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Writing Animals: The Fauna Manifesto

Originally written in November 2014 for the 'Fauna' spoken word event


“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

We share our world with animals, and they outnumbered us by millions.

We idolise animals, we glorify animals, we ridicule a

nimals, we destroy animals.

We are afraid of some, enamoured of others, and largely indifferent to the rest.

We make spaces for them. We protect ecosystems, we enshrine parklands, we let nature be nature, we fight (some) extinctions.

We put animals in enclosures, large and small, held for ‘conservation’, entertainment or obsessive procreation.

Some we love, some we hate, some we eat.

We hate abattoirs, but we love meat.

For some we make a special place in our homes. Through the alchemy of domestication, we turn a wild creature into a tamed ornament, expected to behave, expected to be grateful, expected to reciprocate love.

But how much of a cat is domestic, and how much is still feral?

How much of a dog is tamed and how much is wild?

How much of a rabbit is pet, and how much is still animal?

Who buys a kitten and expects a Furby?

Who decides what belongs and what doesn’t?

Who put the ‘s’ in ‘pest’?

In stories, animals struggle to rise beyond the mountain of metaphor, or the over the abyss of anthropomorphisation. Dogs become heroes, sharks become villains, apes conquer, lions become kings. Animals die to show there is death, animals live to be tamed, animals lend their skins to cloak human anxieties and in return get nothing but lazy cliché and false character.

Reduced to symbols to suit our narrative needs, have we lost the essence of an animal? Did we ever know it in the first place?

Mute beyond basic farmyard bleats, animals are cursed to a life of misunderstanding and being misunderstood. We put wild creatures into tiny boxes to package them around our narrativised minds, and then complain when they break free or die trying.

We demonise the inconvenient, condemn the naive, and dismiss the unimportant.

And, when it suits us, we magnify the magnificence and exaggerate the essence to make our world seem rich, unique and important, just in case we forget our own insignificance.

We forget our animal status, we suppress it. We are suspicious of our instincts and we make taboos of our urges, wary and ashamed of the beastliness of our own selves.

And for that, we shift the blame to the beasts. We send them to that wild uncanny valley and lock them down.

We make a tiny ark inside our minds and in it we put all animals, two by two.

How much of a human is still animal? More than we’d care to admit?

What do animals think of us? Nothing? Is that too scary to admit?

Some we name, some we blame, some we game.

We hate cruelty, but we love fame.

We need to reclaim our fauna. We need to let animals reclaim themselves. We need to accept that we misunderstand and are misunderstood, and that chasm can never be bridged.

We will never learn the language of a lion, nor should we. Animals are not our toys. Animals are not our possessions. Animals are not our friends. We need to re-tell the stories of our fauna.

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