It is telling how often I have been asked this at the farm. It is telling because it shows that there is a deep cultural narrative about turkeys that gets reinforced, and actions are chosen as a result of it.
There are a few interesting aspects to this narrative for me:
Turkeys may or may not be intelligent by human standards, but this honestly calls into question why this curiosity about their intelligence even matters? If I try to communicate with someone who speaks a different language and they don't understand me, and I have an expectation that they do, - does that make them stupid or me?
Many animals have no place on our human scale of intelligence but if we are honest, does that make them less valuable or worthy of kindness or respect?
If my human friends are not as intelligent as me, what defines me as a human is how I treat them. Do I treat people who are less smart than me as if they are worth less? Or do I use my own intelligence to reconfigure how I operate so I include them and respect their worth and value here? ... now we are talking kindness - using my intelligence to be kind.
With Thanksgiving coming again, I am always thinking on our turkeys here. They are EMOTIONAL - no one who has met Lilly can say otherwise. They are PRESENT - more present than almost any human I know. They FEEL pain, sadness and happiness which was very clear with our friend Phoenix who died. They feel LOVE.
Just like my dog. Isn't this emotional complexity and presence how we justify having dogs and cats so preciously protected in our homes? Spending billions of dollars to save them, treat them and spoil them.
So why does our culture (who prides itself on being so intelligent) treat these turkey beings as if they don't matter - killing them for a holiday meal that consists of mere moments of pleasure? In fact, factory farming 98% of them- cruel, disgusting places, and bargaining for how to get this poor being on the table for a couple dollars cheaper than the year before.
If it were dogs or cats that became linked with Thanksgiving rather than turkeys, can you imagine the upheaval of our society?!
As I get older, and watching recent years in our society, I am starting to value that the greatest intelligence is not the smartest one but of the one who can use their intellect AND access their emotional connection to others, the one who can be kind and inclusive and loving - like our turkey friends Lurch and Sirius who literally do that EVERY DAY.