HIPPO Hypothesises

translated from the Hippo1 by PATRICIA REMY

So I am wallowing in my pond again. As I’ve said, I lead a comfortable life. Food is no problem; here at the zoo I get regular, healthy meals. Company is a bit sparse; there are only two other females in my school (or dale or bloat or pod, all various names humans have chosen for my social cluster). Fortunately, we get along – most days. Every five years or so one of my sisters or I is expected to mate and bear a calf. But only if the proffered male is respectful. That is a feature of hippo culture. If you don’t believe me, look it up2.

Enough about me. The rhinos in the enclosure next door I get. Humans are the species which puzzles me. While I float so effortlessly in my pool, it’s entertaining to listen in on their conversations. This past week I’ve heard a lot about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and something called the notwithstanding clause. People in places called Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are talking about it. Has something to do with personal pronouns.

As far as I know, one can’t eat pronouns, so those specific arguments do not interest me especially. It did get me thinking about the more fundamental issue of rights.

Rights seem to be some sort of social construct which humans have developed. There are supposed natural rights, which are self-evident. Personally, I have never seen a right in nature.

Around the time of Charles’ III coronation, I remember hearing a snippet among a group of high school students who were discussing a history lesson about the divine right of kings, now considered obsolete. Strangely enough (or not?) it applied to queens only in special circumstances. They had to have the right blood, though, you know, be in the bloodline of a previous king. Maybe rights-being-natural meant they were carried in the blood? But only in the right blood, if you get my pun. (Blood of the particular favoured bloodline.)

Things got tense in the late seventeenth century, when the divine right of kings was becoming obsolete. (I know: The Brits get all excited about Magna Carta, which was earlier, but then the rights of the king got shared only by the nobility, who had a share of royal blood, too. In other places on Earth, other peoples were getting similar ideas, but that’s a long story. Maybe a couple of history buffs will have a conversation at my enclosure someday and I’ll learn more.)

After that, some people, at least on Turtle Island and some parts of Europe, started talking about natural rights which were self-evident, as mentioned above. Thing is, these natural self-evident rights applied only to white, propertied, educated men. Odd. So one still had to be the right sort of person to claim rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) in Canada has drawn the circle wider, finally. It applies to all citizens of Canada. The catch is with the “citizens”. Immigrants, refugees, and our indigenous peoples have some stories to tell on that score.

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (1948!) applies to “all members of the human family. Here I will allow myself a snort.

Currently, Ecuador is the only nation on Earth which has included rights for nature in its constitution. Anywhere else, me, the rhinos next door, farm animals, flora and fauna of the fields and woods, your favourite lake, the hills and valleys, the wetlands, soil, air, and water are legally defined and can be claimed as property. They exist at the mercy of their owners, who, without exception, belong to the species Homo sapiens. It’s a human right, collectively or individually, to own property. I feel another snort coming on, because we all know that among you, property is anything but equally distributed.

O.k. We hippos claim a territory, one could call it property, along the rivers we use, where we cool off, digest, and sleep. We defend it, too, against hippos from other dales and anyone else who comes along. But we share the adjacent grasslands where we feed with whoever is there.

One thing my hippo relatives in the wild know for brutal certain: if the water dries up or the grass doesn’t grow, they starve and their calves die. It’s important to live within one’s means.

If a species doesn’t do that, all their rights don’t mean a fig.

So, smarty-pants H. sapiens with your glorious, large neo-cortex, why don’t you live within your means?

Hippo Hypothesises © 2023 by Patricia Remy in the Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

  1. in honour of E.O.Wilson and his notion of Half Earth. HIPPO is his acronym for the biocide being committed by Homo sapiens: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Population, Pollution, Overuse. ↩︎
  2. https://ielc.libguides.com/ & https://ypte.org.uk/factsheets/hippopotamus/overview ↩︎

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