Non-Human Sentient Rights

Indy’s not talking. He hasn’t for weeks. In fact, Indy, a grey tiger catthere have been times when I wondered if I wasn’t being gaslit (gaslighted?). The last thing I recall him saying was something about non-human sentient rights.

Indy had been concerned about humanity’s failure to recognize we aren’t the only intelligent lifeform on this planet – just the most advanced. We’re like spoiled children, refusing to share our world, and excusing ourselves by denying the existence of our challenged brethren. Through our denial, we refuse a responsibility to not only protect them, but to help them overcome their challenges and take their rightful places beside us.

If you haven’t figured this out, yet, I’m referring to the cetaceans: porpoises/dolphins, whales, and their kin. Over the last 20 years our researchers have amassed a pile of evidence to support theories of their sentience. Most relevant scientists, when pressed, will admit cetaceans are very likely sentient. Some would place them nearly as smart as primitive man. The tests they pass are convincing; the anecdotes of their behavior, impressive. I recall reading about a bottlenose dolphin rescued by Australian researchers. The wild dolphin was injured and required a lengthy recovery. During its recovery, the researchers played with the dolphin, teaching it to “tail-dance” (something demonstrated in countless animal shows). “Tail-dancing” has no value as a survival technique, and is not observed among truly wild dolphin pods, yet this dolphin appeared to enjoy the trick. Once healed, the dolphin was released and returned (under observation) to the wild pod to which it belonged. To the researchers’ amazement, the dolphin started teaching “tail-dancing” to its pod-mates, like a new dance would be learned at a nightclub!

About 10 years ago, a petition started circulating, asking world governments to recognize cetacean sentience and to give them the same basic rights one might expect humans to enjoy. While the petitions have collected many signatures, it becomes clear that a truth will only be recognized as a truth if it is politically convenient. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” might speak only about the environment, but the root concept is universal among humans. As the principal intelligence of the planet, we have an obligation to be its caretakers, and that includes recognizing we have potential partners. Instead of brushing them off as “dumb animals,” we should be teaching them to live and work with us, or at least giving them the respect they deserve as another intelligent species.

This is what Indy had been brooding over, and so I sat him down and asked him if he’d been giving me the silent treatment over this.

“My silence has been in protest over non-human rights, yes,” he admitted.

“Indy, your lack of silence is what sets you apart from all the other cats,” I reminded him, “so I think it’s hardly likely anyone but me would have even noticed you were protesting.”

Indy stared at me for a long time. I stared right back. He sighed and said to me, “I guess my protest would have been a little more effective if it were more obvious. Do you think you could teach me to tail-dance?’


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Alan Frayer

Alan Frayer has been a computer network administrator, a computer network engineer, a certified instructor, a freelance journalist, and an Internet consultant specializing in e-commerce, marketing. This blog deals with just about none of that.

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