Talking Animals

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It’s recently come to light that both whales and elephants may be trying to talk to us.

The evidence at this point is incredibly anecdotal, and the publicity could very well be the effort of some interest group or another, but the concept alone raises an interesting point.

What if we learned — today — that some species of non-human animals were capable of sentient thought? That they were trying to talk to us?

It’s a difficult question, and one that may not be answered the way most people think. Or as quickly as one would hope.

Consider that there are massive industries built around the breeding, killing, and packaging of meat from these animals. If they were decreed overnight to be off-limits, do you think such companies would just accept their new reality? Doubtful.

Consider that some of the most vocal supporters of anti-animal-cruelty efforts have been loudly shouting about any number of things for a long time. If there was suddenly evidence that animals are thinking on the same level we are and capable of communication, do you think everyone would just take animal rights groups’ word for it? Doubtful.

This is where our culture of conservatism and liberalization breaks down. The extreme views of both sides — that things need to remain the same because that’s how they’ve always been, and that things need to change from how they’ve always been, regardless of the consequences of doing so — can be harmful if approached incorrectly. And unfortunately even the excellent arguments from both camps are suspect because of their historical slant on everything.

We’ve gotten to the point where we’ll defend, tooth-and-claw, ideas we don’t even really care about. Ideas that in no way influence our daily lives. Races that we only have theoretical horses in.

We’d be far more capable of dealing with new information quickly and rationally if we stopped assuming debate for debate’s sake is a good thing. There will always be issues that need to be sorted out, but to praise the silly sport that discourse has become is tantamount to praising professional wrestling for its competitive integrity. It’s possible to compare notes and come to solid decisions without making a circus out of the exercise.

Headlines tomorrow may read that we’re not alone in the universe, and that instead of the aliens we’ve been wanting to meet — with different ideas and ways of thinking — other minds have been here on earth alongside us all along, barking and quacking and trying to get through to us that they’d really like to sit at the table, too. And that collars are uncomfortable.

If and when that kind of news hits our doorsteps, it’s up to us to decide whether we want to spent the following decade spitting and hissing at each other over perceived threats to our ideologies, or if we’ll take the news from the standpoint of a child, ready and willing to learn what information the world has to offer, and to then make decisions based on the facts in front of us, rather than the preconceived notions of the adults in the room.

Whichever path that might lead us down, it’ll be a whole lot more logical than whatever emerges from the other end of the massive idea meat-grinder we use to make decisions today.