Monday, October 09, 2006

Yeb Yeb Yeb Yeb Yeb Yeb Yeb Yeb

A very shocking and moving article in this past weekend's New York Times magazine section on the plight of elephants in the world can be found here: An Elephant Crackup?

In short, Eve Abe, a wildlife expert who grew up in Uganda, points out parallels between the way that wars and oppression have wreaked havoc with human society in her home country, and the way that poaching and culling have wreaked havoc with the elephant... society? that lives among them.
“I started looking again at what has happened among the Acholi and the elephants,” Abe told me. “I saw that it is an absolute coincidence between the two. You know we used to have villages. We still don’t have villages. There are over 200 displaced people’s camps in present-day northern Uganda. Everybody lives now within these camps, and there are no more elders. The elders were systematically eliminated. The first batch of elimination was during Amin’s time, and that set the stage for the later destruction of northern Uganda. We are among the lucky few, because my mom and dad managed to escape. But the families there are just broken. I know many of them. Displaced people are living in our home now. My mother said let them have it. All these kids who have grown up with their parents killed — no fathers, no mothers, only children looking after them. They don’t go to schools. They have no schools, no hospitals. No infrastructure. They form these roaming, violent, destructive bands. It’s the same thing that happens with the elephants. Just like the male war orphans, they are wild, completely lost.”

Are human beings by definition the only sentient species on the planet? In the Universe? Do our spirits go up to Heaven, whereas all other animals' spirits go down into the Earth? Could Judaism handle elephants that can think? Whales that can sing? Chimpanzees that can reason? What about aliens? Would a sentient alien race — or uplifted Earthling species — count as beney adam/noahh or animals? Could they convert to Judaism... and make kiddush for humans? Could God have a brit contract with a 'chosen people' of an alien race? Maybe every sentient species has a Torah of it's own? Could they be motzi’ me in kiddush? How would we distinguish the "Yahadut" of a silicon-based aquatic radially-symmetric species that communicates by pheromones, from a false SBARSSTCBP religion, if the Torah is optimized for Homo sapiens sapiens? And what about Neanderthals?

Is the neshama an existential something on its own, or is it simply the state of being sapient/sentient? Is it something we evolved according to God's Laws of Nature, or did we have to be handed it on a silver sneeze? Is speculative fiction literature a physical manifestation of the selfish inclination to make me think of these questions?

At least we know the answer to the last question is "no"...

19 Comments:

Blogger Rare Find said...

I'll be honest, I couldn't really tell if this was serious or not (sorry). But the truth is I have thought a lot about humans and animals and societies and religion, etc. I have no answers. But, provided this is serious, at least I know I'm not the only crazy one who thinks about such weird things...

10/09/2006 8:46 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

listen kosher animals are for eating. Non-kosher ones are for wanting to eat, but not eating.

Either way, whether they think or not, sentient or not, they are ours to control. So all that is important is that we eat the kosher ones, and stare at the treif ones and say "yum, too bad you aren't kosher, because you look tasty". Oh yeah, we should probably be nice to the ones that we aren't eating. You know, that whole tzaar baalei chaim thing gets Hashem angry.

EAT THE ANIMALS!!

Most importantly, at least kosher food can't convert because then we can't eat it, and I like eating them too much to let it happen. As for to an octopus ger for example, well it could be interesting. To bad he couldn't be a cohen, think of how efficient he'd be. He could do the whole avodah by himself all at once.

10/09/2006 9:08 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Rare:

Unlike PMYF, I actually am being serious! Also glad to see there are other people out there thinking about this.

PMYF:

Wasn't there a Futurama episode about that?

10/10/2006 11:00 AM  
Anonymous pymf said...

what you don't understand is that I am being serious. animals can't be treated like people, Hashem made us different for a reason.

10/10/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

PMYF:

But what if animals became like people? Or what if we encounter an alien race that has all the qualities we do?

Or are you claiming that by definition that could never happen?

10/10/2006 3:50 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

even if that did all happen, the human-like animals or aliens would still be too different. Judaism is a human religion. We have to be nice to everything else, but everything else was given to humanity to use. even if something was close to us intelligence wise or whatnot, it still is an animal and has no free will. So if you want to recategorize such animals, then do it. but remember we are by definition too different from them for it to matter, and an animal is an animal. if it feels pain more, then don't hurt it. if it doesn't like to be verbally abused then don't do it, but don't think that it can count in a minyan or say kiddish for other people. and if a species kosher, intelligent and sentient, then just don't eat one in from of another of it species, simple respect, but do eat it since thats what it is there for.

10/10/2006 5:11 PM  
Anonymous brother aharon said...

So you honestly believe that the entire purpose of animal life is to lie on our dinner plates, and that supposing there were a creature -- not Homo spaiens but still possessing a "ruach memalela" allowing it to speak, feel, and reason -- that it would be perfectly fine to shecht it and eat it, as long as you didn't hurt the feelings of its friends?

10/10/2006 6:08 PM  
Blogger Elie said...

This is one of my favorite topics to think about. Partly because my dad wrote several articles on it for the AOJS journal back in the 60s, and partly it's my own love of science fiction.

I don't know about terrestrial animals - I think by definition we are halachically considered the only sentient species on earth. The gemara (I'll look up the source at home) discusses the case of human-looking offspring of animals and vice versa, and concludes that human status follows human parentage. Bujt this leaves open the question of whether human manufacture can substitute for human parentage - i.e., a golem, or its modern equivalent, an intelligent computer/robot.

As for sentient aliens, I firmly believe they exist, though the speed of light is probably a barrier to us ever meeting. But I find it impossible to believe that God would create (an estimated) hundreds of millions of planets in the universe that are capable of supporting life, and only put life on one of them. The Torah teaches to follow in God's ways, and tells us not to waste. But such a vast universe with only one populated planet would be a waste of unimaginable proportions. No way.

10/11/2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Elie:

Very interesting point about the 'waste of space'... a teacher of mine in high school was of the opinion that there must not be sentient life on another planet, because "God wouldn't create a world without Torah" — assuming, seemingly, that God wouldn't give an alien species their own Torah.

10/11/2006 1:24 PM  
Blogger Elie said...

Of course he would give them their equivalent of the Torah. It would obviously be quite different than ours, but would fulfill the same role in their society as Torah fulfills for ours.

I can see where a yeshivish hashkafa would find this concept untenable. Lucky for me I never had a yeshivish hashkafa.

10/11/2006 1:28 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

just out of curiosity, why would you assume Hashem would give them an equivalent to the torah? though I guess it isn't impossible, it seems to be against my pmy(progressively more yeshivish) hashkafah, I guess monsey does that to people

oh, as to whether I really think the purpose of all animal life is food, they can be for other types of enjoyment too(companionship, beauty) and also for mitzvos like the holy bbq called pesach and sending away the mother bird ..., but they are created as a tool. But, I am crazy, so its ok.

10/11/2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Why would aliens _not_ get an equivalent to Torah? (Granted, my idea of 'equivalent' may be more relaxed than your 'equivalent'.)

And BTW, how many "Wandering Stars" fans do we have out here?

10/11/2006 10:56 PM  
Anonymous brother aharon said...

I think that we can safely assume that everything that is created (including animals) was created for a purpose, for some kind of use, or to reach some type of goal. But those goals are God's, not ours.

God allowed people to eat animals and otherwise use the natural world (and commanded us to do so in many mitsvot -- korbanot, arba minim, brit milah, etc.) but I don't see an indication in Judaism that we are meant to feel a sense of entitlement or easy assumption that the value in what's around us is determine by what we want from it. Instead, "la-hashem ha-aretz umeloah" like it says in Tanach and the Siddur. Midrashically, every blade of grass sings Hallel (even before it becomes cow food and the cow becomes a burger you make a bracha over). I wish I could remember the name of the member of Chazal in the Gemara who would never even pick a flower while walking because he weighed his enjoyment against the value that everythign created has just for being created. Yeshayah's vision of the Messianic Universe isn't one where we all get what we want; it's where there is peace and wholesomeness shared by all living creatures, for instance the wolf and the lamb sleeping together.

10/12/2006 12:01 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

Though I agree that they are created for Hashem's goal, much have what I've learned has lead me to believe that His goal is to have us use nature to serve Him. Example, the second rashi on parshas bereishis(which is a midrash from bereishis rabbah) says Hashem created the world for reishis, then he goes on show that reishis means the torah, yisrael and a few mitzvahs. But, he emphasizes torah and yisrael over all else. Now, you might think that this should lead me to think that even non-jews were created for the use of the jews, but clearly the torah is for them too since they themselves have mitzvos in the torah.
Also, the mesilas yesharim brings down the idea that the purpose of creation was to enable Hashem to grant s'char to humanity. If that is the case everything else is just extra, thus suggesting that the other stuff is just a mechanism for those mitzvos that are the purpose of creation.

As to midrash you cited about the grass, noone have I seen that the praising was the primary reason for its existance, rather it seems to me that it is something that it does as a gratitude while itswaiting to be uplifted more by humanity. And the vision of Yeshayah, sadly I don't know NaCH very well at all, but I do that in that ideal state described there is talking about everything recognizing Hashem fully, not getting what we want. But that doesn't contradict the idea it was created for man's use anyway. I don't mean to say that everything is made for humanity to abuse it, but rather to use it as a tool of Avodas Hashem.

10/12/2006 4:59 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

anyway, this breaks down to a difference between us that came out between us in college: you love hippies and I love to set them on fire

10/12/2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

no two hippies are not on fire?

10/12/2006 10:09 PM  
Anonymous pmyf said...

YAY Homestarrunner

10/12/2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Yeb = "yêbh" (Elephantopolis, or something like that, in Egypt, where that Jewish colony was in Bajis Schejni times?)

10/16/2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Mar:

EXACTLY!
It also sounds like a hypothetical alien pop/grunt-sounding language (think Muppets)

10/16/2006 11:32 AM  

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