Stop Calling People Animals

Almost two years ago I read about twenty-one Coptic Christians whom ISIS beheaded. One of my Facebook friends shared the list of the martyrs’ names, and, as I read through them, I noticed that one of them, Samuel Alham Wilson, happened to have the same first and last name as one of my closest friends. Somehow that coincidence strangely humanized these brave Christians for me. I wrote on my own Facebook wall, “I work full-time trying to help people humanize the unborn, and yet until I read their names, I didn’t exactly think of them as human. They were mere statistics.”

ISIS

Screenshot from CNN story.

Unfortunately, there’s an ugly side to this story that I didn’t even realize until recently. I was so appalled at the evil of the people who killed the twenty-one Coptic Christians, I referred to them multiple times as “animals” and “monsters.” I consciously humanized the Christians, and then turned around and subconsciously dehumanized their murderers.

I’ve seen many others make the same mistake. We have to stop doing this.

President Trump made the same mistake in a recent interview with Sean Hannity: (clip starts at 22:39)

Hannity: One of the problems that we have is evil in our time. Winston Churchill dealt with evil in his time. Roosevelt dealt with evil in his time, my father fought in World War 2…

Trump: But they had evil with uniforms on.

Hannity: That’s true, this is different.

Trump: We have evil that lurks around the corner without the uniforms. Ours is harder. Because the people we’re going against, they don’t wear uniforms. They’re sneaky, dirty rats. And they blow people up in a shopping center. And they blow people up in a church. These are bad people. When you’re fighting Germany and they had their uniforms, and Japan and they had their uniforms and they had their flags on the plane and the whole thing. We are fighting sneaky rats right now, that are sick and demented. And we’re gonna win.

He said, “They’re sneaky, dirty, rats.”

If you oppose dehumanizing fetuses, you should oppose dehumanizing anyone. Call them evil people. Never call them animals. [Tweet that] They are valuable human beings that are doing deeply, deeply evil things.

I don’t think I’m bothered by positive phrases like, “He’s brave like a lion,” or “She’s graceful and elegant like a cat.” There’s an animal comparison being made, but it’s an attempt to be uplifting.

I’m also not necessarily bothered by negative animal comparisons that are genuinely descriptive and not dehumanizing. For instance, if Trump had said, “It is so frustrating to deal with ISIS because they’re so good at hiding in plain sight, it’s like fighting against an army of chameleons,” that wouldn’t have bothered me. What bothers me is statements that imply, intentionally or unintentionally, that the person is subhuman. When you call someone you disagree with an animal or a monster, you are implying that they are subhuman.

When you refer to a group of human beings as animals, you train your mind to be unempathetic towards them. When you train your mind to be unempathetic towards a group of people, you make it much easier to mistreat those people. [Tweet that] If you dehumanize pro-choice people, it becomes easier to mistreat them when you interact with them. Most of us won’t interact with members of ISIS in person, but if you dehumanize ISIS, it becomes easier to rationalize unspeakable actions towards them. Whatever your views on waterboarding are, you must admit that it’s awfully uncomfortable that President Trump started to justify waterboarding terrorists immediately after he dehumanized them: (clip starts at 23:29)

Humanity has a very dark history of dehumanizing people and then mistreating them.

It is wrong to dehumanize people. It is bad for your soul to dehumanize people. It is dangerous for you to dehumanize people because then it becomes easier for you to mistreat them. [Tweet that] Make a decision right now that you won’t do it anymore.

 

Please tweet this article!

  • Tweet: Stop Calling People Animals
  • Tweet: If you oppose dehumanizing fetuses, you should oppose dehumanizing anyone. Call them evil people, but never animals.
  • Tweet: When you train your mind to be unempathetic towards a group of people, you make it easier to mistreat those people.
  • Tweet: It is wrong to dehumanize people.
  • Tweet: It is dangerous for you to dehumanize people because then it becomes easier for you to mistreat them.

The post “Stop Calling People Animals” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Director of Training

Timothy Brahm is the Director of Training at Equal Rights Institute. He is interested in helping pro-life and pro-choice people to have better dialogues about abortion through 1) taking care to understand what the other person means, 2) using more carefully-constructed arguments, and 3) treating each other with care and respect. He graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in philosophy and is a perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute.

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  • Humans are animals. Calling someone an animal should not be an insult.

    • Hi. If it weren’t an insult, would anyone bother to say it?

      Humans are animals, but I think Tim Brahm is right that as used, the word means “sub-human.”

      That still leaves open the question, does it always mean “sub-human” in a way that justifies mistreating people, or can it be just a figure of speech meaning “evil people”?

      Better to play it safe and not give anyone the idea that it’s okay to treat someone as less than human.

      • And that comes from the belief that humans are somehow more important than all the other species of animals. To a human who thinks themself superior to another animal, they would be insulted, but one who knows they are an animal would not take it as such an insult. My mom calls me an animal in the most silly and loving way because I like it.

        • I don’t see humans as in a class by themselves (the way some Christians do), but I do see a gradation. I am morally repelled by the killing of an animal for fun, but I would be more repelled by the killing of a human for fun. Wouldn’t you?

          “Gradation”: I am more repelled by the killing of an animal for fun than by the killing of a blade of grass for fun. That’s because the consciousness of the animal is higher. But I think we shouldn’t kill a blade of grass for fun either.

          • That’s the thing. Anymore I’m not more repelled by the killing of a human than I am another animal. I see them as equals more and more as time goes on. There must be psychological reasons for why some tend to be more upset about the killing of a human more than a pig, but at the bottom level I don’t see a justification for this than that they relate more to humans because they are human. Put it from the perspective of the pig and they would be more upset about the pigs they know being killed than they would the death of a human.

            • Suppose two humans in a hospital are in comas and require life support. One is 95 years old, and the coma is surely irreversible. The other is 10 years old, and he or she is sure to be fine in a few days if we don’t deny life support. There is only life-support equipment for one. Do we have any moral duty to save either over the other?

            • Here is a rewritten version of my last post, so I have deleted that one:

              “There must be psychological reasons. . . . Put it from the perspective of the pig and they would be more upset about the pigs they know being killed than they would the death of a human.”

              I can’t speak for pigs, but if I were convinced that some pig-looking Martians had higher consciousness than humans, I would think their lives should be preferred over human lives if necessary.

              Suppose two humans in a hospital are in comas and require life support. One is 95 years old, and the coma is surely irreversible. The other is 10 years old, and he or she is sure to be fine in a few days if we don’t deny life support. There is only life-support equipment for one. Do we have any moral duty to save either over the other?

              • I wouldn’t say we have a moral duty because I see duty as sort of a negative term which implies that we are punished for not doing something. But in the coma situation, I think most would agree that we would put the person on life support who we know will make a full recovery rather than the one in an irreversible.

                • Thanks. I would do that also, and maybe you would agree with me that we should select the one who will make a full recovery, even if the other can be expected to regain a small portion of their mental faculties from time to time without coming near a full recovery. And what makes the difference for me is the quantitative amount of higher mental experience and mental activity that can be expected.

                  And, though I can’t know for sure what quantitative amount of higher mental experience and mental activity to expect in a fruit fly, in a triage situation where I couldn’t avoid choosing one way or the other, I would have to guess that a human has a greater amount of higher mental experience and mental activity than a fruit fly. I would prefer the human for that reason — wouldn’t you? — not because the human is of my species. (Let’s leave pigs aside for the moment, and see if we can agree on an instance where the correctness of choosing a human over an animal is more clear to us, and see what our criteria are for making the choice.)

                  • I think in this case you’d be right to guess that a human has a higher mental experience than a fruit fly. It’s not always about speciesism but sometimes there is a logical assessment that takes place.

                    The only thing I’m really against is speciesism where humans are granted a special status only because they’re human and humans are better for claimed reasons X, Y, Z.

                    In my life I try to avoid even killing insects because I can no longer dismiss that whatever their experience is, it’s important to them and I don’t have the right to take it. So my pro-life views have been extended to a huge array of mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, etc. I would like to see the pro-life movement be improved in this way where it’s not just focused on humans but takes a holistic approach.

                    • I agree with everything in this latest post of yours, but I would like to point out one thing:

                      When you say, “It’s not always about speciesism but sometimes there is a logical assessment that takes place,” you seem to agree not only that we can probably assess with some degree of accuracy which species’ consciousness is higher than which, but that it’s justifiable to be guided by those assessments, when unavoidable, in our practical lives and practical decision-making. And the point I’d like to make is that such situations come up all the time, at least if we include the plant world within the arena of our concerns. Every single day I have to decide whether maintaining my life justifies killing carrots and cabbages and grinding them up with my teeth. There’s a Sanskrit saying “Jivo jivasya bhojanam,” “The food of one living being is another living being.” And the dilemma comes up not rarely in relation to insects also. Even if I don’t actively kill the ants in my room, I screw the lid of my jar of peanuts on tight so the ants can’t get in, and thus condemn them to die of starvation. And mice — I have a trap that catches them without hurting them, but then I take them out to the street and release them in what may be a fairly dangerous environment for them. Mosquitoes — at some times and in some places, the only way to save humans from the spread of malaria or dengue fever may be near-genocide of the mosquitoes locally.

    • The fact that something is literally true doesn’t make it appropriate to say. What is implied by calling a terrorist an animal is that they are other than human. Do you object to calling humans “sneaky rats?”

      • My main point is that it should not matter whether someone is a human, dog, rat, or cow. There is no more basis for speciesism than racism or sexism. I do agree that many people call someone an animal like a rat probably do mean it as an insult, but on a purely logical literal level, the statement doesn’t make very much sense. It’s not very different from calling a tall person a tall person.

    • Crystal

      If humans are animals how can racism be wrong?

      I agree on the anatomical level but the racists frequently call people they don’t like from another background “animals” to justify racial hatred towards them.

      • I don’t understand what you mean. Racism would still be wrong if we had been plants instead of animals.

        • Crystal

          Well, they called themselves “superior-cultured human beings” and treated nonwhites as subhuman, frequently referring to them as animals and appealing to evolutionary philosophy to “justify” their abuse. I’m not sure how evolutionists today can say with perfectly straight faces that we’re animals when that’s the very thing racists called their victims – animals. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing here?

          • I hope you realize that biological evolution is not an ethical philosophy. It’s a description of how life forms have changed over many generations based on environmental pressures. It should not be taken as an example for human societies to follow.

            Racism is nothing more than hating or killing someone because they look different than you. Speciesism is the same. White humans should not be killing black humans anymore than humans should be killing chickens or cows. That’s my main point. Same goes for the unborn.

  • Crystal

    I agree with this on another level. I am so *sick and tired* of seeing evil people being called “animals” because animals don’t deserve that insult. *They* are the ones that end up being dehumanised by this hateful rhetoric and denied their rights as living beings. When we call someone who is evil an *animal* it makes treating animals as property, rather than as beings with dignity, easier.

    At the same time I have no objection to calling Nazis and IS demons and monsters. It is not “dehumanising”, it is an accurate description. They have sold themselves to Satan, quite literally, cut themselves off from the human race. We didn’t do it for them, we’re just expressing our horror and we have every right to use such strong language to describe them. A worldview that insists that evil people like Nazis and IS have “dignity” even when they’ve done these evil things yet animals, which generally have a higher moral compass than humans, deserve to be eaten and abused as our property, is sick and twisted.

    • How did you come to the conclusion that animals generally have a higher moral compass than humans? Could you point me to the evidence that you find to be persuasive?

      • Crystal

        Well, humayns lie, steal, cheat, murder each other and other living creatures for sport. I don’t see animals doing any of that stuff. Animals hunt for survival, look after their families, and generally don’t want to be bothered. Humayns are supposed to be the moral beings, the ones created in God’s image; I don’t see them behaving like it.

        • It seems to me like you have strangely exalted animals. Animals absolutely deceive each other and steal food from each other, eat their young, and all kinds of gross things.

          All humans do immoral things. Some humans do awful detestable things. I think being created in God’s image has everything to do with having free will and the ability to choose between right and wrong, moral and immoral. Hence, I don’t think a Nazi is behaving like he isn’t made in the image of God, I think he’s choosing evil, an option he has because he is made in the image of God.

          I can’t seem to work out whether you’re an atypical Christian or a non-Christian that is irritated with Christianity. Could you clarify?

          Also, this might help me understand your view better: suppose you have the option to save one of two living beings from drowning. One is a happy golden retriever and the other is a verbally abusive jerk human. Which one would you save?

          • Crystal

            “It seems to me like you have strangely exalted animals.”

            That’s a common accusation against someone who simply wants to see animals have equal rights, no more, no less than humans.

            “Animals absolutely deceive each other and steal food from each other, eat their young, and all kinds of gross things.”

            Source, please? I mean, I know some eat their young and reject them and all that but deceive, I would like a source for that if you wouldn’t mind giving it.

            “I can’t seem to work out whether you’re an atypical Christian or a
            non-Christian that is irritated with Christianity. Could you clarify?”

            I’m honestly not sure what was so confusing about my speech, could you explain? For the record I am an ex-Christian.

            “Also, this might help me understand your view better: suppose you have
            the option to save one of two living beings from drowning. One is a
            happy golden retriever and the other is a verbally abusive jerk human.
            Which one would you save?”

            Would you mind if I gave some thought to the question before answering?

            • When I said you have strangely exalted animals, that isn’t just because you want to see animals have equal rights to humans, it’s the way you talk about animals. You present a misleadingly positive portrayal of the animal kingdom in comparison with humans.

              There are lots of ways animals deceive each other. I pulled this quote from wikipedia and put the source for it underneath it.

              Mitchell and Thompson list four levels of deception in animals:
              -false markings on animals, such as butterfly markings that indicate their heads are at the back end of their bodies as an aid to escape, or markings to make predators appear safe
              -false behaviour, such as a predator acting in a way to hide its predatory nature around prey
              -Feigned injury to get or divert attention; for example, a parent bird feigning a broken wing to attract a predator away from its defenceless offspring
              -Verbal deception such as a chimp misleading other chimps to hide a food source, or a human lying in order to deceive another

              Mitchell, Robert W.; Thompson, Nicholas S. (1986). Deception, Perspectives on Human and Nonhuman Deceit. SUNY Press. pp. 21–29.

              That’s just with a quick google search. I’m getting ready for my flight tomorrow and I’m short on time, so I guess say so if you still maintain that no animals deceive each other.

              It’s fine for you to give some thought to the question.

              • Crystal

                I stand corrected on animals not deceiving each other, then.

                I am not sure in what other ways my portrayal of the animal kingdom is misleadingly positive? They still seem to behave better than humans (for the most part).

                I apologise for taking it off-topic, for that was not my intention. I simply wanted to leave a comment and shoot away; I was surprised to see you respond.

                I’ll think about what you asked and hope to speak to you again sometime. I also hope to discuss the theology in greater depth with you next time (if there is one, as you don’t seem to get into forum discussions often).

                Last but not least, I wish you well on your trip.

                • Thanks for your well wishes. I’m not exactly bothered that you took things off-topic, but given that time is a limited resource, I can only follow rabbit trails for so long here.

                  I generally have not interacted with comments, which is just a shortcoming on my part. Josh is appropriately nudging me to respond more frequently. :)

                  • Crystal

                    It’s not a shortcoming; it’s actually a strength. Take it from me; commenting forums can become a huge waste of time if they are not regulated wisely.

          • Crystal

            I agree with your second paragraph, except for the last sentence. I’m confused with your last sentence: “Hence, I don’t think a Nazi is behaving like he isn’t made in the image
            of God, I think he’s choosing evil, an option he has because he is made
            in the image of God.” It comes across to me as if God created evil as an option for people to engage in; I know you probably didn’t mean it like that but it certainly sounds that way to me.

            I know I came across as harsh but animal rights is one of my major concerns and I don’t apologise for defending animals although I do apologise for sounding off-putting and possibly coming across as antagonistic.

            • We’re pretty far off from the topic of my post, which is aimed at most people, who think (as I do) that humans are superior to animals. This piece was certainly not made for you.

              In short, I believe God didn’t want us to be zombies, he wanted to have genuine relationship with beings that could make actual choices, so he gave us libertarian free will, which roughly means the ability to do otherwise. That means humans have the free will to do evil or not evil, to murder or not to murder, to rape or not to rape. Because of that freedom, the possibility for great evil exists. God created the possibility for evil by creating the incredibly great thing (free will). I don’t believe love is possible without free will. God wanted us to be able to love him.

              • “I don’t believe love is possible without free will.”

                I don’t believe I have free will, because, while I can decide to do anything that I like or that seems right to me or that otherwise meets my criteria for making a decision, I ultimately (if we keep tracing back) had nothing to say about what I like or what seems right to me or what my criteria for making a decision are. Yet I definitely have love. How are you defining “love”?

      • Crystal

        Animals are capable of loyalty, love, empathy (humayns are as well but I see people doing ugly things to each other). We can use and kill them because God thinks it’s okay but humayns, no matter how ignoble, deserve some kind of respect because of special image status and I find this so foreign to what I believe. Yes, we shouldn’t kill humayns, of course not but I don’t think evil people deserve special status above animals. That’s an insult to them *and* to their victims.

  • GizmoDuck9786

    Probably shouldn’t call people evil either since it achieves the same thing.