With notebook out and pen uncapped, I reclined as much as the hard seats in Meliora 203 would let me while settling in for another thrilling round of BCS 152: Language and Psycholinguistics. We had a guest lecturer for the day and were to learn about finch songs and how they parallel human language.
The gist of it was about development, and how birds that go deaf early can’t produce the songs nature intended them to produce, while birds that go deaf late can still sing if they’ve learned the basics.
Then I wondered, and asked, how scientists would know these facts, as, I imagine, it’s difficult to find a deaf bird. You can’t exactly ask a bird if it’s deaf, if only because it can’t hear you asking it.
It turns out (surprise!) scientists don’t look for deaf birds so much as create them. Yes, as a little hatchling grows up, they pluck out its cochlea. They do this only to discover (bigger surprise!) that if you go deaf early, you don’t develop a strong auditory system. I know – I was shocked too.
This turned into a fairly depressing class that mostly just reminded me of our unfortunate view of animals. Many people, like myself, were outraged at the travesty Michael Vick wrought upon his dogs, though it was perhaps more pathetic that many seemed more perturbed about his gambling. Excuse me if that isn’t my first concern, or if I’d personally rather see him serve a life sentence.
If you think about all that animals give to society (and not just as food), it is truly astounding that we don’t show them more respect. Take man’s best friend, for instance – Canus domesticus, our beloved housedog. Dogs earn their moniker by doing more for humans than any other animal can. Police rely on canines to help bring down criminals and seek drugs. Prisons have started implementing dog-training programs that have proven results in rehabilitating even some of the most dangerous criminals. Dogs see for the blind, do chores for the handicapped and provide necessary emotional stability for vast numbers of people. Some wonder why dog owners can treat their animal friends so lavishly but the truth is, they generally deserve it.
Animals seem to get a pretty raw deal from the human society. In thinking about this, I can only wonder: what if another animal ran the show? What if sharks learned to converse? Or flies plotted attack strategies? Now that would be a fun experiment, though naturally steered by what animal is in power.
My first thought goes to a bear autocracy. We’d basically be fishing for salmon forever, while simultaneously eradicating bees. Stephen Colbert would either be executed for treason or would be forced to sing the praises of the Ursa Regime (“ursa” is Latin, kids).
Or we could live in a lemming theocracy. I shudder at the thought, but at least it wouldn’t last long.
Perhaps we could be subject to a bovine dictatorship. I’m pretty sure the Running of the Bulls would still continue, just without the bull fighting at the end, and with much slimmer odds of human survival. And there’d be lots of Soylent Green.
I’d be most afraid of a cat monarchy. They seem generally untrustworthy, despite their wide little eyes. Sacrifices would probably abound.
Or there’s a world ruled by dogs. Imagine, for a moment, a Thursday night on the Fraternity Quad. Now imagine that happening every day.
I can tell you’re smiling broadly. Also, I’m pretty sure they’d bring bacon back to the Pit – another reason dogs are great (and better than Dining Services).
And, of course, “Planet of the Apes.”
The world is ours, though. Evolution has given us some hell of a gift in language, but we abuse our positions. We owe something to the rest of nature. Why tear apart our fellow animals for relatively no gain, instead of enjoy the melodies they spout? Why dislike them just because of some stupid allergies or one bad experience?
The birds sing every morning – it’s a much nicer way to wake up than listening to a shrill alarm clock.
Brenneman is a member of the class of 2009.