I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons why human beings haven’t yet figured out how to carry on a conversation with bottlenosed porpoises, African gray parrots, et al. in their own language is quite simply that we’re terrified of what they might say to us—not least because it’s entirely possible that they’d be right...
- Darwin's Casino - The Archdruid Report
John Michael Greer’s perhaps whimsical (but no less possibly true) observation above set me to thinking about the dynamic he is illustrating here.
What he is most assuredly referencing is the relentless abuse that we inflict upon non-human species. In the thought experiment that it evokes, I can easily see a well-meaning scientist breaking the code of gray parrot language and, upon hearing the first few coherent phrases, shrinking back in horror at the forthcoming indictments and canceling the whole experiment.
What makes this even more realistic an outcome is made clear by the imbalances of communication that exist within our own species - inter-cultural or so-called inter-“racial.”
It is pretty clear to most of us that America doesn’t like to talk about “race.” More clearly, America doesn’t like to think about race. Even more clearly, White America doesn’t like to think about race.
Black America doesn’t have that choice. Because even though White America doesn’t like to think or talk about race, ironically it is shouting loudly and clearly on the issue 24/7, via the habits and customs resulting from the systemic imbalance of power in the country.
In other words, White America is always in Black America’s face... and while some Whites who perversely claim victim-status feel like they’re the ones being “faced” (e.g., affirmative action,) the truth is that the systemic imbalance of power in this country makes it reflexively - nearly un-noticeably - easy to completely ignore the voices of Black America.
Black America has no such luxury.
But this isn’t all, ahem, black and white. This is about prevailing cultures lording it over minority cultures. Going back to the language analogy, it is easy for those who benefit from the prevailing power dynamic to be lazy and ignore the voices of those who do not have their hands on the levers of power. And, if the the prevailing culture is not kind to the other cultures, it is in their best interest to ignore those voices (the recriminations and the guilt,) which always goes further and manifests as marginalization, which further feeds back into the dynamic, reinforcing the problem.
This applies to classes as well - the old 1% vs. 99% deal. We know who is ignoring who here, and which of the two have no choice but to deal with the noise of the other.
Demographics shift, however.
America is getting “browner.” The 99% are getting pretty fucking restless, too.
This is a good thing - but transitions of this kind can be more or less tempestuous (and downright violent) depending on the choices made by the participants. Actually, no - choices made by the prevailing culture or class. These choices are primarily choices of communication, of hearing voices.
Minority cultures, on the one hand, and disenfranchised classes, on the other, already speak loudly and clearly on the state of affairs. It is those who have the luxury to ignore those voices who make the mistake to do so.
If we do not shrink away from the voice of the gray parrot and hear her out, we have a chance of redeeming ourselves vis. the parrot population before they get their talons on the levers of power.
That may be pushing the metaphor a bit too far - but we are not talking about parrots here.