Words matter, or at least they used to. Political correctness is one of those terms so overused and ubiquitous that we all recognize it, but few have a definition for it.
Orwell warned us about a language without meaning and we’re rapidly approaching that time. Politics has and likely always will play closer to the edge of reality than anything we deal with, but it is a great case study nonetheless. Remember when we used to be liberals and conservatives? Well, the conservatives, in part, succeeded in giving the word liberal a negative connotation, so "liberals" renamed themselves "progressives," because focus-group testing shows it has a much better connotation.
The new terms are difficult to keep up with. Today, racism is so broad that it can be used against you if you merely disagree with a certain position. Meanwhile, the definition of socialism has been so constricted that it can be argued that Karl Marx was actually a moderate capitalist.
Such examples certainly aren’t directly related to many of the challenges we face in agriculture, but I believe the principles are. As ranchers, we’re not incorrect in positioning ourselves as the original environmentalists. The vast, vast majority of ranchers – I’d say 99.9% – love the land in a way that someone who isn’t reliant on it for their livelihood can’t comprehend.
I suppose one could find someone who is truly not an environmentalist in philosophy but who assumes that environmentalism is about keeping the environment healthy, safe and improving. This view of environmentalism may be held by the rank-and-file member of the environmental movement, but it has little to do with the agenda of the movement’s leadership, which is more anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, anti-business and anti-modern agriculture than anything else.
The list goes on. Everyone believes in the humane treatment of animals, but, “humane” has different connotations to different folks. To some activists, humane is something that denies man’s stewardship over animals and instead makes animals equal or even superior to man. Thus, in their mind, any use of animals for nearly any reason becomes in and of itself inhumane.
As livestock producers, we are continually striving to improve animal welfare, with many of us not realizing that animal welfare by its new definition precludes animal agriculture.
The dilemma is obvious. We keep trying to appeal to the true definition of a word in order to demonstrate the “correctness” of our behavior. Instead, we end up helping to prop up the false definition our opponents are using to create their advantage.
We have lost words, as well. For instance, we no longer talk about fat cattle; now they’re fed cattle. We don’t slaughter animals, we process them.
But these examples are different in that words that have positive connotations are being co-opted and political correctness removes our ability to challenge anything under the banner that those words represent without being negatively labeled ourselves.