there are about the treatment of human beings.
Abuses do abound – much has been achieved in limiting the extent of the mistreatment of animals in our own country, not to mention elsewhere. But there is still so much to be improved in this violent and imperfect world.
Each has its priority and I suppose its fair to say that none of us is in a position to judge in all cases, especially where cultures enter the fray.
So, I acknowledge there’s room for Prof. Linzey’s musings, but the pompous way they are presented inevitably leads to negative reactions.
People are quick to move on to what is ultimately more important to them – and to focus more on what has priority in their lives.