The Goofy-Pluto Problem

Inspired by conversations elsewhere and to explain some of the problems I’m likely to face in terms of introducing Jerako as a world, this is something I’m not sure I’ve actually written a blog post about before and is worth talking about as a means of exploring media as a whole.

What is a man?

The idea of distinguishing what is and isn’t a person has been a discussion since the Classical Era at least. The Wikipedia article on Diogenes (while containing material that’s a little too risqué for this blog) details, briefly, an event where he took a plucked chicken to Plato to refute a "man" being any biped without feathers.

At the same time, cynocephali raised the question many times during the Middle Ages. These dog-headed people always seemed to come from somewhere further away as more of the world was explored, but they raised some serious questions in the clergy about whether they had souls and should thus be considered for conversion to Christianity. Putting missionary work, religion, the nature of the soul, and all other concerns aside, their writings had them seriously wringing their hands over the debate because it boiled down to whether to consider them people or not for the purposes of the culture at the time. If it was a person, you had to preach at them. It was the rules.

In modern times, people debate whether Goofy is a dog, because Pluto is very much a dog in the traditional sense.

A simple answer

Goofy is not a "dog," he’s a person who looks like a dog. What about Balto? Well, in terms of the story, he’s a "dog," but because that would have made for a very boring movie, his presentation is very much "a person who looks like a dog." Anthropomorphism takes many forms, and by definition is the ascribing human traits to non-humans. The Velvetine Rabbit is anthropomorphized and isn’t even mobile like the Toy Story toys, but it has many of the same human traits ascribed. It is, for all intents and purposes, a person. The same more or less goes for any "animal" in a Disney production that’s good enough to be considered a major character.

So why is Balto a person and Pluto a dog? Well, because that’s what Disney called for to tell their story. Again, Balto the movie wouldn’t have been very engaging if Balto the character spent the whole thing barking and sniffing butts. That wouldn’t be a good human story. Even Homeward Bound takes a lot of steps to anthropomorphize the two actual dogs and cat that play the starring roles. It goes a little bit further than a few actors spouting lines. There’s a whole "go without me" scene and jokes and all sorts of other stuff in there that are acted out by trained animals doing things human trainers tell them to to make it into a human story. It’s a live-action movie dramatizing a fairly basic news clipping of "three pets find their owners" that basically builds a whole movie out of guessing how they did it and throwing in litter box jokes. Because it’s a movie, not a nature program. If you’ve ever watched a nature program, you’ll find it distincly lacking the animals making litter box jokes. Does that mean the three actual pets the movie is based on are people? Well, one of them would agree; as much as people joke about dogs thinking they’re people, it’s actually cats who see humans as the same species. No, I’m not kidding. Dogs legitimately understand humans are a totally different species and cats don’t. But the story presents them as people, cat or not. As much as they go around sniffing butts and doing all that other stuff, the only way the movie doesn’t present them as people is if you mute it. Go ahead and try it if you like; see how it changes the context. And no cheating with subtitles.

So what happens if Pluto ever talks? Does Pluto become a person? Yes. As much as Disney has adamantly stuck to their guns of never, ever doing that, Pluto would, for the sake of that specific short, movie, series, or whatever it may be, be a person.

This basically boils down to what I’ll call the Big Mac Test. If, barring any difference in ability that would limit their mobility or ability to communicate, they could walk into a McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, they are a person. "But wait!" I hear you say. "Could Balto order a Big Mac? Could Simba order a Big Mac?" Balto and Simba both walk into a McDonald’s with a fiver and point to the Big Mac on the menu, WYD? You take the fivers and give them both a Big Mac. And their change if you know what’s good for you. This isn’t hard. They have entered the McDonald’s with intent; they have expressed their intent (ignoring whether they did it in words); they have met the requirements of fulfilling their intent. Their intent is to buy a Big Mac and you should serve them the Big Mac. They’ve gone through the same whole process anyone else does; there’s no reason not to serve them. You’ll be lucky if Simba doesn’t flood the place with zebras and rhinos to sing about it.

"Well what about a gorilla? A gorilla could walk in and order a Big Mac in sign language!" WHOO, BOY! Yes, yes they could. Does this make a gorilla a person? In a word, yes, because they meet all the cognitive measures we know of for not only sentience, but sapience. Animal intelligence and even our own limited and changing understanding of what "intelligence" even is is a whole can of worms for this blog and there’s been a ruckus in the field in recent years, but great apes in general really don’t belong in zoos. They maybe don’t belong in a cubicle, either, but in a couple hundred thousand years, who knows? Zoos aren’t exactly the epitome of morality. They’ve legitimately kept humans in them and since I’m already pushing the limits of what’s probably safe for this blog under my host’s "controversial content" rules in this paragraph I’ll let you do your own research there, but as we learn more about cognition in general, it’s bringing up some really uncomfortable discussions as certain birds perform cognitive tasks up to the level of schoolchildren and bees prove they understand basic math. Intelligence is not only one thing and while the conversation for centuries has been centered around the exact mix and levels of intelligence humans have, like many things in life, it’s not that simple. But for the sake of this blog post, we’ll stick strictly to human intelligence specifically, which the Big Mac Test is generally good for, and save questions for whether crows and gorillas should be in a classroom for the experts.

Since we’re talking about human intelligence specifically and who does and doesn’t have it regardless of how they look, suffice to say that if Disney lets them headline an animated classic or they’re the smartest person in the playable party, they’re a person.

The World of Jerako

Just to spoil things a bit, but not really, at such time as any of several games come out, it will become clear that Jerako as a world has the N’kai in it, who are a people with a rich culture, jealously guarded lands, some of the most powerful mages in the world, and a great walled capitol, Rane. They also look like quadrupeds with a mix of canine and feline features, some looking quite a bit like Red XIII if Red XIII had a unicorn horn. The name "N’kai" acknowledges this: the "N’" prefix means "beast" and "kai" means "great" or "magical." They are self-titled "magic beasts" and see themselves as having a superior physical form to most other intelligent beings, often pitying them for having to balance on two legs.

Skipping back to Red XIII, though, is he a person? Well, yes, and his appearance is something explored quite a lot in his segment of "On the Way to a Smile," a series of novellas that are probably all non-canon now detailing the events when things aren’t quite so much in need of saving between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Red XIII looks like an animal. There’s no denying that. But he’s very much a person. Easily the smartest person in the party, frankly. And while one wouldn’t look at him for any defining humanoid traits like one would for a Disney character (i.e. eyebrows or eyebrow-adjacent markings that make their characters expressive in a patently human way), he does have other things going on in the form of hair decorations, bangles, and tattoos. Strictly speaking, tattoos are a thing an animal can have, but if you’re an owner who would subject their pet to that, just understand you are a terrible person who should not have pets and in a just world you would not have yours. Pets are basically like babies. If you wouldn’t tattoo your baby, you shouldn’t tattoo your pet. If you would tattoo your baby, you shouldn’t have children, either. Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Stop reading, close your browser, and don’t engage with Blue Star Creations in any way, shape, or form until you change your mind. The baby should be able to choose their own tattoo. That’s not a decision you make for someone else; removing those things is hard! There are plenty of cool temporary tattoos you can use to let them try different things until they come up with a final decision that scrub off much more easily with soap and water.

For everyone else, back to Red XIII, it’s clear even before he opens his mouth for the first time that he has several tribal tattoos and that marks him as someone who has either requested or earned them. He is a person. Maybe not at first glance, but any look at his details will tell you that.

The N’kai naturally don’t all have tattoos, though you’re likely to meet Prince Gemini Azure first in your adventures, who does have one, in a sense. It’s really a birthmark, but beside that point, his people use more or less the same equipment as everyone else and while he’s probably the only prince ever to taste dog food (it’s a long story), he’ll be the first to let you know his people are intelligent beings and he’s been instrumental in getting his people’s image in front of all the other peoples within reasonable travel distance. His people are proud of their bestial appearance, but they are not animals. They are people. They could walk into a McDonald’s and order a Big Mac. Just don’t wave one in front of Prince Azure unless you want him to redecorate your shoes (it’s a long story).

There are plenty of cats and dogs to be found in Jerako (though the N’kai tend not to keep any) and they are distinct from the N’kai. There is such thing as an animal and there is such thing as a person who looks very much like an animal.

It’s my hope that people realize that a person is a person no matter what they look like. The N’kai might be the most obvious example, but Jerako is a world filled with people who look like just about anything you can imagine. Even here on Earth, you never know what other life we might find out there in the universe. The sooner we start understanding that what your brain can do is far more important than what your body looks like, the better off everyone will be.