We have been socialized to treat [animals] as objects for our use rather than beings with intrinsic value and rights. It is easier easier to exploit when we depersonalize. Objectification and exploitation of animals parallels the objectification of women and cultural minorities…
– Linda Destefano
To “objectify” is to turn creatures into things objects without thought, without right, without need, without feeling. Objectification is a major obstacle to peace and justice on this bleeding planet.
Turning the living into things is precisely what the U.S. war machine did to the people and land of Southeast Asia. It is what that machine is doing to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Such lethal objectifying can only occur insofar as military personnel are themselves objectified; i.e., desensitized and robotized. How and why does our culture foster such barbarity?
We need to resist objectification wherever and whenever we can. There are several fronts where the struggle must be waged. They connect and overlap. Struggle on one fortifies each of the others. When any one front is neglected, justice for all suffers.
Take sexism. Sexism entails objectifying women, often as sex objects, usually as work objects. To objectify half of the human species — especially that half doing the least to destroy and the most to nourish — is to deny and degrade all life. As long as there is sexism, violence will thrive. Eliminating sexism is crucial to eliminating war.
Take racism. Racism entails objectifying people of color. When people are reduced to things they can be exploited and war can be made on them. A “nigger” is a thing. So are “gooks” and “hajis.”
Because, over the centuries, the people of pallor had a knack for weaponry we became world-striding conquerors. Since we conquer people of color, extract their resources and live off their labor, we have to depersonalize them. To live with our righteous selves we can’t value those we exploit. Or those exploited on our behalf. Hence, racism.
Workers are likewise objectified. Under industrialism and corporate capitalism jobs are structured so workers are depersonalized and function as mindless machines, as drones. Their stupor is then used to justify their further exploitation.
The training and enculturation of higher functionaries (officers, engineers, executives, professionals, etc.) tend to compartmentalize their minds. Oblivious to their own co-optation, for them the consequences of their actions often remain opaque.
Industrialism and corporate capitalism – think oil spill — see not only people, but the whole of nature as dead matter. Air, earth, water, forests and rivers are treated as inert and not as the vital elements of the biosphere that they are.
The ecology movement, in exorcising our centuries-long amnesia, teaches us the intrinsic value of all nature. The recovery of this knowledge by the industrial world is essential to the struggle against violence on all fronts.
All oppressed and their struggles are one. Worldwide, most workers are women, most women are persons of color, most persons of color are workers. Even if they aren’t thus doubly or triply victimized, they share the same fate: they are dehumanized, brutalized — treated as animals.
As long as vast categories of humans are treated as non-human animals and as long as non-human animals are denied care and respect, workers, women and people of color will likewise be denied care and respect. Everyone loses.
This isn’t platitude, it’s common sense. It’s the pragmatism behind, for example, organized labor demanding a living wage for non-unionized workers. The higher the wage floor, the higher the wage scale for all.
The more respect for the least empowered, the more respect for all. Long ago a Palestinian sage put it this way: “What you do to my least brethren…you do to me.”
Insofar as the objectification of any kind of creature is routinized, the barbarism of a culture grows. Our layers on layers of callousness, like proliferating systems of military ‘defense,’ threaten us all. By objectifying anyone — human or non-human — we risk sharing her fate. The hardening of our hearts hardens our entirety.
What we do to animals in laboratories and on factory farms, the Nazis did in prison camps to defenseless minorities. Their medical experiments, presided over by doctors and scientists, grew out of standard laboratory procedure.
Whether it be in some research labs or in Nazi death camps – or in occupied Palestine or among the tortured of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo — the cold-bloodedness is similar. In each, caged, silenced, disenfranchised victims are met by clinical detachment and totalitarian power. By playing god the perpetrators deny their own humanity.
In all of these cages the victims and their tormentors are not so different from each other or from ourselves. How can we not consider them our kin? As ecologists and feminists keep reminding us: we are all connected. There is no heartbeat that is not somehow our own.