The Sea Lion

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Lets examine the story of the following comic strip.

The Terrible Sea Lion

This story in six panels can be divided into three phases.

In the first phase (the first two panels), a human in conversation with another human expresses contempt for sea lions. This urges a talking sea lion to join the conversation. The setting has thus been established as one where sea mammals are people too. People who seem to be subjected to racism from humans.

In the second phase (third panel), the sea lion asks for a dialogue regarding statement that was made. Both humans ignore her, trying to pretend she isn't even there.

In the third phase (the last three panels), the sea lion keeps following the humans around. She keeps pestering them for arguments - while they go back and forth between ignoring her, telling her to go away, and talking about sea lions in general (while obviously referring to her) over her head.


So, what can we make of this? Nothing definite, for lack of context and nuance. But we can see some tendencies.

In the first phase, the statement being made may be a sign of othering and either supremacism or dehumanization against all sea mammals in general as well as unchecked aversion against sea lions in particular. Note that in this setting, sea mammals are people too. Yet the humans talk about them as if they were disposable furniture. If categorism is happening here, the focus of categorism is “categorism against sentient sea lions”.

We do not know whether or not this particular focus of categorism is a big social problem in the society in which the conversation takes place. All facets of categorism that comes into play are used on the individual level. We do not know whether they are also happening on the structural and systemic level. Is human supremacism against talking sea lions systemic in this culture? Are sea mammals oppressed in the social structures of this culture?

In the second phase, the sea lion politely confronts the humans. They ignore her. Thus there is no dialogue between them. This may be a part of energy drain and invisibilization done by the humans against the sea lions. However, it may also be a matter of energy drain being used as a strategy by the sea lion.

In the third phase, the sea lion's behavior has deteriorated into what at least borders on harassment... and most likely crosses that line entirely. Sadly, this strategy seems to be the only effective strategy at hand. While the humans are still not open to dialogue (and may indeed be even more close-minded regarding sea lions than they were before), one of them takes the position that they should abstain from trash-talking sea lions. Not because abstaining would be the right thing to do, but because the sea lions will behave annoyingly towards them when they don't.


The analysis of this scenario can be taken in at least two different directions. While wildly different from each other, these directions are also entirely compatible with each other.

  • One is about how easy it is to hide aggressiveness under a polite facade. By his unrelenting pursuit of what on the surface is a polite request for dialogue, the Sea Lion is effectively harassing the humans. Eventuellay coercing them to change their behavior, simply for the sake of not having her pestering them.
  • The other is how easily social exclusion can be used to maneuver somebody into the narrative role of being the villain - or at least of being the contemptibly annoying pest. By refusing all attempts at dialogue, the humans leave the Sea Lion with three options: Open hostility, passive-aggressiveness, or admitting defeat by politely submit to the human's implied right to not be challenged when they openly question the right of (talking) sea mammals to exist.
  • Not merely compatible, these two directions can be seen as two sides of the same coin. They examplify why tolerance is not enough. Both sides can be seen as advocates for "tolerance" in the sense of "please shut up about us, and we'll shut up about you too". While this might be better than open hostility, mutual acceptance is generally preferable.

This page is a hypothetical example of categorism.