Sentience

“I don’t care what you say. Animals are dumb creatures,” Justin said.

“How could you say that,” Darren asked, craning his neck back in confusion.

“I just did,” Justin said with a smirk.

“Let me rephrase. Why would you say that?”

The halls of the brewery had cleared out that warm night in June. Justin had seen a dog owner with her vanilla Labrador exit the place. She had crouched down and stared into the dog’s eyes and rubbed his head affectionately. Justin rolled his eyes and huffed out a chuckle. The two worked at the brewery and this Saturday happened to be both of their days off when this scene unfolded and the conversation started.

Justin took a deep sigh and closed his eyes. Darren had seen this look before from him. It looked as though he had gave this a lot of thought. “Because I’m tired of these people creating funds for animals when there’s starving people right here in our country. We’re saving all manner of creature in countries you can’t even pronounce. You’ve never visited it. You don’t even know what it looks like or identify it on a map. Yet, hundreds of millions of dollars are going to save them.”

Darren frowned when Justin finished his statement. Justin always had a way of wiggling his hands when he was ready to debate. “Okay sure,” Darren replied slowly. “That may valid. Random, but valid. But that doesn’t dispute that animals aren’t smart.” 

“Please,” Justin said confidently. He leaned over the long wooden picnic table and peered over his glasses. “I’m around animals all the time. There’s one guy I know, his name is Bob. Bob has a dog named Titan and Titan is one of the most stupid creatures to ever walk the earth.”

“I don’t get where all the hate is coming from,” Darren said, scratching the back of his head uncomfortably. 

“This isn’t hate. This is just factual observations.” 

“Really? Scientific, right,” Darren nodded skeptically.

“I’m going to give you an example,” Justin waved his hand in the air, then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “If a dog has an upset stomach-”

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Darren interrupted.

“What,” Justin asked with a smirk. “You too sensitive now?”

“If this is another example of Titan, then I don’t think you have a full scope of what animals are capable of.” 

“But, I’m not wrong,” Justin said, clasping his hands together on the table. 

“I’m saying that you can’t use blanket statements like, ‘all animals are dumb.”

“I’m just sayin’, there are a lot of things that animals do that are questionable. Okay? Pigs, sleep in their own filth. Monkeys throw their own excrement at you. Dogs, they excrement what their bodies have ejected.”

Darren closed his eyes and absorbed his examples as he shook his head. “So, you mean to tell me if you’re in a burning building, drowning or about to board a plane, you’re going to trust a dumb animal to save your life.”

“You can train a dog to do anything, man,” Justin said, leaning against the side of the table. “A trained dog doesn’t make it an intelligent being. You literally give them a treat and they do what you want them to do.”

“Please share your thesis,” Darren said in a flat voice, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Humans can write, we can observe art. We build towers for people to business and live in. We feel emotions.” Justin had been counting his examples on his fingers.

“Don’t stop now,” Darren joked. “You’re on a roll now.”

Justin pointed as he laughed at Darren. You know, you’re hilarious when you’re mad.

“Not mad,” Darren said quickly. “Just waiting for the punchline.”

“There’s no punchline,” Justin said, calming himself from his laughter. “It’s the truth. In my view, animals are dumb creatures and they’re not sentient beings.”

“You’re saying animals don’t feel emotions, right?”

“Correct!”

“So emotions, according to you, determine intelligence.”

“Humans have the ability to show happiness and sadness and a range of different emotions.” 

“I can’t tell if you’re joking or not,” Darren said, frowning. “You’ve never seen a happy or a sad dog? You’ve never seen a dog cry?”

Justin waved him off. “That’s not a smart animal.” 

So, aside from the massive hole in your argument that you yourself did not answer, you mean to additionally tell me that since you believe that animals are dumb and incapable of feeling emotions, you would want to be placed in close quarters with an angry animal? For clarity, the dog would be growling.”

“Look, nothing you say is going to make me change my mind,” Justin said confidently.

“Yeah, I can tell by the skilled verbal sparring session we have here. Listen, if the domesticated house pets you’ve encountered in the past don’t fit what your standard of what intelligence is, honestly I don’t think it’s a mark on the intelligence of the animal, but the company it keeps. Which is also unfortunate for you. 

Justin leaned back after the dig.

“Intelligence is not some arbitrary yard stick you just apply at random. It takes years of studying and research before coming to this conclusion and really? Cats and dogs is the only thing you got? What about dolphins: the more intelligent species over humans. What about eagles?  What about bears? All these animals survive in the wild without prior knowledge yet there are skills and things they learn s they live. Have you ever heard of a weaver bird,” Darren asked.

“No.”

“Good! I’m so glad because I want to give you a scenario. Weaver birds are small finches who live in Africa. These birds are very small in size, but they have an extraordinary ability to weave a nest. Want to know the crazy part they don’t need weeks to craft their home. They can do it in less than a day. What’s even better is if the wife doesn’t accept their new living quarters she will rip it down to the ground and destroy it. The male will proceed to rebuild it. If you think that’s dumb then maybe you should try it. And that’s just one animal.”

Justin nodded slowly, but Darren continued on. “Now I know it’s probably bubbling in your head that it’s better to lump all different species of birds to just generic birds, but keep in mind, the scientists you follow have also categorized humans in the same kingdom of animals. Your personal experience with what you perceive to be the worst is not an example for all animals, just like aliens viewing the worst of humans isn’t an example for all humans. Animals that live in the wild aren’t less than because we live in houses. We are not more than because we make money and create statues in our image. Animals that don’t speak your language doesn’t make them unintelligent. We live together on one planet. We need each other, regardless of intelligence or skill. If you don’t, then you don’t participate. And we need active participants.

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