Shiplog #8, 01 Apr 2021

Living together on a spaceship

For Simone, thanks for a very nice request

This shiplog is about how humans live together with animals on spaceship Earth. Since the last shiplog our spaceship has journeyed 33 million kilometers in the direction of the G Cloud, a destination reached in 10000 years. How will humans then, travelling through the G Cloud, view humans today and their relationship with animals? Or better, step for a moment outside your human mind and imagine you are a nice-looking, super-friendly, highly intelligent extraterrestial with beautiful eyes on another far away planet eyeing down at us humans on Earth. How will you then view the relationship between humans and animals? Thanks to fellow shipmate Simone, your reporter performed this thought-experiment on himself.

My pretty extraterrestrial eyes would see that in today’s society human animals have several main classes of relationships with their fellow animals: pets, working animals, livestock, prey and co-shipmates. A pet is a companion animal kept primarily for a human’s company or entertainment. A working animal is a non-human animal, usually domesticated, that is kept by humans and trained to perform tasks for humans. Livestock is commonly defined as domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting for human consumption or for producing commodities such as eggs, milk, fur, leather. Prey animals are at one end of the predation relationship: “the biological interaction where one organism, the predator, kills and eats another organism”. Finally, my pretty extraterrestrial eyes would classify co-shipmates as those animals which are commonly viewed by humans as having no particular purpose for human shipmates.

My pretty extraterrestrial eyes would look a bit further back and see that for the largest part of homo sapiens’ 300 000 year history, only the last two classes of relationships were populated: prey and co-shipmates. Then, around 40000 years ago it appears that dogs were the first to be befriended by us as pets in the sever winters of the last Ice Age. Starting around 10000 years ago we added the classes of working animals and livestock. It was a partnership in which domesticated animals were cared for and kept safe from their predators. In return, humans received milk, eggs, wool, fertilizer, transport, meat, leather, plow traction and military assault vehicles (Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, page 158). Domestication comes from the Latin domesticus, ‘belonging to the house’. It is defined as “a sustained multi-generational, mutualistic relationship in which one organism assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another organism in order to secure a more predictable supply of a resource of interest, and through which the partner organism gains advantage over individuals that remain outside this relationship, thereby benefitting and often increasing the fitness of both the domesticator and the target domesticate”. My pretty extraterrestrial mouth would start smiling upon reading this definition. It would seem to me a funny version of what humans call marriage. It would seem to me a mixed-race marriage: humans with animals. However, this human-animal marriage differs from human-human marriage in that the partnering is done without pledging marriage vows, without mutual consent and without writing down a contract. In other words, this marriage positions animals inside the human “household” but outside their legal system for citizens.

As it so happens my pretty extraterrestrial eye would fall on the Dutch word for society: samenleving, literally together-living. The word points to the web of formal and informal social relationships between all human citizens that make up a society. I think my pretty extraterrestrial brain would fail to understand why the together-living was not for all life living together on the spaceship. I think my pretty eyes would fail to see that invisible line that human animals draw to separate themselves from non-human animals. Thus the extraterrestrial in me would start counting each animal as one citizen, one full member of society.

How many citizens would such society have in the Netherlands? The Netherlands had order 27 milion pets in 2020 (including over 13 million mammals). The livestock in 2018 comprised almost 4 million cow cattle, over 800000 sheep, close to 600000 goats, 12.5 million pigs, and over 100 million chickens in 2020. With about 17.5 million human animals in 2021 the humans would consititute 10% of the Dutch citizens by counting only each animal that appeared purposeful to humans.

Being a very friendly extraterrestrial I would listen to human arguments that human citizen votes would count ten times more than the votes of any of the non-human citizens in this new society and hence its parliament. That would give human politicians 50 of the 100 parliamentary seats.

Being a very friendly extraterrestrial I would also listen to the politicians sitting in the other 50 seats. These non-human politicians would point out how the human party in the house consumes the non-human party. In 2020 the Dutch humans prepared for consumption over 2 millions cows (of which 75% were minors), over 16.5 millions pigs, close to 700000 sheeps (again 75% were minors), and close to 600 million chicks (…hey these did not even appear in the citizen count….). I’m not sure whether the super-friendly, super-intelligent extraterrestrial in me would find it completely unreasonable that the non-human party was screaming about concentration camps instead of bio-friendly farms and mass-murder instead of green consumption. Should humans listen to the friendly extraterrestrial advice to add ASAP a chapter to the Operating Manual of Spaceship Earth? A chapter that explains how to technically solve this issue in 10000 years. So that it ensures that all life on the ship is nicely fed without resorting to mass murder by the time the ship enters the G Cloud.

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