Let me ask you two questions:
1. Are you a parent with children that were young in the last decade?
2. Are you a science fiction fan?
If you answered yes to both questions (1), then I guarantee you that there is something that has been gnawing at your subconscious, tearing away at your concept of reality. Have you been cranky with a co-worker lately? Finding some of the habits of your better half or close friends irritating? Catching yourself snarling back at the local cat who everyone says is an institution, providing the neighbourhood with a delightful dash of much needed character, but whom you suspect is actually an entity of pure evil hell bent on world destruction?
If all this sounds familiar then you, like me, have been snared by the Peppa Pig syndrome (2).
If you’ve hung around sci-fi for a while, you’d be familiar with the trope of “uplifting” animals to sapient status (3). Clearly people that write children’s television are, because it seems like every second kids TV show has talking animals in it. Given we don’t have talking animals now, and given these shows don’t feature any people, I can only assume that they are set in some far-future world where the human race has died out.
But here is the first of my gripes – these shows seldom put any effort into basic world building. How did the human race die out? Some kind of catastrophe? External, or generated ourselves? What mechanism was used by animals to gain sentience? Did humanity perform the uplift? The operation of evolution over millions of years? Some freak combination of mutating viruses and the alignment of planets?
And then there is the question of how these animals built the society they are living in. Most of the represented species lack opposable thumbs, making it hard to see how they developed the toolset to create the worlds they live in. Further, their civil structures invariably seem to be modelled on human-equivalent societies, which implies that they’ve got access to records of the human civilisation that came before them. Have they maintained some semblance of our society out of a sense of misguided loyalty to their creators? Or did they find a cache of television programs from our time which they used as a template for creating their own community? Perhaps they turned in desperation to the human example when recovering from some kind of inter-species war that threatened to annihilate them all (4). Even to the extent of primarily speaking English as the linga-fraca of these new worlds (presumably everyone speaks their own language – Lionish, Gazellish etc but learns English from an early age to allow inter-species communication).
And who decided which animals were uplifted? There seem to be some pretty arbitrary decisions made in that arena, with breathtakingly dubious ethics. What makes pigs inherently more sentience-worthy than spiders? What’s with the subjugation of goldfish? These selections, they haunt me. Are the non-uplifted animals some kind of under-class? Was it our decisions about who got uplifted that caused their persecution? And worst of all, was “cuteness” our primary selection criterion? Oh, humanity. We have so much to answer for.
Modern science tells us that intelligence is a thin veil holding back a seething mass of primeval emotions and instincts. These impulses threaten to tear groups of humans apart, even as our higher consciousness attempts to pull us together. And that’s when we have a fundamentally compatible sub-conscious infrastructure. Imagine a world where even the base instincts of the sapient beings were in stark opposition. Predator vs prey, mammal vs reptile, ground vs air. And this points to a darker issue. Did we do more than provide intelligence? Did we alter these creatures more fundamentally, to bring their sub-conscious drives into alignment? Is the crocodile no longer a predator? The possum-rat no longer prey? Has peace been bought at the price of individuality and diversity?
And were those changes also made at a biological level? At times I find myself consumed by concerns of food security in this animal utopia. Some of the uplifted creatures are carnivores, whose systems would not be able to tolerate a plant-based diet. Either there is a very disturbing underbelly of activity, where carnivorous creatures continue to eat their historical prey even when those animals are themselves sapient, or basic biology has been changed to tolerate either non-sapient creatures or non-animal food. Perhaps these societies have invented meat-substitutes, but that would require a level of technology beyond our own.
Can I answer all these questions? Clearly not. But next time you sit down with your little munchkins and you hear the opening strains of their favourite theme songs, try to hold onto your lunch as your stomach heaves in response to your reflections of what we are responsible for.
The behaviour that you watch as quality children’s entertainment is the behaviour you accept. At least have the common decency to be sickened by what you have done.
(1) If you answered yes to question 1, but not question 2, then I suspect you’ve landed on the wrong blog. If you answered yes to question 2 but not question 1, then you’re probably on the right blog but this may not be the article for you. Or who knows, it could be exactly the article for you. I mean, I don’t know you. Categorising what you may or may not like based on two questions is a bit rich. You have every right to be offended. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the post expressing your righteous indignation.
If you answered no to both questions, then get you’re probably my mum (the only older, non-SF person likely to be looking at this blog). Hi Mum!
(2) Or at least some of it. Look, if I had to guess I’d say that if approximately 30% of it or more sounds familiar then you’ve probably been snared.
(3) Like being sapient is all that. When is the last time you saw a budgerigar that was worried about credit card debt? Or a porpoise that had alienated its friendship circles by a misjudged social media post? I could go on, but this article isn’t designed to question the whole “sapient = good” premise of uplift.
But someone should.
(4) In which case more fool them. Have you looked at human society lately? Not example a good model to base yourself on. Still, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe they take the good bits, and modify the rest.