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Animal Rights... and Uplift

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for Jane Goodall and David Brin

Animal rights, while still controversial as I write, need no explanation. But uplift does. The term, coined by David Brin, means to breed or genetically engineer animals into new species of people. The concept has a moral component: Brin argues we're morally obliged to spread the benefits of intelligence, language, knowledge, opposable thumbs! After all, haven't other species shared our pollution and habitat degradation? We won the Darwinian war... but after a war comes reconstruction. We owe them reparations.

The current debate on genetic engineering is cast in terms of benefits or harm to humans, and the risk of harm to other species. Brin's notion of uplift points out the fourth, overlooked possibility and moral stance--benefits to nonhumans.

harm humans help humans
harm nonhumans help nonhumans

Is it possible to improve an ecosystem? What does that mean? In the world of tooth and claw, one species's competitive gain is another's loss. But we recognize overall harm to an ecosystem--reduced diversity, reduced biomass. Can't we acknowledge that change can be good, too? Decrease erosion in a desert and charge up groundwater so it supports thin forest--yes, some desert species will suffer, but if we clearcut an open forest leaving a eroded desert behind, we'd unhesitatingly call it degradation. A spring in the desert brings trouble to some, but perhaps "the greatest good for the greatest number" does apply to nonhuman species as well; it's a formulation not so far from "biomass times diversity." And it really can grow as well as shrink.

What if we only have the moral right to alter an ecosystem or individual species for its own benefit, not for our profit?

Biomass, diversity... are we ready to concede that consciousness is also good? We find it so. So don't we have the moral obligation to work to spread that benefit, too, to other species? There's quite a long list of creatures not far behind us, short on just one element of the cluster needed to build or join a civilization: hands, big brains, sociability, language, a long enough lifespan... Can you really say that any of those are negative? Would YOU give any of them up, dear reader? Then don't you have an obligation to help apes, elephants, ravens, parrots, wolves, cetaceans, giant squid (etc) acquire the last elements of the cluster that they lack?

The changes needn't be via genetic engineering. It's quite possible that an intelligent animal wired up for instant access to math, logic and grammar co-processors would constitute a person. Certainly all the core problems of AI--ignorance of the real world, difficulty translating complex visual or spatial imagery into something meaningful, difficulties with natural languages and their emotional nuances, self-awareness and awareness of others, motivation and flexibility... all are problems the higher animals solved long ago. Animals and computers seem rather complementary, in fact.

Given dual paths to the outcome, I suspect uplift and animal people will cease to be theoretical within our lifetimes.

And of course it wouldn't be pure altruism. Culture has always gained from diversity. But of course, that's the grown-up argument. The real reason to start an uplift program is that a multispecies civilization would be more fun. Kids in all cultures start out in a fairytale world, where other creatures talk, and only reluctantly grow into a world where humans are seen as unique. But not, contrary to certain religious doctrines, really apart. We're not superior beings--nor monsters. We're simply creatures of privilege: not the first to reach the ideosphere (the cetaceans almost certainly beat us there), but the first talkers with hands, who could fully exploit the new realm's resources. A pioneer species.

Any ecosystem with a pioneer species exploding across it is precarious. For our own survival, we (and "we" means people, not humans) need other species to join us--if only to keep us sane on the journey.

I'm no organizer. I know I can't build the Uplift Institute. But really, there ought to someplace where these issues are discussed, and guidelines worked out, and policies advocated--until the concept of uplift is taken for granted in popular culture.

Aw, c'mon, build it for me. You know you want to.

An aside:

It's always seemed odd to me people on all sides of the genetic engineering debate focus on whether it's right to manipulate other organisms for human benefit. Morally, isn't the only genome we have a right to meddle with precisely the one we're afraid to--our own? Rather than twist other creatures into better servants, why not change our own genes so we need less? Better night vision instead of more lights, more efficient digestion not more food. Smaller people use less resources. Small enough, and wings become possible--goodbye cars! Why should intelligence reshape the world? It's more intelligent for intelligence to reshape itself to fit into the world more easily.

Uplift starts at home.

RELATED TOPICS: animal people (many sublists) - biotechnology - evolution - hands - artificial intelligence - TILT!: alternate Earths, alternate evolutions - were-creatures and shapeshifters - specism and other bigotries - sexy creatures - interspecies love and relationships - See also the full INDEX OF SUBJECTS.

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AHAB: by Wayan; 1994/1/10, a shaman reviews Moby Dick.
When I was a kid I was already a mystic and knew what Captain Ahab was REALLY after, but...
ANIMAL DREAMLETS: by Wayan; 1996/11/20, four dream vignettes
A night of gorilla-guerillas, feminist backlash among the wolves, and hot horse-ballerinas in chorus lines...
ANIMAL SPEECH, ANIMAL ESP: by Wayan; 1997/7/31, from Wayan's journal.
When you really observe animals in language programs it's obvious WE'RE the ones missing a lot...
ANIMAL TRANSFIGURATION: by Edwin Muir; c.1920, a dream of an animal Resurrection
A man with luminous hair leads Edwin out to a field where all the world’s animals gaze at heaven--except one...
BODY MESS: by Wayan; 1980s, ink, 3x5" surreal nondream sketch.
If artists do this with ink, what makes you think genetic engineers will do any better with real life?...
CAUTION: DON'T DO THIS AT HOME
BONOBO AND BEAR: by Wayan, 1999/10/14, a mystic war movie.
The gods of our cave-past and star-future fight over us--using us, of course. After I see the toll it's taking on a bonobo buddy of mine, I decide to bring the war back home, and go gunning for God--BOTH of them...
CAUTION: APES AND EXPLOSIVES DON'T MIX
BRIGHT BEAST, PATIENT BEAST: by Edwin Muir; c.1920, a dream of our primal struggle
Two beasts eternally fight, the proud bright peacock-tailed beast and the sad-eyed, ever-defeated sheepdog of...
CAT-SNAKE: by Wayan; 1993/3/6, a short dream fable.
I glue cat-legs on my snaky friend, despite the warnings of Christians who don't like snakes evolving...
THE CHAPARRAL OF TIME: by Wayan; 2008/10/21, a timetravel dream-poem: Dreamverse #36
I snorkel over the time-reefs to an era of talking animals--but why do I crash on the head of rocker Suzi Quatro?
THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF AN ANT: by Walter de la Mare; 1920s, a tutelary dream.
The book's first two pages showed an ant's awareness, then a human's wider grasp--both mere freckles on reality...
DINO SINGULARITY: by Wayan; 2012/3/30, a paleontological speculation in a dream.
Peering through a spacetime portal, I suspect not all the dinosaurs went extinct--would we spot an ancient Singularity?
DOG ON THE RAMP: by Wayan; 1989/4/6, a dream of love in a time of bias.
My friend Lisadia sneers at a dog-girl's attempts to beautify her starship. I'm shocked--she's openly specist...
CAUTION: SPECISM
DUBIA: by Wayan; summer 2003, a nondream sculpture/prophecy/travelog.
What Earth will look like 1000 years from now, with doubled CO2, flooded coasts and melted poles...
CAUTION: CALLS GEORGE W. BUSH A BIG FAT LIAR
ELBERETH PAUSES: by Wayan; 1989/6/26, a dream on postwar ethics.
After the Lord of the Rings falls, Elbereth herself is sent to heal the land. But she has a troubling neighbor...
GAFTA: by Wayan; 1996/5/9, a pro-sabotage dream.
The aliens offer us a Galactic Free Trade Agreement, but my friends and I think it's a disastrous deal...
CAUTION: MORAL AMBIGUITY
HUNT OF THE UNICORN: by Wayan; 1989/5/18, an overlooked psychic dream.
I marry, just to get into a clannish world where I'm seeking symbiotic unicorns. But I end up hunted too...
ICK! DOGS!: by Wayan; 1990/1/3, a Star Trek dream.
I'm Jean-Luc Picard, and my Enterprise has been taken over by a pack of brilliant, paranoid wolves...
I'M A VESTA, NOT A MAN!: by Wayan; 1980/1/6, a dream of when it's over.
I'm the animal guardian of a deep crater, but when a human girl rejects me, I set out to leave...
CAUTION: ORAL SEX, UNREQUITED LOVE, SPECISM
IN THE SHADOW OF MAN: by Wayan; 850K, 3 illus., 1994/3/4, a dreamfable on needs.
I'm a lab animal who discovers voice software and creates a personal zine, testifying for our rights...
THE LEASH: by Wayan; 1995/6/26, a dreamfable.
Alien abductions upset us--being studied, not greeted as people. But how do we treat animals? Do we create the gap we expect and then observe? That night, I dream one dog on a leash paralyzes a civilization...
LYR: by Wayan; 7MB, 2005, 80 pages w/200+ drawings and maps; a virtual planet
A vast sea-world with 7 times Earth's mass, whose isles are home to at least 19 intelligent species...
CAUTION: CUTE ALIENS, WEIRD SEX CUSTOMS, GODLESS EVOLUTION!
MISFITS ON MARS: by Wayan; 300K, 1986/11/20, an epic dream; the climax of UNICORN TAG, though it can stand alone.
From the punk clubs of Frisco to the Safeways of Si Valley to the vermilion sands of Mars, Silky the were-nightmare fights for the Misfits against every cliche in science fiction...
THE OTTER'S MOM: by Wayan, 171K, a dream-comic (or 12K text version). 1996/5/29; a dream of the future.
A brilliant, orphaned ottercub meets the last Tasmanian Wolf, who makes a hard choice I couldn't. Or did I?
PERISSA: by Wayan; 660K total (15 images); 1997/9/13, a sexy political dream.
When Perissa, an exhibitionistic centaur, bares her body in a crowded Coliseum, she also bares a racist plot...
CAUTION: EXHIBITIONISM, SPECISM
THE PLANETOCOPIA INTERVIEW: David Cole of "Whose Fault is That?" questions Wayan; summer 2009, updated 2012
The roots and reasons and back-stories for the nineteen virtual worlds making up Planetocopia...
THE SEMI-INTELLIGENT ANIMAL PROBLEM: by Wayan; 1986/4/6, a dream.
The army breeds smart animals. Scientists fear they'll upset ecosystems. No one speaks for the creatures...
CAUTION: DIRECT ACTION
SERRANA: by Wayan; 2MB, Oct-Dec 2004, a sculpture/webtour with 60 maps, photos and sketches
A dry little world with many small seas, Serrana has at least six intelligent species and an anarchist culture. It's a tribute to Ursula Le Guin's anarchist utopia, "The Dispossessed", and Kropotkin's theories of biological cooperation...
CAUTION: ANARCHIST POLITICS, ALIEN NUDITY
SLUG ETHICS: by Wayan; 1974/10/7, an undream tale.
A man who wants to love and respect all life has unwanted kitchen guests: a wave of slugs...
SOULS IN THE MUD: by Wayan; 1981/1/14, a thoughtful dream.
I'm being hunted in Reincarnation Swamp, as I wonder if the glut of human bodies creates a soul shortage...
CAUTION: ABSURD THEORY
A SQUID STRATEGY: by Wayan; 1997/10/7, a dream warning.
Giant squid start surfacing at popular beaches and eating people. Not the form of first contact we'd hoped...
CAUTION: YOU ARE LUNCH
TAROT: THE SOLAR REVOLUTION: by Wayan; 42K. Tarot card, 3x5", summer 1979.
The card of revolution! The old towers of strength come down, not through war but obsolescence...
THARN: by Wayan; 8.3MB (45 p, 200+ ill.), 2006, a nondream virtual world: maps, photos, portraits, tours
Tour a rugged, spectacular moon with air and water in deep canyons sheltering a dozen intelligent species
CAUTION: ANARCHISM, NUDITY, SCIENCE
TREFIL, ON SCIENCE: by Wayan; 1994/1/26, a rant on dreamwork as science.
In an oneirophobic society, it's easy to forget that when you do dreamwork, you're doing basic science. No funding, no team, no lab coat? Can't be science! Unless they mistaught us what science is...
12 SWALLOWS, 700 DAUGHTERS: by Wayan; 1972/10/14, a dream poem on compassion; Dreamverse #5
Alchemy demands I kill ten swallows. I refuse! Instead, twelve birds and I fuse and fly over a magic wood...
TWO-HEADED BEAST: by Wayan; 333K total, 12 images, 1997/7/31, a Gothic dream.
In Castle Frankenstein, will Mary Shelley wed Elmer Fudd? His two-headed monster has marital advice...
WINGS by Nancy Price; 1948, two bird-people dreams, one psychic
I have a long chat with two talking songbirds. Next I'm a parrot, living in rainforest. And then the mail comes...
WOLVES EVOLVE: by Wayan, 1983/11/11, a Darwinian dream.
After seeing 'Rear Window', Grace Kelly and I are wolf children in a pack that's quickly evolving into...
CAUTION: VIOLENCE, CHILD SEXUALITY, WOLF-SLANDER


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