One of the ways we think about a thing, is to think what a thing is like.
It is important, though, to remember that to be like something is not the same thing as to be something.
Analogies are a useful tool, but can very easily become a mental fog if we forget that.
We achieve human solidarity by finding analogies between radically different human experiences; we achieve mutual human respect by accepting that analogies will only take us so far.
When I walk down the street with my shoulders bare, I feel confident, and strong. When the Islamic woman down the street ( who we will call Fatima) walks down the street in loose clothes with her hair covered, she feels confident and safe. I may suspect that Fatima pays too high a price for a safety which is in part an illusion; Fatima may feel that my freedom and strength are an illusion.
To some extent, when the chips are down, we both have a point.
I can't claim to know what the head-scarf means for her; she can't claim to know what I mean when I claim to find empowerment in tight-fitting or skimpy clothes.
What makes things even more difficult is that her ideas are to some extent, though perhaps not as much as she thinks, mandated by her religion; in the end, her version of modesty does not have to make sense, because it is what God wants. Since I don't believe in God, I cannot understand what this means for her.
My complicated relationship with the ideologies of feminism and secular humanism, and the manipulations of what I go out wearing by capitalism, consumerism and fashion are something I don't fully understand. I suspect that Fatima's sense of what motivates me is hopelessly compromised by apologetics - she knows that deep down I am unhappy in my godlessness.
Both of us think the other is caught up in false consciousness; both of us, probably, privilege our own mental landscape as more closely in tune with Truth.
Yet dialogue is possible, some of the time, if we go on talking. We have a sense of what it is to be human and can share that and build out from that.
We can make analogies from experience. And negotiate a society of minds.
I do not believe that we can do anything remotely similar with any creatures who are not human - there is some limited extent to which we can make a start with the apes who are our closest relatives. I am not dogmatic about how much or little chimps and bonobos can acquire language - they can manage to ask for things and they can perhaps - the evidence is ambiguous - make very simple poetic links between, say, the blue of a lake and the blue of a sky and the blue of a jacket. They can deal with the concept of blueness, but they don't seem to be able to abstract from blueness, redness, pinkness and so on to a concept of colour.
Other non-human creatures seem less able to abstract or reason even than that - they do other things and do them charmingly or gracefully, but they do not think.
They can feel, this much is clear - not merely physical sensations but emotional states. Again, the more closely creatures are related to us, the more we are capable of making some sort of analogy with those states - after all, we are the product of evolutionary history, and creatures that share part of that history will share things with us. Analogy is not identity and is often not even more than a remote likeness; if a lion could speak, Wittgenstein said, we could not understand him.
I do not, accordingly, believe in animal rights because creatures without language, and with emotional states only vaguely cognate with our own, cannot meaningfully interact with us in negotiating a way of living together. Part of my objection to Animal Liberationists is that they claim to speak for third parties and to have more right to do so than anyone else.
My objection to cruelty to animals is partly aesthetic, partly a sense that someone who can inflict needless pain on animals is liable to have issues with other people as well. However, it is also the case that animals are not immortal or invulnerable, and, in a wild state, experience violence, pain, old age and death with fear and anguish their constant companions. If human lives are nasty, brutish and short, so are those of most wild animals.
I object to factory farming because it is destructive of the environment, and produces unwholesome food, as much as because it is cruel to animals. I support farmer's markets and small herd producers because their food tastes good and the animals have better lives - up to the point where they are killed so that I can eat them. One of my favourite market butchers used to bring up to town pigs he was going later on to kill - I have looked into the sparkling, but not intelligent, eyes of the creature I was going to make into a stew and felt no qualms.
My relatives who farmed - great-uncles and the like - loved the animals they reared and killed. I do not think they were insincere or corrupt in that love.
I eat meat as a significant element in meals two or three days a week - I go to some trouble to source meat, as I do vegetables and dairy products. By continuing to eat meat, I help create a market space in which opposition to factory farming and supermarkets has some teeth. (Also, I don't restrict my carnivory to breasts and steaks; I eat offal and make soup from bones.)
I am not claiming moral superiority to vegetarians and vegans, merely maintaining that my position is not thoughtless or unfeeling.
I know that the gall bladder operation which saved my life five years ago was developed by research than included vivisection. I know that the drugs that keep my diabetes from blinding me and severing my limbs and killing me were developed by animal experiment. I know that my life as a transwoman is in large measure made possible by the benefits of experiments.
The sooner other methods of experimentation are developed, the happier I will be. Partly because of the infliction of pain on animals and partly because experiments depend on that same process of analogy. And the non-identity of animal and human metabolisms is something about which we have sometimes learned the hard way.
There is a process at work here and it is not a fast one. It depends on negotiation and slow progress.
The sheer bloody certainty of religious fundamentalists and anti-abortionists and animal liberationists is an assault on human solidarity.
Militants in Iraq killed some Nepalese contract workers the other day, and it was clear that they were killed partly to frighten off other contract workers and partly because they were Buddhists, and therefore 'idolaters'. Which meant that it was OK to kill people who were just looking for work somewhere well away from a scary civil war at home. After all, said the statement of the people who killed them, they were in a conspiracy with the American and British Crusaders.
Gosh, if Nepal were in a conspiracy with the Americans and the British, the Gurkhas would be in Iraq, and then people would be sorry.
And yes, I know I am a bad and tasteless person for harbouring that fantasy.
In Britain, Animal Liberationists are planning ten attacks on 'animal abusers' a night and are pussy-footing closer and closer to the idea that they are entitled to kill people for their cause. Few of them will actually say ' I will kill X' but they will say 'if someone were to kill X, I would be a) not surprised and b) not sorry.' The argument is similar to the one used by anti-abortionists, when they made that leap into murder; killing on a massive scale is going on already and we are entitled to kill to stop it.
After all, it was argued in the Guardian today, Gandhi would not have stuck to non-violence if the British had been killing (and presumably eating) millions of Indians a year.
If I say 'but individual animals are not morally equivalent to individual humans', I am told I am being speciesist and am, of course, as a carnivore and as a beneficiary of animal experiments, an animal abuser myself. I am, in fact, potentially a legitimate target.
(It is worth mentioning that various Nazi groups have allegedly been overlapping with ALF types simply because they can agree on the idea of smashing up kosher and halal slaughter-houses).
This concept of a legitimate target is one of those things which I find especially objectionable when it means that I have a potential death threat levelled at me. As a leftwing degenerate, I have enough people wanting to kill me already - Nazis, some evangelicals, Osama Bin Laden.
I am just not minded to be sympathetic to any more causes that want me dead or gone.
It is also a piece of staggering bad logic - it means that not agreeing with any particular group's vision of the universe means that you are actively engaged in the oppression of them and those they care about, and so can be killed.
And all of this depends on a weird intellectual failure - at the same time, the power of the mighty is a bad thing AND we who are opposed to that power are entitled to act in precisely the same way, only with imaginative nastiness like Beslan to replace massive munitions dropped from expensive planes.
Whereas the point of being human is that we should all try to remember the things that unite us. Mass murder - and I include the war in this - makes that memory less likely.