This is a 1987 Ford Telstar. Isn’t she a beaut? Now, what if I told you that this isn’t actually a car. I know it may look like a car, and have all the parts associated with a car, it’s got the seats, the shitty 1.6L engine, the gearbox, four wheels, steering wheel, the windows, the squeaky windscreen wipers and wing mirrors… but it’s not a car.
It’s a 1987 Ford Telstar.
You see, there are cars and then there are 1987 Ford Telstars. And 1987 Ford Telstars are the only ones worthy of respect, and do you know why? Because this is a 1987 Ford Telstar! Weren’t you listening? The other things that seem similar to the 1987 Ford Telstars (your Capri Gears, your Porsche 911s, your Reliant Robins, your Toyota Priuses, your Ford Mondeos, your Lexi) are called “cars”, but let me make it clear – if it wasn’t already – that the 1987 Ford Telstar is not a car. This is a 1987 Ford Telstar.
Let’s also add that we can do what we want with cars, but not with the 1987 Ford Telstar because they’re special whereas “cars” aren’t. We have zero reason for this, of course, and every indication that the 1987 Ford Telstar is in fact just a different type of car, but it isn’t.
So, just to be clear, 1987 Ford Telstars matter, and cars don’t. Why, you ask? Because the others are cars, of course!
And now for something completely different.
Do you notice anything strange about these headlines?
Here’s Michael Gove talking about human rights and animal rights. Spotted it yet?
No, it’s not that he looks like a clingfilmed Noddy character.
Here’s me quoting a sentence I wrote a few lines ago:
“Here’s Michael Gove talking about human rights and animal rights.”
Did you see it?
So far I’ve heard campaigners say that animals do feel pain and emotion, I’ve heard some people say they don’t, I’ve heard some people say the whole story is a big misunderstanding. Through all the noise of this there should be one word screaming at us all loudest of all, waving its arms in the air:
What does this word mean when we say “animal rights”, “animal sentience”?
What are we talking about when we say “animals” in these headlines, and in our society? Last time I checked, humans are animals.
This isn’t a nitpick about semantics. Far from it. When either animal rights campaigners – or the opposite – talk about “animals” they are actually just two sides of the same frightening coin, perpetuating the same mind-set which is based on a solipsistic belief which has jammed itself deep and hidden in our brains through mythology, religion, language, philosophy and culture – the idea that we aren’t animals. We’re something special, and it’s definitely not animals.
We’re the 1987 Ford Telstar.
Well, let’s get ready for a big slap in the face by the novelty oversized reality foam mitt – humans are animals. Homo sapiens is a species of the genus homo. We’re also primates, and furthermore, we’re animals. We can do cool things like wear a wig or write a blog, but we are still a kind of animal.
I really don’t believe that we believe this. We know it, but we don’t believe it. And as we all know, knowledge doesn’t inform our actions, belief does. Our language betrays that belief. This belief is still a major block in our minds and a perpetuation of the demonstrably false belief that there are two sets of beings on the earth – humans and animals. I.e., “us” and “them”. There are 1987 Ford Telstars, and there are cars.
1987 Ford Telstars. 1987 Ford Telstars are important and special.
These are “cars” and they don’t matter, at least, not like 1987 Ford Telstars, because reasons.
The casual indifference with which these terms, “human” and “animal” are so strongly separated betrays the very psychology of the problem. Even those campaigning for so-called “animal” rights are buying into the same divide between our species and every other species on the planet.
“Animal” is the most dangerous, the most insidious word in our entire lexicon. It’s what allows 150 million of these assorted beings to die in hell as part of a daily routine without anyone batting an eyelid. Talk about indoctrination, talk about mind control through language… the absolute champion, the crème-de-la-crème, the frickin’ all time superstar of Orwellian mind control is that simple word: animal. 150 000 000 per day, all done with the casual indifference of stubbing out a Marlboro under the heel of a leather brogue.
When we say “animal” in this way we’re doing two things. Firstly, on some deep level we’re distancing ourselves from the reality that we’re animals too, whether we like it or not, and there’s no getting around it. Humans are animals, as sure as a 1987 Ford Telstar is a car, albeit a pretty shitty one. Secondly, we drive a very important psychological wedge between “us” and “them”, specifically so we can enslave them, commodify them, objectify them and sell their asses for money. The result? My friends casually having a conversation about bacon sandwiches without the cognitive processing of the full story – that the bacon sandwich was once very much alive, and feeling, and suffering. The reasons why a pig suffers are – for the most part – the same reasons as why a human suffers – the ability to feel pain via a central nervous system, ability to feel joy, happiness, sadness, loneliness and isolation, fear, anger, bonding and the devastation of having that bond torn apart – via hormone secretions. We like to believe that our “unique” humanness is what causes these feelings… but it’s not. And it’s time we admitted it. We aren’t the same as other animals of course, just as dogs don’t feel in the same way as pigs, chimps don’t feel in the same way as dogs, bonobos don’t feel in the same way as chimps and I don’t feel in the same way as Donald Trump. But so what?
Here’s a little thought experiment… I wonder if one of our sister species was around today… Let’s take something a little closer to home… what about Homo neanderthalensis or the even closer Homo sapiens idaltu – would they fall under “humans” or “animals”? Let’s start with Neanderthals:
Neanderthals were a kind of human, but not our kind… so would we call them “animals?”
What about Homo sapiens idaltu. Died around 160 000 years ago, looked something like this (though probably less ripped):
They looked pretty darn similar… Getting closer, but they’re still not our species exactly… animal or human?
Oh look, here are some people being gawped at in a zoo in the 20th century:
Or are they “people” at all…? The people gawping don’t seem to think so…
What the hell do you want?
I want a little honesty, I want us to call a spade a spade, and I want us to say what we mean when we say “animals” – what we actually mean is:
Because that is what we’re saying. We’re saying other-animals-which-are-not-us.
Imagine, if you would, seeing this headline in your morning paper:
This is much more honest and much more factually correct.
You see, nothing in our ability to feel pain, suffering, emotions, empathy, sadness, joy, despair, connection, isolation comes from being something other than animals. In fact, all this exists because we are animals – animals with a central nervous system, brain chemicals, limbic systems, hormones, brain chemistries, lobes and cortices responding to our environment and either in or out of balance with the needs we have developed through our evolution.
We’ve drawn this line between “human” and “animal” because, as super-intelligent animals, we – not surprisingly – value intelligence above all else, hence we’re not like “them”. We happen to have super-advanced brain functions, but other animals have super-advanced eyes, super-advanced wings, super-advanced hearing. And look, our solipsism is nothing new! I go to church, and in church they still tell you that not only was the earth built specifically for us, not only was this whole planet and its 4.5 billion year history made for just a few hundred thousand years of one probably short-lived species, the (at latest count) 200 000 000 000 galaxies with approximately 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 stars therein are all there only for one oddball primate on one of the 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 probable planets in the known universe (there’s plenty of unknown universe). So it’s hardly surprising – with all this solipsism – that we consider ourselves “unlike” all the other animals. The 1987 Ford Telstar has a spring-loaded flip-up ashtray unmatched by any other budget 5-door. It’s not like other cars, it’s true. If we focus on the fact that this is the only car out there with this kind of spring-loaded flip-up ashtray we could conclude that the 1987 Ford Telstar is unique in all of forever. We would see only the differences between it and every other car. Or we could look at the seats, the shitty 1.6L engine, the gearbox, the four wheels, steering wheel, the windows, the squeaky windscreen wipers and wing mirrors and see the 99.9% similarities it has with every other car out there and admit that the 1987 Ford Telstar still is still a car, and it has much more in common with the other cars than the admittedly very different flip-up ashtray feature.
For the last thought experiment of the day – what if we did say “non-human-animals” as standard? Would that semantic shift affect how we thought about the other beings sharing the planet with us? Would it cause us to pause for thought when we heard “non-human-animal products” or even “rights for non-human animals?” Would it subtly change our psychology to focus on our similarities with the beings we exploit, rather than the comparatively few differences?
So, the next time you see any text separating “humans” and “animals”, just remember this: it was not that long ago that our language was used to separate “people” with “slaves”. So ask yourself: for what purpose do our words separate “humans” and “animals” today?
Ladies and Gentlemen: all hail the 1987 Ford Telstar. It’s basically a car.