E. Meijer, When Animals Speak: Toward an Interspecies Democracy (2020) engages human ideas for future relationship of humans, animals, and plants in shared governance of the globe and universe.
The author offers humans the initial role of advocates, translators, communicators, talkers, and teachers in future governance on behalf of living things that currently share only parts of human language and permit halting human access to their languages. The book argues for human effort to understand other animal languages as key steps in early shared global governance processes.
The book summarizes current human research regarding animals. Humans now recognize the nearly universal reality of communication within species: octopuses, bees, ants, birds, dolphins, parrots, monkeys, bats, and likely many others. This communication may someday be recognized as a universal characteristic of living things. The book describes the rising, broad public view against animal cruelty, disapproval of blood sports, support for benign factory farming and sensitive procedures in slaughterhouses. Technology through cameras and tracking devices are increasing understanding and erasing the separation of human and animals.
Humans have made major efforts to teach human languages to other animals with small overall effect, but showing success with a variety of animal species: gray parrots, border collies, and gorillas. Animals are smarter than humans historically concede. Humans are becoming more aware of animal communication and their underlying leveling relationship with animals.
Humans have only recently attempted to learn animal languages for communication: olive baboons, dogs, and chimpanzees, but likely many others if not someday a recognized universal expectation for multilingual humans.
The author argues that the animal rights movement wrongly focuses on the negative rights not to be tortured, confined, and killed. Animal safety and avoiding pain (promoting comfort) is the theme. This movement neglects a focus on protecting animal independence and preserving habitat as the new frontier in the evolving relationship with other animals.
Language is broadly re-defined in this book to include the communication tools of sounds, songs, calls, gestures, and behaviors for real, substantive communication.
Humans are recognizing that, despite aggressive human perceptions of observed animal behavior, animals have real reactions that are usefully analogous to those of humans: anger, sadness, mourning, and determination, etc.
If this universalizing reality among living things expands and the scope of human care reaches further into the realm of animals and plants (all living things), how do we, as animals ourselves, incorporate our interests together in global governance for the future? This is the main contribution of this valuable book. The author starts a dialog among humans toward dialog with animals in shared governance of the earth.
The author suggests inter-species democracy, with humans initially taking the roles of representative translators for animals until our human language skills improve, or a common language for humans, animals, and plants is developed for our mutual benefits. Elements of native governance arrangements may be possible on either the U.S. or Tasmanian models as initial steps toward a permanent governing of the earth.
The book includes an index and very interesting endnotes. The style is clear and direct. There are several illustrative dog photos in the book.
This book offers challenges to our human thinking. We are expanding the scope of human care theologically, politically, and culturally. This book is a worthy guide to deeper listening and reflection.
Quakers: There is no reference to Quakers in this book. It is silent on any future role for human religions. Quakers flirt with recognizing the rights and protections for plants and animals in their advocacy (e.g. Quaker Earthcare Witness). Community is essential to a sound ethical relationship among living things. Quakers can model inclusion in representative democracy by modifying Meeting for Business to include human representatives for animals and plants in meeting governance. Quakers can provide welcome to pets in in-person Meetings for Worship, as is currently more acceptable in Zoom Meetings for Worship from shared human homes. Quakers can modify their public policy advocacy for research into communication with animals and plants.
- What distinctive roles can Quakers play in the development of inter-species democracy?
- How can Quakers listen more closely to animals and plants?
- How can Quaker meetings model inclusion of animals and plant representation in Meetings for Business?
- The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code, Eva Meijer (NYU Press, 2020)
- Animal Languages, Eva Meijer and Laura Watkinson (The MIT Press, 2020)
- Animal Internet: Nature and the Digital Revolution, Alexander Pschera (New Vessel Press, 2016
- D. Rothenberg, Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, David Rothenberg (University of Chicago Press, 2019)
- ” BoJack Horseman” and A. Thirlwell, “A Horse’s Remorse” available on Netflix, cited in Michelle Nijhuis, New York Review of Books (August 20, 2020) p. 48f