- On April 17, 2017
Over a decades-long career, Ralph Nader has changed the debate over public health and safety, transparency, and consumer protection. Because of him and his colleagues at Public Citizen and an extraordinary number of other organizations he’s founded, co-founded, or otherwise inspired, we drive safer cars, breathe cleaner air, drink purer water, eat better food, use sounder energy production practices, and labor in safer conditions. His work in consumer protection has also produced landmark protections for whistleblowers and ensured a greater transparency in government. Like or dislike his involvement in electoral politics, he has been a high-impact and dogged champion of democratic values and grassroots advocacy.
As someone who’s closely followed his career, and long hoped he’d put his considerable talents to work in support of animal protection values, I was most excited that Nader has now published a visionary fable, Animal Envy, motivated by his mostly unknown but obviously longstanding concern for animals. In Nader’s work, a grand assembly of animals uses a digital translation app (invented by a “Human Genius”) to communicate across the species barrier, to one another and to human beings. Humans, the animals perceive, are unhappy, and hurtling towards omnicide. Together, the animals use one hundred hours of global television time to flatter humans, and to encourage them to see the mutually beneficial nature of their relations. Pointedly, the animals do not make a plea for justice or fairness, but concentrate instead on sharing their experiences, their conditions of existence, their cultures, and their intelligence with the viewing audience. Their core message? Animals and humans need each other.
Animal Envy takes its place within a longer lineage of animal tales. There are, for example, works like Black Beauty or Beautiful Joe, part of a tradition of “animal autobiographies” in which individual animals share their travails and triumphs as companions and servants of human beings. Journalists, illustrators, and authors have also employed the device of animal convocations or assemblies, within which a variety of species gather to air or present their grievances against humankind. This is quite an ancient tradition, as evidenced by The Animals’ Lawsuit Against Humanity, a Sufi work from tenth century Iraq, in which representatives of the animal kingdom appear before the Spirit King to lament their mistreatment at the hands of humankind. Then there is George Orwell’s Animal Farm, an allegorical use of the convocation formula to advance a cautionary tale concerning Stalinism and dictatorship.
The thing that makes Nader’s tale distinctive is the degree of knowledge and insight he demonstrates about animal welfare issues today. Animal Envy reveals its author as a keen observer of contemporary developments in the field, and an avid consumer of current news and information concerning animals, their capacities, their status, and their suffering. Whether his animals reference the destruction of North American predators, the pioneering scientific intelligence testing service Dognition, the pet food adulteration scandals of the early twenty-first century, or the sweeping effects of California’s Proposition 2, they make it clear that Nader has long followed developments pertaining to animal protection and animal intelligence.
In this regard, it’s worth noting that a few alumni of Nader’s non-profit organizations – “Nader’s Raiders” and those who succeeded them — have moved into animal protection and environment over the last quarter century and applied some of the same approaches, involving consumer protection, public health, etc. Eric Glitzenstein and Kathy Meyer, who went on to form a major public interest law firm, and Andrew Sharpless, president and CEO of the international ocean conservation and advocacy group Oceana, all worked for Nader in their early careers, and have cited his important influence on their approach to litigation and campaigns on behalf of animals and the environment. Nader’s work has also inspired and reinforced our broad public policy strategy at The HSUS, whether it involves litigation, legislation, ballot initiatives, and organizing tactics.
There were some important influencers in Nader’s undergraduate class of ’55 at Princeton University who almost certainly heightened his interest in animal protection, including the late Ron Scott, a videographer who worked closely with Dr. Dallas Pratt at Argus Archives and Tom and Nancy Regan at the Culture and Animals Foundation; and my friend Scott McVay, a poet, conservationist, researcher and writer, and onetime administrator of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation (which supported many animal welfare programs).
In a recent exchange, Nader related that he had long abhorred animal cruelty and that he was encouraged by recent progress in animal protection. I think it is tremendous that Nader, who at 83 is still in the heart of the fight to make America a better and stronger nation, has made his commitment to animal protection more public with Animal Envy. He hopes to see the work read and embraced by a universal audience, people of all ages and backgrounds, in the United States and abroad. That’s my hope, too.