By Ralph Nader
I have long wondered what the animal kingdom – mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and insects – would want to tell us humans if we and the animals had a common language?
Well, in my new Fable – Animal Envy (Seven Stories Press)– a “Human Genius” invents a digital translation application whereby animals can speak with each other across species and also speak one way to humans so they learn to listen. The response by “subhumans” was so overwhelming that the Human Genius reserved 100 hours of global TV time for the denizens of the natural world to tell their stories before mesmerized billions of humans all over the Earth.
An Elephant, Owl and Dolphin – sensing the need for some sort of production order and fair play – called themselves The Triad and convened the Great Talkout. Driven by the complexity of raising their young and surviving generation after generation, the animals, led by the wisdom of The Triad, developed a strategy born out of their keen sense of observing the human animal whom they internally called The King of Beasts.
To make their core messages palatable, they had to frame their approach during those early television hours to be seen as ingratiating and flattering to humans’ self-interest. They knew that humans had their doubts and their dissenters, but overall their long-touted “conquest of nature” as a measure of their “progress” reflected a level of ongoing aggressive behavior, marked by arrogance and violence that had no equal on Earth.
The Triad suggested that all species commence with flattery of humans to get them to open their minds. Animals could better show how useful the animal kingdom is to humans once humans accepted and understood them.
Animals were not going to rely on appeals to justice and fairness. They wanted to speak directly from their experience and conditions of their existence.
It turned out that different species made different demands on The Triad’s program management. There were the dire urgencies of species facing severe habitant loss and extinction. The Triad gave them special emergency access to the television stage. There were species who disagreed on using flattery and went right into their priorities. Other species said the heck with mutual self-interest – look what humans can learn from our far superior physical capabilities such as our sense of sound, smell and sight – from dogs to owls to octopi – and their unique relation to their biological environments. Think of beavers, bees, spiders, beetles and the critical earthworm.
Many species wanted to convey to humans that they were far more than genetically determined organisms – called instinct. “Multiple intelligences” came into play soon after birth. They were forms of feedback – stimuli, fears, hunger, heat, cold, weather eruptions and intricate mating and social rituals. In short, animals learn and adapt.
To the massive human audience, the Great Talkout was beyond fascinating. All ages were glued to the screen. The sheer variety and recounting of different species were startlingly new to all but animal scientists, ecologists and other specialists. After all, animals were stereotyped simplistically over the centuries.
We knew, for example, that elephants had extraordinary memory, but we did not know they had compassion, empathy, courage, sorrow, even grief. And so have other species beyond just mammals.
The book describes a revolt of the Insects who felt their massive numbers, variety, beauty and impact on humans (eg. mosquitos) deserved more airtime. They organized a challenging parade to impress The Triad of their importance to the environment and their ability to command the attention of humans who feared them. They got their time on stage.
Some animals spoke directly to The Triad to convey warnings to humans. Particularly vociferous were the Asian beetles known as emerald ash borers who have destroyed tens of millions of urban and rural ash trees. Foresters estimate losses so far of about twenty-five billion dollars and much more to come.
One ash borer, speaking for all of them, declared that “We want you, oh mighty Triad, to broadcast this message: ‘Humans, know that we came from China, hitchhiking in packing materials. We’re a half-inch long with green wings and a reddish stomach. You can’t stop us from our meal. Neither Chinese wasps nor birds, like those hated woodpeckers, can stop us. They can eat a whole lot of us but we still multiply. You might be asking why I’m telling you all this. It’s because you need to be more humble, but humility can become a great asset to your survival and health.’”
Because the various species knew that humans are much “smarter” than they are, they cautioned the humans to beware of their past habit of outsmarting themselves and succumbing to the intensifying hubris that could cause ever bigger disasters and extinction on our small planet.
There are many consequential facts about the animal kingdom, including domesticated animals for food and pets, which should fascinate readers of all ages. This may be partially why Animal Envy has been praised by leaders of how humans must and should deal with other sentient beings, such as Princeton Professor, Peter Singer, environmental attorney, Eric Glitzenstein, and scholar-author Marc Bekoff.
A special comment came from singer/poet Patti Smith who described the Fable as “a tale of two kingdoms, mirroring that reflective insight of animals and closing eyes of human kind. Animal Envy is a clarion call!”
Authors, naturally, want their books to be read. Such reactions are indeed welcome.