Hello, my name is Peter Morville, and I am an animal philosopher. I haven’t yet introduced myself this way in real life. But I will. It can’t be any worse than telling strangers I’m an information architect, right?
I’ve enjoyed my career in information architecture. For a quarter century, I’ve organized websites so people can find what they need. I’ve built consultancies, written books, and traveled the world. I’ve been blessed to meet and work with so many wonderful people.
But now I dwell in liminality. I’m known as an information architect, yet that’s no longer my core identity. While I still consult, my time is mostly spent caring for chickens and goats, writing a philosophical novel, and planning an animal sanctuary.
I didn’t invent animal philosopher. Jacques Derrida got there first. And I don’t expect it’s an easy title to bear. Beyond the blank stare or eyeroll, it risks fight or flight. Maybe I’m an angry vegan. Perhaps I’ll try to convert you. Or, even worse, I may rant about the evils of factory farming and the unforgivable sins of René Descartes.
I’m happy to discuss these topics, but only if you ask. To force the issue is an act of aggression. I practice gentle change. So, before I state my proposition, now’s your chance to leave.
Animals Are People. This is what I believe. It’s not a bid for anthropomorphism, though anthropectomy is equally bad. What I mean is this: Thelma is a person.
We have two bantam hens in our flock, Thelma and Louise. They are roughly a quarter the size of a standard chicken, and they fly over our fences with ease. Louise hangs with our goats, while Thelma enjoys solitude. In the evening when I head outside to close the coop, I’m often surprised by the sight and sound of a tiny chicken flying and running across the lawn towards me. Thelma follows me to the coop, waits for me to open the door, and joins her fifteen flockmates on the roost. She invented this routine, not me.
Thelma is a person, not a thing. She is a unique personality and a sentient being worthy of love, compassion, and moral status. Yet our culture puts her in the category of object, not subject. It’s dishonest, disrespectful, and it’s why our civilization is self-terminating.
You can’t be an animal philosopher and not wrangle with the metacrisis. We’re not only destroying our own habitat but the ecosystems of all living beings. It is heartbreaking. Yet despair isn’t the answer, and collapse is not extinction. We and they will go on. So it’s time for hospicing modernity, planting seeds for better tomorrows, and being grateful we get to be here, together, ever so briefly, now. As Hanna Du Plessis says so poignantly “we live in a time of dying” and it is “the most beautiful time of my life.”
Animals Are People. That’s the seed I hope to plant. Any sustainable human culture must admit we are part of nature and animals are people. This is not a new idea but an ancient belief of indigenous peoples around the world. It’s obvious and unbelievable at the same time. The embrace of kinship over dominion is counter to our culture, and it’s not so easy to emancipate yourself from mental slavery. That’s why we need philosophy.
I’m not speaking of the Western Canon. Philosophy is for all of us. As Mary Midgley writes philosophy is like plumbing, hidden but not optional. That’s why I’m writing a book in which I argue with traditions, religions, and dead philosophers: to make the invisible visible so we might think for ourselves outside the categories of our culture.
All of this to say I’m in transition from information architect to animal philosopher. I’m coming out of the closet, stating how I self-identify, and letting you know what to expect.
I don’t claim moral high ground. In the metacrisis, we are all complicit. And I’m not perfect. No animals are. Goats are cute. Goats are assholes. Both things are true. Our goats poop in their food, head butt each other, and terrorize our dog. Yet we love them. People are animals. Why do we ask so much of ourselves? Last but not least, I don’t prescribe behavior. I won’t tell you what to eat or not to hunt. All I ask is honesty.
Animals Are People. It’s a categorical imperative. That’s the trouble with categories. Most don’t exist. Am I an information architect or an animal philosopher? Mu. I am large. I contain multitudes. Our umwelten are deeply intertwingled. The lumper-splitter problem is wicked. I’m in thrall to the elusiveness of the wisdom to know the difference. Morality is a mess we can’t make sense of. I feel therefore I am. I want a donkey. I’m not crazy. Hello, my name is Peter Morville, and I am an animal philosopher.