|Notes Concerning the Enfranchisement of Cetacea|
he time is ripe to broach the issue of "speciesism" and to do something to remedy it. Peter Singer in Animal Liberation defines speciesism as "a prejudice or attitude of bias toward the interest of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species."
Human bias toward other species has led to great destruction, especially during the last century of rampant human population growth and exploitation of the planet. As a result of this, a number of species have become extinct, and many others have been forced into a drastically reduced habitat and a much degenerated lifestyle. But I choose here to focus on only one facet of this panorama of human destruction: the relationship between the human species and the species of the Cetacean order, whales and dolphins.
An article in Scientific American (January 1976) takes up the question of the evolution of the central nervous system in our planet's animal kingdom. The writer uses, as a rough measure of mental capacity, the ratio of brain weight to body weight. When all of the thousands of vertebrate species are placed on a logarithmic brain weight/body weight graph, three groups of animals emerge in roughly equal positions at the top: whales, dolphins, and humans. The two Cetacean groups appear to have been at their present brain weight/body weight level for many millions of years, several times longer than is the case for the human line.
Thus, it is clearly time to recognize whales and dolphins as man's equals in a most important sense. I would take this a step further: it is time to enfranchise whales and dolphins-- that is, to give them real power in the stewardship of the planet and especially of its seas.
How can we go about this enfranchisement? Some degree of human help will be needed for the foreseeable future, since our species has gone the furthest toward achieving a worldwide network of communication and the rudiments of a world government. The solution is to have the Cetaceae make their first entry into politics at the United Nations level. It would be suitable to have one "seat" for the dolphins as a whole, and one for the whales as a whole. True, this pair of seats would represent very little voting power, but it would provide for Cetacean interests to be represented while not provoking undue resistance on the part of the nations already represented.
How can sea mammals "sit" in the United Nations General Assembly? Of course, they themselves can do no such thing. But they can have human proxies. I recommend that the United States act as proxy for both sea-mammal groups. The logic of this is as follows: the U.S. is the foremost seafaring power in the world today, and certainly has de facto mastery of much of the Cetacean environment. At the same time, the American public is prominent in its sensitivity to, and sympathy with, the problems of the Cetaceae. And there is precedent for proxy representation in the U.N.-- that body has two members, Byelorussia and Ukraine, which are in fact puppets of the Soviet Union (one of the Soviet Union's conditions for joining the U.N. in 1945 was that it would "represent" the interests of these two integral portions of itself, thereby gaining two extra votes for its interests.) In effect, the U.S.S.R. owes us two.
With the two Cetacean groups each having one vote in the U.N., we would have the whole surface area of the Earth except its polar icecaps represented: all the land area by human nations, and all the sea area by Cetacean "nations".
The interests of the Cetacea would be ascertained by means of gigantic parliaments at appropriate locations in the oceans. These parliaments (described more fully in the March 1975 issue of Esquire) would be floating islands in/on which would live humans and Cetacea, with facilities for communication between species, for controlled studies, for the exchange of food and music, for play activities, and so forth. Of course, much of the activity of these island parliaments would not be related to politics, but the essential purpose would be political: we would study the Cetacean attitude toward various pollutants, so as to decide on priorities for environmental protection. We would attempt to come to a full comprehension of the marine food chain as it relates to whales and dolphins. Efforts would be made to communicate the notion of parliamentary representation to Cetaceans. And so forth.
One issue for immediate attention would be the continuing predation of humans upon Cetaceae. Under U.N. provisions, the murder of like-brained species would be considered a case of genocide, and thus the most stringent sanctions could be applied to nations which continued such murder. (It is probably the case that planets throughout the universe which are blessed with intelligent, civilized species have made provisions against such genocide; not to do so would be dysfunctional to the life-systems of those worlds.) We will have to be forthright about the extent of human guilt in this area-- indeed, handsome reparations in favor of the Cetaceae may be in order, for example in the provision of protected breeding grounds and generous gifts of food, to help depleted species build their numbers back up.
Two world policymaking bodies which definitely need Cetacean representation are UNESCO (for the exchange of the rich heritage of music and poetry that humans and Cetaceae alike have) and the world food congresses (at which, one hopes, the late 20th Century world will seek an equitable distribution of food resources for its intelligent beings, and at which, one hopes, attention will be given to the need for each intelligent species to limit its population-pressure on these resources.)
Mid-ocean "theaters" should be set up, wherein humans could present to Cetacean audiences selected pieces of our culture-- especially music, but also underwater video presentations, perhaps in the form of three-dimensional holographic "movies," when we master the technology for these. It would be easy to provide a way whereby the Cetacea could express their degree of liking for each presentation, thus to help us to shape our production more to their tastes. An actual "theater" might not be necessary at all-- it may well be that certain sonar message fields could duplicate a visual image. For all we know, whales paint vivid images of what they see entirely with sonic vibrations. One subject for these presentations would be the nature of human history and personality, and human venality toward nonhuman species-- but we could also present the concept of "good humans" and "bad humans", and argue that progress has been made in recent decades. In this manner, we could share with our Cetacean friends our hopes for a continued improvement in whale/human/dolphin interaction, and our vision for a desirable and sustainable future.
For a truly complete human comprehension of the culture of Cetacea and of their lifestyles and collective needs, I recommend that a few humans actually accompany these beings on their migrations. We would need to create small, swift one- or two-person submarines, so designed as to be able to keep up with whales or dolphins as they travel. Humans would be selected for their ability to communicate with Cetaceae. They would spend several weeks at a time living and travelling with Cetacean family groups. They would eat the same food (caught through special jaws fitted onto the submarines), exchange words and music (by means of specially fitted microphones and computer-assisted translation devices), and generally become acquainted with each other as individual beings. With such mobility, these highly-empathic humans could greatly further our sharing in the Cetacean arts of play and of mutual compassion.
Another project would be the development of emergency life-saving communication systems. We would need to devise a miniaturized sounding device, weighing a few ounces but capable of emitting sonar "help" signals audible to any Cetacea within a radius of several miles. These would be routine equipment for ships, sailboats, and other human craft which might founder at sea. The people cast adrift would be able to summon Cetacean friends to help keep them from drowning and to drive away any threatening sharks, while other Cetacea could relay the message of distress to the nearest human source of succor. Cetaceans know how to help newborn or injured members of their own species to the sea's surface to breathe, and there are many reports of (quite untrained) dolphins helping humans in danger of drowning. Whales and dolphins would also be able appropriately to aid boats which were in danger of foundering upon reefs or shoals in rough weather. Naturally, there will be instances when distressed Cetacea will need our help-- when attacked by sharks or outlaw human hunters. A message-network system could allow help to be summoned quickly-- one possibility is lasers mounted on orbiting satellites, which would beam accurately upon the area of the crisis and warn human attackers that their crime-in-process was under the "eye" of the civilized world.(printer friendly version)