A device was recently invented which instantly translates the language of chickens into human languages, like English, and vice versa. The following is the transcript of a conversation between myself, Lee Solomon, and Vishnu, a chicken, which was held using my newly-purchased device.
LS: Testing, testing.
V: I got that.
LS: Okay, me too. We’re good. [Clears throat.] This is Lee Solomon speaking with, with my friend here… For the record, can you please state your name and species?
V: I’m Vishnu, I’m a chicken, Michigan-born and raised, and I’m 25 years old. In chicken years.
LS: Wow! Me too! What a coincidence. That I’m 25, and from Michigan, that is, not…that…I’m a chicken.
V: Right. Ha.
LS: Say, isn’t Vishnu a boy’s name?
LS: Oh…Okay, anyway, let’s get started. I have a few questions lined up, but whatever you feel like discussing, let’s just go with it.
LS: I hope this isn’t too predictable, but it needs to be asked. You are aware that I technically bought you from a chicken farm, right? [V nods.] And how do you feel about this?
V: Pretty horrible. I’m sure you can imagine how horrible you might feel if your life was a commodity, especially given your interest in human trafficking. It’s the same concept.
LS: Hm, yes, I suppose it is. But humans have had a long relationship with many domesticated animals, including dogs, sheep, and cattle, going back thousands of years. Would you say these relationships are symbiotic?
V: No, because they are not entered into mutually, but are assumed. By humans. Even now that we have a voice, chickens are not being asked for their consenting participation in their own domestication. That participation is still being assumed, because humans don’t want to hear what we have to say.
LS: Mm. So you don’t see the chicken-human relationship as mutually beneficial?
V: That is not the point. A marriage can be mutually beneficial even if it’s arranged, but that doesn’t make it consenting. Whether or not “real” [makes quotation motion with wings] symbiosis is occurring is secondary. What’s missing is consent.
LS: Okay…Okay, my next question is even more complicated. Now let’s say I want to enter into a mutually beneficial, consensual relationship with you. I will agree to– [V interrupts.]
V: Wait, wait; aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves?
V: You paid for me, remember? So that makes you, like, my slave master. Before we can even begin to use words like “mutual” and “consensual”, you need to acknowledge the illegitimacy of your action of purchasing me, and denounce your superior status. Then we can actually get somewhere. [Murmuring, background noise.]
LS: [Nodding.] Ah, all right, all right, you’re making sense… So, I acknowledge my “master” status as false, that it arises from my privileged position within a social hierarchy, and not from some inherent or “natural” superiority as a Homo sapien. And, although we may be trapped inside this human-created hierarchy, I want this relationship– you and me– to exist outside of that, on the same level.
V: Okay, well, that last bit might be a bit too unrealistic, [both talking at once] but this is a good starting point–
LS: Wait, why is that, why is that unrealistic?
V: Because we would need to have a dialogue in which we rethink what it means to be human, what it means to be chicken, what it means to think, what it means to be alive–
LS: I see…I see. All right. Let’s go on.
V: [Scratching on the couch cushion.] So you want to enter into a relationship with me.
LS: Yes, and in that vein I agree to provide food for you, aah, shelter, protection from predators…
V: And in return you’re asking…?
LS: I’m asking for your consent to consume your body for sustenance after you’ve passed on.
V: You want to eat me after I’m dead.
LS: See, I went to such effort to phrase it so nicely, and– [both talking at once.]
V: Yeah, well, I don’t usually care for niceties. [Smiling.] You know that I may die from disease, in which case my body would be unsafe for, for consumption.
LS: [Shrugging.] That’s a possibility.
V: You’re also aware that people don’t often eat old chickens, because we just don’t taste that good after we get on in years.
LS: I’m more concerned about caloric intake than flavor quality.
V: The other problem I see– well, let me ask you this: are you an organ donor?
LS: Yes, I think my organs should be harvested, but I really want my body to be donated to science. For instance, to a medical school for use in the practice of autopsy. [Laughs.] I’d rather not be “wasted” [makes quotation motion with hands], you know. I mean, I’ll be dead, so I won’t care– I just hope my body is used in the best possible way.
V: [Nodding.] Well, you must be aware that some people are morally– religiously– opposed to the, to what they see as the desecration of a body? Of a human body.
V: You think chickens aren’t like that?
LS: Oh, I…Well it never occurred to me before.
V: [Clucking.] Obviously. Well, I’m okay with you eating my body after I die. But for the record, something to keep in mind for the future, not all chickens are the same, hold the same beliefs.
LS: Oh, no, of course not.
V: Yeah, so, it seems to me like you’re getting the shorter end of this stick. You provide me food, water, shelter, protection– can we add entertainment? I saw part of an episode of “How It’s Made” once; I’d really like a TV.
LS: Well, there is, there is one other thing… I mean, sure, of course, TV. Um, so the other thing is…
V: Is what.
LS: Is…[both talking at once.] I’m just, well, it’s–
V: Are you gonna make me say it? Are you gonna make me say it?
LS: It– [Pause.]
LS: Yeah, all right, eggs. [silence for several more seconds.]
V: What if I don’t want you to eat my babies.
LS: Well technically they won’t be babies– [both talking at once] you would need, you would need–
V: Are you saying, you’re going to deny me the right to reproduce?
LS: That would require me to buy– I’m sorry, that would mean we’d have to find a rooster, you know, and…
V: And who are you to decide when life begins? Just because my eggs aren’t fertilized doesn’t mean they don’t carry the potential for life. [Silence for several seconds.] As it happens, I agree with you; I don’t think an unfertilized egg is “alive” [makes quotation gesture with wings], and I don’t think that just because I have a fertilized egg means I have to keep it. [Stares up at the ceiling.] Listen to me, I’m speaking in the language of the Masters! [Laughs.]
LS: I take your point.
V: You look upset.
LS: I’m not.
V: You sure look upset. [Both talking at once.] You look, really, you look upset.
LS: I’m– I’m not– I’m, okay, yeah! [Slaps the side of the chair.] I’m…I’m upset!
V: What are you upset about.
LS: I’m…I guess this is all really overwhelming. [Takes a deep breath and then releases it.] Please, continue.
V: I think what it comes down to is, are you prepared to sell me one of your ova?
V: Would you sell me one of your ova?
LS: Ye—yeah, I think I would.
V: Would you give one to me?
LS: Well, we don’t really know each other that well…
V: But you want me to give you– [both talking at once] you want me to give you one of mine, several, so you can eat them?
LS: You brought it– you brought it up! [Pause.] You brought it up.
V: I just said what you couldn’t.
LS: So…Okay. Eggs are off the table.
V: I didn’t say– [interrupted by LS.]
LS: Eggs are off the table.
V: Okay, eggs are off the table. Literally. Haha. [Flutters wings, settles again.]
LS: Wow, damn, I never though one day I might be eating chicken, but not eggs. [Silence for several seconds.]
V: You might be eating eggs. Everyone feels differently about their bodies. I’m okay, actually, with my unwanted eggs being eaten, but I would like to be appropriately compensated for them. [Silence for several seconds.] You look upset again. [Pause.] I’m guessing this is not how you imagined this conversation going down.
LS: Uhm…[Rubs face.] Well god, I never had to think about all this stuff before! I mean, not like this.
V: Why not? I mean, take this as a for-instance: the FBI recently changed its definition of rape to a broader one, of which I’m sure you’re aware.
LS: [Nodding.] A step in the right direction.
V: Sexually touching an unconscious person is considered a violation of their body. They do not have the ability to consent if they are unconscious. Anyone who does not have the ability to clear communicate– because they are unconscious, intoxicated, mute, cognitively impaired, whatever– cannot give consent. So, before this device [gesturing to the translation machine], all kinds of things were– are still! Are still being done to chickens without their consent. And you can have the same dialogue about dogs, and sheep, and cattle, and pigs, and fish, and animals kept as pets, animals kept and bred for commercial usage, animals used for experimentation…
LS: Kept in zoos…
V: Exactly. [Several seconds of silence.] Exactly. [Pause.] It’s going to be a long road to change.
LS: It’s a struggle. I see myself as an ally in that struggle– [interrupted by V.]
V: And while I think you’re moving in the right direction, you really have a long ways to go, in terms of self-reflection, reassessing your values, your definitions, rethinking reality…
LS: I think so… I think so….
[Eng of transcript.]