Why 'Sentient Meat'? Isn't that a little... weird?

Basil Ross
Bric a brac
Apr 3, 2019

Yes! We have a weird name, it’s true. But there’s a good reason behind the name, and it’s a story that has to do with employment, art, and science fiction.When the mortgage bubble burst in 2008 and the economy tanked world-wide, this spelled disaster for a lot of people. For me personally, it meant my main job (of the three I was working at the time to put myself through my undergraduate program) lost its major contract and the company had about six months notice that it was going to go out of business. During that six months, I quit my other two part time jobs, and when the last day of my main job finished, I applied for unemployment and food stamps. I knew there would be a heavy stigma associated with utilising social safety nets, and that was something I chose to accept. Yet I would soon find out that the pluses far outweighed the minuses. For the last year and a half of my degree, during which I was able to eat and pay my rent and bills without having to work a traditional job, something amazing happened: my grades went up, my general anxiety and seasonal depression were easier to manage, I started creating more art, and I started to do more volunteer work. It was almost as though not having to scrape and scrabble for my basic existence while still a full-time student meant I was better equipped to prepare myself for the future and contribute to my community! Weird, right? Or not.

But what does this have to do with… meat?

There's actually a whole bunch of research supporting ideas like basic income, the benefits of pooling resources, and communal living. Which is where we come, specifically, to the science fiction part. Hugo and Nebula Award winning sci-fi author Terry Bisson wrote a short skit called They're Made Out of Meat. It's a dialogue between two extraterrestrials about this a strange new sentient race they've discovered. The aliens are shocked to learn that, instead of having “sensible” bodies with electron plasma brains, this new race is actually made completely out of meat! They’re so put-off by how incredibly weird they find this new species (which the reader quickly understands is us, the human species) that they decide to erase all records and pretend they never saw them, instead of making contact in order to share their advanced knowledge and technology.On the surface, it's a silly dialogue about the strange things you might encounter in a universe as unspeakably vast as ours, but at its core it's a warning against baseless phobia that asks us to consider ways in which people may be denied valuable, or even necessary resources for reasons that are superficial, if not outright ridiculous.It’s a vast, cold, uncaring world out there. But as sci-fi fan writer Arthur D. Hiavaty once said, the whole point of society is that it’s supposed to be less unforgiving than nature. We have the ability to be more and to make it better by accepting each other and letting communal effort prevail. That’s where we come in. And yes, that’s why we’re named after meat.

So we better stick together.

When I finally graduated and managed to score a sweet, high paying salary job at a stable company--something that made me extremely lucky among my peers in our post recession economy--I got the job I did not due to the degree I spent thousands upon thousands in student loans upon earning, but rather I got the job because of skills I taught myself in my free time because I was interested in them. And I wanted to pay it forward, and pass that ability on to others. So I bought a house, and started offering reduced rate rent to the artistic folk I encountered. And here we are. And now we're looking at trying to get another, even bigger building that needs a whole lot of TLC. Oh dear.

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