Consider our relationship with cattle*. They are born and raised in captivity, to live a life of relative ease**, the end of which comes in the form of a bullet to the brain or a knife to the throat*** (I won't pretend that this is a quick, painless death, but for the purposes of this post, I'm not going to go into the ethics of the death itself). Following such a death, many of them are then chopped up, vacuum sealed, and frozen in preparation for later consumption. They are either retrieved by the previous owner, or sold to another member of the human species, in part or whole.
Where this process gets interesting, at least to my mind, is in the interaction between the farmers and the cattle. There is a famous, though apparently too obscure to show up on google, question that many throughout history have pondered: What can I say that will stop [them] in their tracks when they come to take me away. 'Them' referring to any body of people or any organization that may have a motivation to 'take me away', presumably to a fate I do not desire.
In that vein, while enjoying a sirloin from a cow that had broken her leg(and summarily executed, butchered, and stowed in the freezer), I thought to myself, "what would I say if a more powerful life form came along and shifted the food chain down a link, putting myself in the place of cattle?" That is to say, what if earth were taken over by a life form that is as advanced of us as we are to cattle, and began treating us as we do cattle. Our men, the vast majority, raised simply for consumption, a select few kept alive longer for selective breeding. Our women selectively bred for their production of breast milk, the health of their babies, and their capacity for domestication (a handful in and of itself, that last). The children are whisked from the birth canal to another location, where they are raised with other such children, and supplied with artificial sustenance. When men reach the age of 15-18, if not ideal studs, or if studs are already plentiful, they are killed, butchered, vacuum packed, and either retrieved by the owner or sold, for consumption either way. Some are killed even younger, to satisfy the whims of those who prefer the most tender of human flesh. Studs who have reared their last child, or women who show a decline in milk production following a number of children, are also killed, butchered, vacuum packed, and either sold or retrieved.
Given this state of affairs, the question I alluded to in the beginning becomes more than an academic parlor game. Finding the answer to the question is then a matter of urgency, and our success could determine the lives of future generations for a thousand years or longer. Since we have the capacity to communicate, to reflect, to recognize and appreciate freedom, to have desires and goals and ambitions with meaning to our lives, there is no need to argue that we would find this situation in dire need of remedy.
Say you are given the unique privilege of making the case for human sovereignty before the leader of this advanced race, and that somehow you are made able to communicate clearly with them. You have one opportunity to say whatever it is you think will "stop them in their tracks when they come to take you away". What would you say?
I have given this some thought, and asked a few other people. I don't know as though I have a fullproof answer for this dilemma, but I think I have the only strategy that has any chance of success(though it does depend heavily on the audience). Before I express my idea, let me take you through some of the ideas I have already considered and rejected:
1. The first thought that sprung into my mind was an appeal to special-ness, something most religious people would begin, and presumably end, at for their choice. It would go something like, "God(or allah/thor/etc.) made human beings specially, out of God-stuff." This would, the arguer thinks, convince the advanced race by threatening them with the wrath of our protector. I think this would fail utterly, as there is a pretty good chance they would either have rejected such supernatural mumbo-jumbo millenia ago, or have their own notions of ego-centrism that belie such a claim on our behalf.
2. The second would be an appeal to basic morality; this sort of action isn't proper for one species to engage in upon another. If, as is assumed, the species being petition is sufficiently advanced, the easiest response would be a gesture towards our raising of cattle. Alternatively, if they have their own religious notions, they could just claim we lack souls (or whatever aether substance they feel no other species has). That brings me to the runner up for best response:
3. This third option would be an appeal to our capacities to think rationally, to be self-aware, and all the things that distinguish the human species from our cousins in the animal kingdom; and more importantly, the things that should engender a sort of kinship with the advanced race (i.e. appeal to shared special-ness). I don't think this would be compelling to them if the gap is substantial enough that they can easily overpower and domesticate our entire species. I also think it would suffer from the second objection in #2.
That brings me to my idea for best response. In such a situation, I would simply ask them the very question that plagues me. I would ask them, "If you found yourself in my position, what would you(as me) say to you(more advanced species than yourself), in order to extricate your species from this bondage?" This sounds like something Socrates would come up with(or has, I haven't read much of Plato), or at least would be in keeping with his style. I think any convincing response that they could give would essentially do my work for me, and an inability to respond adequately would highlight a conflict between their actions and rational reasoning.
What do you think?
*I am not saying anything substantial about our current (or, plausibly, future) relationship with cattle. I have no concrete opinions as of yet in regards this, and so I am hoping no one reads too much into my post. I think that the differences between humans and cows are significant enough, in our capacity for rational though and introspection, to set us apart, at least for the sake of argument. Moreover, since the domesticated cow(that being, afaik, the only cows still around) is without the selective pressures that engineered(sorry Prof. Dawkins) our evolution towards higher mental processes, I don't find it plausible that cows will develop these capacities in the future, and therefore this difference will remain, and remain salutary.
**I am not going to entertain a discussion of what freedom might mean, or whether it has a meaning, for cows. This is an interesting question, but not relevant to this post.
***There is no reason to suppose that some afterlife awaits cows, or that they suffer or experience anything following the first sentence of the paragraph containing this reference. This may be a controversial claim in some circles, but this is an uninteresting side-note, irrelevant to the main thrust of my post.