The metaphors we conjure up have a huge impact on our ability to effect change.

The metaphors we conjure up have a huge impact on our ability to effect change.

 Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff, whose work has influenced a generation of political campaigners, is famous for the idea that metaphors are the essence of human thought – “Metaphors We Live By”. On so many issues of public controversy, the metaphor a community uses, to understand a problem, determines how individuals feel and act on the issue.

Is homophobia about “family values” or “bigotry”?

Is taxation a matter of “coercion” or “sharing”?

Is the Iraq War about “safety and security” or “violence and aggression”?

Yet, even in animal rights communities, the metaphors that currently dominate our thinking on animals are self-defeating metaphors of personal consumption – what milk to buy (soy, or dairy?), what restaurant to eat at (herbivore or carnivore?), which product to purchase (with the bunny logo? or without?). The problem with this consumerist framing is that it leaves us trapped in the metaphor of the oppressor.  Critics or our message immediately ask themselves, “In a free society, why should any of us care what others are buying and selling?”

But we do not have to accept this metaphor. We can challenge it by saying directly and confidently that this movement is not a matter of personal choice, but of horrific violence. By telling the story from the victim’s perspective, rather than the oppressor’s.

Is animal rights about “consumer choices” or “animal liberation”? The answer to that question will determine whether our movement sees the explosive growth it needs, to effect real and permanent change.