On Spanish apes and animal rights
Spain may soon become the first nation to elevate the rights of some non-human primates to that of some humans. It’s a big deal, this seemingly sudden move of the Iberians, not least because Spain doesn’t seem the likeliest candidate to advance this kind of novel animal rights legislation (Ferdinand the Bull and all that).
As you’ve probably already heard, apes are the target of this law. Here’s the New York Times’ take as published in an article titled, “When Human Rights Extend to Non-Humans” in last Sunday’s Ideas and Trends section:
“The committee would bind Spain to the principles of the Great Ape Project, which points to apes’ human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.
If the bill passes — the news agency Reuters predicts it will — it would become illegal in Spain to kill apes except in self-defense. Torture, including in medical experiments, and arbitrary imprisonment, including for circuses or films, would be forbidden.
The 300 apes in Spanish zoos would not be freed, but better conditions would be mandated.”
Arguments for and against the dramatic legal maneuver have been strewn all over cyberspace in the wake of its announcement and subsequent publicity.
The Rightists say it’s about time. Apes are 98% genetically identical to humans, after all.
Yet detractors argue loudly against its ape-elevating aims, pointing to human rights violations we’re economically incapable of eradicating or referencing Biblical passages that preclude human degradation through animal comparison. It's true: The Good Book apparently does not stress that apes were made in God’s image.
But then…aren’t we homo sapien apes?
As a lowly pet health blogger I can’t exactly expect to lend this comminuted argument any assistance in either direction, but I can extend the conversation to our pets as I wonder where this emerging worldview on animals may be leading our non-human loved ones.
After all, 98% genetic parity is pretty close. But what makes 96% or 90% not close enough? And how about 85%, as with the canine genome? Where do we draw the line? Do those creatures with greater genetic homology get more rights than others? What’s the algorithm here?
And why is “tool use” so darn spectacular relative to “excellence in cuddling”? How does higher cognition on a certain order influence your degree of rights? By that standard some humans deserve more rights than others. Now, can that be right?
No, I’m not offering much here in the way of insight, I know. But one thing is true: By taking on this issue the Spanish Parliament has forced the issue of animal rights in general to the international fore. Sure, after this push it may well linger in limbo for decades before it gets diddled with again. In the meantime, at least the issue’s getting a good solid airing out in the court of world opinion.