11 May 2007

what's new in the human species? might we include other animals in our own species?

Activists want chimp declared a 'person' - Yahoo! News
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/chimp_challenge (broken link, see new post above)

- what is a "person"? if we are talking in law terms, it's different in every country, and yeah maybe the law needs to be tweaked a bit now that we (re)discover that animals are damn smart and have emotions too. But really, how much rights can you have without having responsibilities? Chimps or any other animals cannot share the same responsibilities as human persons, therefore they cannot function as such in the society. How different are they from non-autonomous mentally-impaired humans? Well, even though I cringe writing this, I have to admit that some great apes do have higher emotional and cognitive abilities than some mentally-impaired humans. Having said that, does that mean they ought to have similar rights? No. Something just feels "wrong" about the idea, but what? Well, it's about the potential; we think that ANY human, even the deepest autistic or advanced alzheimer patient have the "potential" to be human. Same issue at stake when we debate on euthanasia. So the question becomes; does a chimp have the potential to be human like me?

- More practically; why don't they just put abandoned chimps in animal shelters? dogs and cats also have personalities but that doesn't make them "persons"! (btw, some cats paint and i have seen dogs eat pastry, hm.) Can't the activist just adopt Hiasl as a pet? Maybe the best would be a zoo, they know how to take care of chimps, and they may even have chimp friends for Hiasl and Rosi.

- aren't the activists contradicting themselves when they say they want Hiasl to have "basic legal rights" but no right to vote? They want to give him the "right to own property"; but is it moral to just give that to someone who doesn't understand what that means? If these are not plain contradictions they at least send a very confusing message.

- what is an "animal rights activist"? are these the same breed as the ones who said you gotta kill Knut the baby polar bear abandoned by its mother? at least one activist mentioned in the article disagrees with the present cause and rightly fears animal rights will loose credibility with such foolish claims (though it's not a foolish debate).

- apes such as chimps do have high cognitive abilities (and human-like physiques) that makes us think twice before treating them as.. "just animals". Another way to think about this is that we are animals ourselves, highly self-domesticated, and with a propensity to domesticate other species. There is no "Us v. The Animals", but "We The Animals". And "We Humans" have the most sophisticated societies and have the power to make all animals (including ourselves) either miserable or comfortable. And as far as we can tell, we are the only ones to strive towards morality. But morality itself is a relative concept under active scientific investigation because it really is not so straightforward; would we kill (and possibly induce suffering) in a few chimp to find a cure that will save millions of humans over time? how about killing a few gorillas? macaques? dogs? cats? rabb.. bunnies? mice? rats? roaches?.. What determines our double standards on which animal can get which treatment? Is that moral?