Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Voice for the Voiceless

We want to give a "Voice to the Voiceless" seems to be a common rallying cry for movements great and small. From abortion opponents to death row inmates, from abused women to starving children, and in many other places these words are used to tug at heart strings and elevate the speaker's moral standing. These words are meant to suggest unselfish concern on the part of the speaker for those that cannot defend themselves.

I recently heard this phrase used by self proclaimed animal rights advocates connected to the veal issues in front the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board and started thinking. What are those who use this phrase really saying? How exactly does someone know what the voiceless want said? Where do you go to be appointed as a spokesperson for the "voiceless"?

How can we know what the voiceless want said?

I think of my son, Simon. He is eleven years old and struggles with the challenges presented by Down's Syndrome. Not the least of these challenges is a near total lose of the ability to speak clearly enough to be understood. The only people that seem to understand what he says at all are his mother and sister. Because they have spent endless hours caring for him some level of communication exists. They are experts at piecing together the mix of hand signals, sign language, environmental observations, and what passes for Simon's speech because they have immersed themselves in Simon's world. If you don't immerse yourself in his world you will have NO clue what he is talking about. The way mother and sister give a "voice to the voiceless" is to be an expert in "Simon speak". There is no school for this language. Rosetta Stone won't help. You have to dive in and swim. It is the only way.

So, then I extended that thought to being a "voice for the voiceless" livestock. Animals have no known conversational language with humans that I am aware. Dr. Doolittle was an imaginary person with imaginary skills as best I know. With time and attention, we can learn the signals that livestock give off. Our family dog is an example. He signals when he is hungry, wants to go out, someone is at the door and several other things. There is communication at that level. But I at know time could presume to know what that animal is thinking or even if he is thinking. Without language I simply don't know how to tell what he wants said. I can project my ideas and feelings onto him, but there is no assurance I am correct.

The best we can do in being a "voice for the voiceless" livestock is to be an expert in that particular animal. Rosetta Stone won't help. The Ohio State language department doesn't offer a class. To become such an expert we must immerse ourselves in the animal's world to the extent we can figure out from the signals of the environment, body language, and noises are communicating about the animals. This communication becomes very subjective as it is impossible not to project our human emotions onto these animals. But we simply have no way of knowing, that I am aware of, if these projections are correct. Just like with Simon, we must be immersion experts to have any hope of an idea of what is going on in an animal's head but we will never know for sure if we are right.

After I pondered this for a while it hit me. The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is a collection of just that sort of experts, and they have reached out to experts around the globe to broaden their experience base even further. If there is anyone in Ohio qualified to claim the title a "Voice for the Voiceless" it would be the members of the Care Board.

Many people and groups have submitted their thoughts and "interpretations" of what the livestock want said. These groups include farmers, academics, animal lovers, pet owners, politicians, and on and on. At the end of it all the Care Board is the one that has been appointed by the people of Ohio to ultimately be that "Voice of the Voiceless". In Ohio, 2,020,851 citizens voted to create the Care Board and, in effect, be the real modern day Dr. Doolittle and talk to the animals.

All of this is not to overlook the fact that the farmers of the State of Ohio are the ones that are immersed in the daily lives of the livestock and as such are the experts in this field. I have full confidence in their accumulated experience to properly interpret what they see and use that communication to care for the animals well.

Just as I must give extra wieght to my wife and daughter when they interpret for Simon because they are the best expert available. It is my hope that the Care Board will give special wieght to the statements from the experienced farmers who have been commenting. Extra wieght, simply, because the farmer is the greatest immersion expert in these matters that is available.

Thank you for your thoughts

1 comment:

  1. Communication and input is how the Board will know. With Simon I have trouble interpreting his experiences at school...I'm not there. I can guess but without input from his teachers I don't always know what he's trying to tell me. Their input comes from their continuous experiences with Simon...not just unknowledged observation.