Arran Stibbe's Review of Joan DunayerÂ’s Animal Equality

Arran Stibbe of Chikushi Jogakuen University, Japan, recently reviewed Joan DunayerÂ’s book, Animal Equality for Discourse and Society. DunayerÂ’s book, you may remember, is probably most famous for being panned by Peter Singer as being too extreme in equating the interests of human beings and animals.

Frankly, IÂ’ve had little interest in reading DunayerÂ’s book, but this paragraph in StibbeÂ’s review changed my mind,

Dunayer’s book does more than just point out how dominant discourse contributes to the oppression and exploitation of animals; it also contributes to the formation of counter discourse by providing a 23-page section of style guidelines for countering speciesism. These guidelines, modelled on nonsexist language guidelines, consist of terms and structures to use and avoid. Thus, syntax “that makes nonhuman animals the grammatical subject” should be used, and syntax that “buries nonhuman animals inside a list [or] dependent clause” avoided. Likewise, beast, aquarium, and dairy farmer should be avoided and replaced with nonhuman animal, aquaprison, and cow enslaver, respectively.

Of course, even Stibbe notices some problems with this proposed regimen. The review continues,

Providing alternative language is not an easy task, however. For example, the term (aqua) prison might suggest a crime and a fixed sentence. But can any word sum up the plight of ocean-roaming mammals who have committed no crime but are incarcerated until their death in a small pool for the entertainment of other animals? Similar questions can, and will, be raised about some of the other alternative wordings, but this kind of debate will be useful in stimulating critical consideration of the discourse of oppression.

On that last part, I couldnÂ’t agree more.


Review of Animal Equality. Arran Stibbe, Discourse and Society, v.14, no.2 (2003): 224-226.

Barbara Smuts' Review of Joan Dunayer's Animal Equality

Joan Dunayer recently posted a copy of a review of her book, Animal Equality, published in the journal Society and Animals. The reviewer is University of Michigan researcher Barbara Smuts who has spent much of her life researching the social behavior of nonhuman primates.

Unlike Peter Singer’s review of Dunayer’s book, Smuts largely approves of Dunayer’s view that we should talk about humans and non-humans using the same language (and even syntax). Smuts opens her review by mentioning how she was disturbed by a moment in a documentary about a man who raised an orphaned duck and eventually acquired a glider so he could fly with the duck. Smuts writes,

At first the man wondered whether the duck would recognize him, “but then,” he said, “the bird veered toward the glider and flew along beside me so close I could talk to it.” Describing this moment as “one of the most moving experiences of my life,” the man nevertheless refers to his friend as an inanimate “it,” a disturbing reminder that even people who care deeply for animals other than humans sometimes fail to speak of them as equals.

Left unstated, of course, is why caring deeply for animals means considering them as equals. Smuts seems to think that one cannot do the one without also doing the other.

Smuts is especially struck by Dunayer’s claims that language is used to deny the “individuality” of animals,

From the use of impersonal pronouns such as which rather than who, to the tendency to refer to all members of a nonhuman species as a single animal (“the chimpanzee is endangered”), to special terms such as livestock that reduce other animals to economic commodities, we ignore the unique selves of other animals in myriad ways.

A bit more bizarrely, Smuts is for some reason persuaded by Dunayer’s claim that not only do the specific words but also that syntax is unfair to animals.

Dunayer’s analyses of syntax are original and provocative. She cleverly shows how we tend to make humans the subjects of sentences, even when nonhumans are the primary actors or victims of the narrative. Similarly, linguistic conventions such as word order placing humans before nonhumans reinforce the notion that humans are important. To correct such biases, we can make an effort to structure our sentences differently (“The dog Safi and her human companion Barb went for a walk”).

Of course, doesn’t highlighting the fact that Safi is a dog also express a human desire to situate The Other in animals?


Animal Equality. Book Review, Barbara Smuts, Society and Animals, v.10, no.3.

Is the Death of a Chicken as Tragic as the Death of a Woman?

The current issue of Australian Feminist Studies includes an interesting review of Joan Dunayer’s book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. It is interesting largely because reviewer Anona Taylor offers a very positive review of a book whose main thesis is that the killing of a woman as a result of domestic violence and the killing of a chicken for food are morally equivalent and should be discussed using identical language. In fact, Dunayer argues, the killing of the chicken may be even more tragic than the murder of the woman.

The idea that we should use the same language to discuss the killing of both humans and non-humans was too much to bear even for animal rights philosopher Peter Singer, who in a review of Dunayer’s book noted that it was absurd to use language that put something like the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the same moral plane as the slaughter of broiler chickens. The former was clearly a tragedy of much greater magnitude than the latter, Singer argued, even from an animal rights point of view.

In a reply to Singer, Dunayer vehemently disagreed with this contention,

“It is not speciesist” to consider the murder of several thousand humans “a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens,” Singer contends. It certainly is. . . . Also, Singer’s disrespect for chickens is inconsistent with his espoused philosophy, which values benign individuals more than those who, on balance, cause harm. By that measure, chickens are worthier than most humans, who needlessly cause much suffering and death (for example, by eating or wearing animal-derived products).

Not surprisingly, reviewer Taylor’s is concerned that Dunayer’s view clearly undermines feminist theories of the self that permit abortion. But she is apparently unconcerned about Dunayer’s larger argument that we should have no more compassion for Ted Bundy’s victims than we do for the animals killed to make a chicken salad sandwich. Taylor writes,

Dunayer argues that, like sexism or racism, speciesism survives through lies. Conventional English pronoun use terms nonhuman animals “it”, erasing their gender and grouping them with inanimate objects. Euphemism and doublespeak disguise humans’ massive exploitation and maltreatment of nonhuman beings. Dunayer shows that these (and other) linguistic ploys serve to keep nonhuman victims absent from discussion, helping us disregard and deny our mistreatment of them.

And here I thought it was just pornography and violent movies that dehumanized women.


Animal Equality Book Review. Anona Taylor, Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 17, no. 38.

Joan Dunayer on Steven Wise and Peter Singer

In 2001 Joan Dunayer and Peter Singer were involved in a public dispute over the intricacies of animal rights arguments. Singer partially panned a book written by Dunayer for her claim that the death of an animal such as a chicken was just as tragic as a human being. Dunayer shot back that this, of course, is at the heart of what animal rights is about and criticized what she said was Singer’s reform-minded agenda as opposed to Dunayer’s abolition perspective.

Dunayer recently distributed the text of a speech she gave at an Austrian national animal rights conference attacking Singer and animal rights lawyer Steven Wise.

Dunayer’s main complaint against Wise revolves around the model he offers in Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights which relies on a number of criteria related to the mental capabilities of animals to decided whether or not they should be accorded rights. Wise’s argument is basically that animals that, in his view, share some cognitive abilities with human beings should be given legal protection — only humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and bottle-nosed dolphins clearly meet Wise’s criteria.

Dunayer is upset by this argument because Wise denies rights to insects, which she maintains are capable of reasoning. She offers a long-winded and not terribly coherent description of honeybees “reasoning”,

In his first book, Rattling the Cage, Wise completely dismissed the idea that insects might reason. I told him I knew of much evidence that honeybees and other insects reason. He requested references. The evidence I supplied included the following: When a honeybee colony requires a new hive site, honeybee scouts search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size. Each scout evaluates potential sites and reports back, dancing about the site that she most recommends. A honeybee scout may advertise one site over a period of days, but she repeatedly inspects her choice. She also examines sites proposed by others. If a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honeybee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. In other words she’s capable of changing her mind and her “vote.” Eventually colony members reach a consensus.

Dunayer says this and similar evidence proves that honeybees reason, and apparently Wise agrees with her. But Wise still denies rights to honeybees and other insects, “Because, he says, they’re invertebrates. If they were vertebrates — like us — he’d grade them .75 or .8, and they’d qualify for rights. Too bad, honeybees.”

Dunayer, on the other hand, would clearly grant rights to honeybees and the rest of the invertebrate kingdom.
Dunayer also objects to Wise’s use of a common animal rights argument — that since some animals have cognitive abilities similar to those of some human patients such as very young children, the animals should be accorded rights. Dunayer finds this argument insulting . . . to the animals.

Wise advocates assessing the intelligence of nonhuman animals by giving them tests designed for human children, even though, by his own admission, tests designed for children may not be valid for nonhumans. Comparing nonhumans to human children insults humans. Some birds, such as Clark’s nutcrackers, can remember thousands of soil locations in which they’ve buried seed. What test designed for children, or even adult humans, possibly could reveal that? If captive adult gorillas and bottle-nosed dolphins seem to resemble human children, it’s because certain humans choose to view them that way and because they’ve been placed in stultifying environments that tallow scant expression of their natural adult nonhuman abilities. Personally I’m grateful that nonhuman animals aren’t like children. Imagine how annoying it would be if fishes, birds, and other nonhumans started going around whining, “I wanna cookie. I wanna cookie. I wanna cookie.”

Dunayer takes this argument to its logical extreme several paragraphs later (emphasis added),

We need to create the moral outrage that American abolitionists created about black enslavement, until the groundswell of public opinion forces legislation that recognizes sentience as the basis for rights. If some individual judges rule that a chimpanzee is a rights-holder because the chimpanzee shows human-like intelligence rather than because the chimp is sentient, we’ll have set the wrong kind of precedent. We don’t want a few nonhuman animals to be regarded a honorary humans. We want to get rid of humanness as the basis for rights.

Dunayer then carries her argument to Singer, criticizing him for having written approvingly of Wise’s argument. Dunayer is upset that Singer does not grant much consideration to chickens or fish. Dunayer responds,

Fourth, Singer’s disrespect for chickens, fishes, and so many other nonhuman animals is inconsistent with his own espoused philosophy, which values benign individuals more than those who, on balance, cause harm. By that measure, chickens and fishes are worthier than most humans, who needlessly cause much suffering and death (for example, by eating or wearing animal-derived products).

Dunayer adds that every animal is literally equal and worthy of rights, including houseflies,

Speciesism’s hallmark trait is denial of nonhuman individuality. In reality, no animal is replaceable. Both physically and mentally, ever sentient being is unique. Every lobster, every crow, every housefly, is an individual who has a unique life experience and never will exist again. But that’s not how abusers see it. For example, the flesh industry. In the flesh industry’s view — and that of flesh-eaters — chickens, fishes, and other nonhumans can be killed by the billions each year provided that others of their species remain available for future killing. Essentially, Singer has the same view.

Yes, that’s right, housefly rights.


Animal Equality. Joan Dunayer, Speech given at Austrian animal rights convention, September 5-9, 2002.

Joan Dunayer Attacks Peter Singer, Says Chickens Live Worthier Lives than Humans

At the beginning of January I wrote about Karen Davis attacking Peter Singer over a review that Singer wrote of Joan Dunayer’s book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. Now, Dunayer herself has written a very strong response to Singer accusing him of being “speciesist” in his review.

In her book, as Dunayer writes in a letter to Vegan Voice, Dunayer argues that “Truthful, nonspeciesist language — especially nonspeciesist legal language — would end nonhuman oppression.”

Singer dismissed that argument, writing that, “It is not speciesist to think that this event [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] was a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens, which no doubt also occurred on September 11, as it occurs on every working day in the United States.” Singer argued that it was appropriate to use different language to describe the deaths of animals than that used to describe the deaths of human beings.

Dunayer completely disagrees. She writes,

“It is not speciesist” to consider the murder of several thousand humans “a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens,” Singer contends. It certainly is. . . . Also, Singer’s disrespect for chickens is inconsistent with his espoused philosophy, which values benign individuals more than those who, on balance, cause harm. By that measure, chickens are worthier than most humans, who needlessly cause much suffering and death (for example, by eating or wearing animal-derived products).

The people who died on 9/11 led lives that were morally inferior to chickens. What a lovely philosophy.

Dunayer criticizes Singer for limiting protection for animals to those species who are self-aware. As Dunayer notes, it is impossible to determine the extent to which non-human species are self-aware. So, she concludes, we should consider them all self-aware. She contends, for example, that jellyfish should be consider creatures possessing rights. After complaining that Singer unjustly refers to animals with the third person pronoun, ‘it,’ Dunayer writes,

Similarly, although he has advocated moral consideration for all sentient beings, he excludes some nonhuman animals from who, thereby dismissing them from consideration. “Am I just showing prejudice if I confess that I find it difficult to think of a jellyfish as a ‘who’?” he asks. Yes, he is. . . . “Let’s wage the winnable battles first, before we go to the barricades for dust mites,” Singer mocks. Language that shows respect for dust mites and jellyfishes doesn’t impede efforts to liberate monkeys or pigs. The main obstacle to such efforts is a human-centered, hierarchical view of animals. By requiring that nonhumans demonstrate human-like traits, and by ranking nonhumans accordingly, Singer perpetuates speciesism and endlessly postpones nonhuman emancipation.

Got that? In Dunayer’s schema, animals are not to be granted rights because they may be sentient or self-aware, but simply because they are alive. Anything that is classified as an animal is a creature possessing rights, all the way down to jellyfish and similar creatures.


Letter to the editor of Vegan Voice. Joan Dynayer, January 2002.

Karen Davis: 9/11 Attacks May Have Reduced Pain and Suffering of Chickens

United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis recently posted an open letter to Vegan Voice, an Australian vegan magazine, denouncing Peter Singer for allegedly disparaging chickens in a recent book review that touched on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Singer, you may remember, argues that morality consist of reducing suffering in sentient persons. Singer has long hedged about where exactly the line between persons and non-persons should be drawn, but has speculated that a chicken might be an example of a creature that is not a person because it may not have a sense of its own existence over time.

That in itself was enough to enrage Davis, who insists that when chickens at her sanctuary “yell and otherwise beg and demand to be let out of their enclosures,” this is all the evidence anyone needs that chickens have a sense of their own existence over time.

But where Singer really crossed the line in Davis’ eyes was when Singer recently argued that it was wrong to draw a moral equivalency between the deaths of thousands of people in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the deaths of millions of chickens. Reviewing Joan Dunayer’s book Animal Equality: Language and Liberty, Singer rejected Dunayer’s claims that people should use the same terminology for the suffering of animals as they use to describe the suffering of human beings. Singer wrote,

Reading this suggestion just a few days after the killing of several thousand people at the World Trade Center, I have to demur. It is not speciesist to think that this event was a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens, which no doubt also occurred on September 11, as it occurs on every working day in the United States. There are reasons for thinking that the deaths of begins with family ties as close as those between the people killed at the World Trade Center and their loved ones are more tragic than the deaths of beings without those ties; and there is more that could be said about the kind of loss that death is to begins who have a high degree of self-awareness, and a vivid sense of their own existence over time.

Davis will have none of this, offering two closely related arguments — (a) that, if anything, the suffering experienced by chickens is worse than that experienced by humans in the 9/11 attacks, and (b) that the 9/11 attacks may have produced a net reduction in pain and suffering, since it likely killed several thousand meat eaters.

Davis writes,

For 35 million chickens in the United States alone, every single night is a terrorist attack, if the victim’s experience counts and human agency is acknowledged. That is what “chicken catching” amount to in essence. And it isn’t just something that is “happening” to these birds but a deliberate act of human violence perpetrated against innocent (they have done us no harm), defenseless, sentient individuals.

While I would not dream of using arguments to diminish the horror of the September 11 attack for thousands of people, I would also suggest that the people who died in the attack did not suffer more terrible deaths than animals in slaughterhouses suffer every day. Moreover, the survivors of the September 11 attack and their loved ones have an array of consolations-patriotism, the satisfaction of U.S. retaliation, religious faith, TV ads calling them heroes, etc–that the chickens, whose lives are continuously painful and miserable, including being condemned to live in human-imposed circumstances that are inimical and alien to them as chickens, do not have available. They suffer raw, without the palliatives.

As Davis sums up near the end of her letter, she in fact does think “it is speciesist to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day.”

If a chicken killed for food is morally equivalent to a human killed by a terrorist, then the obvious question is whether or not the victims of the 9/11 attack were truly innocent, and Davis has no problem at all leaping to the logical conclusion of that line of thinking. She writes,

Doubtless the majority, if not every single one, of the people who suffered and/or died as a result of the September 11 attack ate, and if they are now a life continue to eat, chickens. It is possible to argue, using (Peter Singer’s) utilitarian calculations, that the deaths of thousands of people whose trivial consumer satisfactions included the imposition of fundamental misery and death on hundreds of thousands of chickens reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world.

Some animal rights activists care more about the suffering of animals than people.


An Open Letter to Vegan Voice Re: Singer’s Disparagement of Chickens. Karen Davis, December 26, 2001.

Review of Joan Dunayer’s Animal Equality: Language and Liberty. Vegan Voice, Dec. 2001 – Feb. 2002, Peter Singer.