Friday, 27 June 2008

Why Not Human Rights For Apes?

They use tools, have rudimentary language and star in TV commercials moving pianos and drinking cups of tea, but now Apes are about to be given equal top billing on the evolutionary ladder with us humans by being granted human rights.
Spain's parliament is set to approve a new law giving the right to life and freedom to our closest relatives making it the first time any national parliament has issued human rights to non-humans but even more surprising is that this is happening in Spain where animal welfare usually includes throwing goats off church roofs and torturing bulls.
Interestingly scientists did originally place apes next to humans under the genus Homo but this proved controversial to the church and apes were pushed out into their own sub human genus, Pan.
Persuaded by the discovery that we share 98%-99% of our DNA with Apes which is closer than the relationship between donkeys and horses, New Zealand and Great Britain granted great apes rights as 'non-human hominids' with legal protection from animal experimentation, torture and slavery.
There have been growing calls for chimps and humans to be brought together under the same umbrella genus again but the question is what is the criteria that makes us humans and them apes?
We both have the ability to think, communicate, learn, use tools, share major blood groups, suffer the same diseases and viruses, feel emotions, dream, anticipate the future, show empathy and researchers in Japan discovered that chimps are better at numerical memory tests then humans.
It is hard to find a single redeeming quality that humans have that Apes don't share with us and to find exactly what sets us apart and makes us deserve a genus to ourselves because in the grand scheme of things, it seems we are as near damned identical as it is possible to be.


Noah "Nog" M. said...

I is significant that Apes are so cognitively and genetically similar to us. From a biological perspective, there are few objections that can be levied against ape-human legal equality.

What are "rights" based on? Are they based on genes and anatomy? A "rights are based on genes and anatomy" answer takes you down the slippery slope of scientific racism. There's no reason why the logic of "apes are genetically similar and deserve more rights" couldn't be applied to saying "some humans genetically better so they deserve more rights".

But law isn't a biological science. Apes are categorically incapable of human social interaction. By this I do not mean that apes cannot empathize (at some level) or communicate (at some level) or do math (better than humans). Apes cannot rationally respect human rights (i.e. do not eat humans) and cannot fulfill positive duties. Rights that cannot be reciprocally respected are not rights. And there is significantly more to human social behavior than immediate fear of punishment or concrete expectation of carnal gain.

If I might posit a sage word of wisdom: biologists are no better at making good laws than economists.

JodieKash said...

Get your paws off me, you DAMN DIRTY APE!!! line in cinema history, other than "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!!"

David G said...

"If I might posit a sage word of wisdom:" says our Nog.

Doesn't sage mean wise?

"Apes cannot rationally respect human rights (i.e. do not eat humans) and cannot fulfill positive duties. Rights that cannot be reciprocally respected are not rights. And there is significantly more to human social behavior than immediate fear of punishment or concrete expectation of carnal gain."

Don't you just love it when pseudo-intellectuals try to explain something! Is it any wonder our world is in such a mess?


Cheezy said...

"there is significantly more to human social behavior than immediate fear of punishment or concrete expectation of carnal gain"

Not during my University days there wasn't :)

Steve Lockwood said...

I'm glad you alerted me to this, Lucy. My first reaction was ... why just apes, why not pigs?

OK, pigs only have 65% percent of their genes in common with us, but that doesn't stop us transplanting their organs into our bodies. Forensic scientists also love doing tests on decaying pigs bodies because they are so similar to humans and can tell us so much about how human bodies behave.

The reason we haven't had a Universal Declaration of Porcine Rights is because ... they are just so yummy.

The Spanish would not be passing daft laws like this if apes tasted good fried between two slices of bread and covered with tomato ketchup (or brown sauce if you prefer). In fact, if we Brits had caved in and given Gibraltar to the Spanish there is no doubt that they would have developed a taste for the Barbary Apes and any thoughts of elevating them to the status of second cousin once removed would be right off the agenda (and onto the menu).

The serious point behind all this is that the Spanish law places restrictions on the use of apes in animal experimentation and grants them a right to humane conditions in zoos. OK, all well and good. But if you are going to do animal experimation (and it probably is necessary but that's a separate debate) it should be done responsibly and minimally for all and any creatures, not just apes. And if you are going to put animals in zoos, aren't they all entitled to humane conditions?

So why this species-ism? It's nothing more than political sentimentality. All life on Earth has value, be it ape, spider, snake or blob of slime - and should be revered, respected, conserved and (if it's sustainable, humane and yummy) eaten.

Lucy said...

The Spanish law, to my knowledge, has been passed for the same reasons that the New Zealanders and the Brits passed theirs, to stop experiments on animals that are identical to us except for a few chromosomes. This does seem a bit strange because i would of thought that the closer an animal is to us, the more reliable the results would be. We all remember the pills a few years back that were tested on Pigs and given the OK but almost killed all the human participants in later research.
I don't disagree with you noah about social interaction and resapecting others human rights but it does pose the question are Apes therefore at the level of all the killers and rapists in our jails ?

Noah "Nog" M. said...

"are Apes therefore at the level of all the killers and rapists in our jails?"

-Which aspect of apes and (bad) men are you asking about (social, genetic, neurological, perhaps even spiritual)? If you're asking a more holistic question things would become much more complex.

I occasionally make the mistake of judging a many-sided issue with a one-dimensional economic "vocational bias". But the world isn't "just economics" or "just biology". For instance, I can make analogies between biology and economics, or mechanics and law, or music and chemistry, but I would be erring if I imperiously expanded my science (or art) to the front of the whole pack of human disciplines without taking a step back.

Murray Rothbard was a great economist but it was unreasonable for him to place his vocation above psychology and empiricism. Drew Westen (as far as I have read him) is an excellent psychologist/sociologist but he is wrong to put his science above economics. Karl Marx wasn't a terrible economist but erred by muddling his poorly formed metaphysics with his theories. Dawkins might be a great biologist but it is unreasonable for him to extend his vocation over theology. Hawking is a great physicist but he is overstepping what he understands by trying to gulp down metaphysics...

And I don't pretend to know much about the comparative theology of apes and prisoners.

Lucy said...

I'm a journalist nog so i have a tendency to try and cut through the superfluous and get to the meaty issues and miss out the 'flowery' stuff where possible.
Here, i was mulling over just what set us apart from Apes.
You suggest that apes cannot respect human rights and cannot fulfill positive duties which struck me as the exact reason a killer or rapist is sent to prison, so does that mean these incarcerated humans and Apes are on a par?

David G said...

For those of us who delight in trying to work out what Nog is trying to say, let me urge patience.

Surely, hiding among his pretentious verbiage and his sweeping generalizations, there must be something of value!

Noah "Nog" M. said...

In certain legal senses (law can be further subdivided into many different areas), I wouldn't necessarily object that apes and felons are nearer on the margin. But if felons are 0.0000000001% nearer to apes than law-abiding citizens I don't know if that would warrant a categorical change our view of the fundamental status of the members of either group.
Felons are men who failed to act in a way that they could have acted. However, in many senses, the category of action itself simply isn't something that applies to apes. For the purposes of the social sciences (or at least some of them) apes should be understood as something more inanimate (again, because apes don't "act" in the relevant senses). So in these cases, felons and saints are still in the same basket which still does not include chimps.

However, apes are, as we have established, almost biologically identical to men. Because of this, even if in other ways apes and rocks are categorically indistinct, "ape rights” (or perhaps better put “the way individuals treat apes”), are important to consider and can have broader implications.
We've already noticed that we can get the senses of things confused. If I can just bash an ape's head in like a rock that I don't find pretty (as Murray Rothbard might find perfectly acceptable), you're dumb if you don't worry whether or not I look at everything biologically and may think a man's head can be like an ugly rock too. Folks who are cruel to animals and take pleasure in suffering (in the biological senses) will be more prone to take pleasure in cruelty and suffering in the psychological senses. For instance, great cruelty to animals is a sign of sociopathy and other "mental defects" that any reasonable legal scholar would find dangerous to other individuals (men).
One of the problems I see in “deep green”* is that they “fall off the deep end”. There really may not be that much of a difference between treating everything that isn't you like inanimate rocks and viewing pandas as equal or even superior to humans such that you might even "save the pandas by killing the indigenous peoples of Jungle X". If we crosscheck our economics and law with our psychology and biology we realize that we ought to be concerned with animal treatment (monkey-torturing is a social problem). Likewise if we crosscheck our biology with our economics and social theory we realized that [non-human] animals are in many senses “below humans”.
Because of the relevance of empathy towards animals to human behavior with other humans, I will not rule out placing strong disincentives on violence towards non-human creatures if only because such rules may restrain violence towards humans. But, I’d much rather these problems or concerns be solved without governments passing laws.
This is an interesting topic and I’ll post up a concurrent post over at my end of things

*”dark green” Gaia-hypothesis folks who get pretty crazy, and “light green” folks (Lucy, I’d call you a light green) who are concerned with animal rights, the environment, and