Talking Animals

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

The evidence at this point is 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 declared to be off-limits overnight, do you think such companies would just accept their new reality? Doubtful.

Consider that the most vocal supporters of anti-animal-cruelty efforts have loudly shouted about their cause 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 unintentionally. 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 in which we only have theoretical horses.

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 spend 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.

Update: February 23, 2017

Alluded to but not focused on in this essay is that by shouting and rabble-rousing about everything all the time, we can actually reduce our chances of having an impact when something truly important happens. People who protest everything are unlikely to make any waves when they protest something vital, because that’s just their normal state of being. Folks who are usually calm and quite, however, who are shocked into loud protest by something truly horrible, are more likely to be noticed.

I’m not saying we should all sit down and shut up most of the time, but rather that it’s useful to be aware of the volume knob and how far we turn it. There’s a chance we’ll use up our loudest settings before we actually need them, rendering the lower volumes useless in comparison.