Chimp sues owner for confinement; the development of a Speciesist Hierarchy

Posted: April 23, 2014 in ANIMAL LIBERATION NEWS
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Today’s New York Times reported that Tommy, an adult chimpanzee, with the help of notorious non-human-animal-friendly lawyer Steven Wise, is suing his captors for unsuitable living conditions, including solitary confinement.

Full article above.

From the article:

Inside the shed, the repairman inched open a small door as though to first test the mood within. A rancid milk-musk odor wafted forth and with it the sight of an adult chimpanzee, crouched inside a small steel-mesh cell. Some plastic toys and bits of soiled bedding were strewn behind him. The only visible light emanated from a small portable TV on a stand outside his bars, tuned to what appeared to be a nature show.

“It’s too bad you can’t see him when he’s out in the jungle,” the repairman said, pointing to a passageway nearby, which opened onto an enclosure that housed a playground jungle gym. “At least he gets fresh air out there.”

On the way back out to the car, Wise paused.

“I’m not going to be able get that image out of my mind,” he said, his voice quavering. “How would you describe that cage? He’s in a dungeon, right? That’s a dungeon.”

Tommy was once a circus chimpanzee, whose “owner” recently passed away, leaving him under the care of the man referred to as the repairman. Wise met Tommy and the repairman at Circle L Trailer, the owner of which apparently also makes his living renting out reindeer during the holiday season for photos and such, including commercials for Macy’s and Mercedes-Benz (no data concerning the fate of these poor souls was given in the article).

Wise, Natalie Prosin (Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, or Nh.R.P.) and Elizabeth Stein (New-York-based animal rights expert) filed their petition at the Fulton County Courthouse in Johnstown, NY last December. The petition described in detail Tommy’s miserable living conditions, such as his isolation and lack of space, and culminated in a series of nine affidavits from primatologists around the world asserting the cognitive sophistication of chimpanzees and the suffering Tommy was being forced to endure.  In essence: “Chimps have feelings, JUST LIKE US!”

Here’s the thing. I love these guys for fighting the good fight–for caring about someone other than themselves, and especially for caring about someone who isn’t human; but…Okay, well, there’s racism, which says one race is better than another (or all others); and there’s speciesism, which says one species is better than one (or all) other specie(s).  This is kind of like racial speciesism, to me; or perhaps a better phrase would be the development of a speciesist hierarchy.  It doesn’t dispel the myth of human supremacy, but rather adds a footnote to it, an addendum:

“Humans are better than all other animals; but primates are pretty close.”

I’m reminded of one of Orwell’s Animal Farm laws: “All animals are equal; but some are more equal than others.”

This article highlights the fact that the chimpanzee case is only the beginning for the Nonhuman Rights Project:

Along with chimps, the Nh.R.P. plans to file similar lawsuits on behalf of other members of the great ape family (bonobos, orangutans and gorillas) as well as dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots — all beings with higher-order cognitive abilities.

Excuse me? Higher-order cognitive abilities? Let’s pretend for a second that that even matters.  If it mattered, there are several animals left off of this list: pigs, for instance, among the smartest animals in the world.  And birds.  Why only the African gray parrot? Many, MANY bird specie are possessed of exceptional cognitive abilities.  Some even have the capacity for aesthetics: The ability not only to create art, which speciesists love to argue happens in nature “by accident” and not due to anyone’s intent, but also to judge art–to deem this bit of art unpleasant and this other bit of art pleasant.

The male bowerbird, for instance, creates a tower known as a bower for the sole purpose of attracting a mate.  This is NOT a nest; he does not live in it.  He does not store food in it or shit in it or anything else.  He makes it solely in the hopes of attracting a lady.  The lady, in turn, judges the art; she selects which bower is the most pleasing to her aesthetic tastes and mates with the corresponding male.  This is a truly remarkable ability that few creatures have; but bowerbirds did not make the list.  Pigs didn’t, either.  Why?

Because THIS ISN’T REALLY ABOUT COGNITIVE ABILITY.  AT ALL.  This is about who is “like us” and who is “not like us.” This is otherization at its finest.  It’s easy to sympathize with chimps because they look and act a lot like humans.  It’s relatively easy to sympathize with parrots because they (well, most breeds, anyway) can be taught to speak in human tongues.  But it’s hard for most people to sympathize with pigs, in spite of their cognitive abilities, because all most people seem to know (or want to know) about pigs is that they are delicious.  They hear pig, they think pork; they do not think friend.

And what implications might this have for us humans, if universally accepted? Should humans with lesser cognitive abilities be subjected to mistreatment, isolation and exploitation? Should adults have to take an IQ test before society determines whether they get to live in peace or under a boot?

I really hope Wise and the others enabling animals to sue their captors have their way.  I hope the suit is successful; even though I blogged not too long ago about another attempt of Wise’s to defend animals in court, which failed.  The fact that he’s at it again so soon is encouraging, and I’m sure if he’s persistent enough he will make great waves.  He’s already making waves, by getting people like me (and other, far more important people, besides) to talk about him.

But it can’t end there.  We can’t let it end there.  We can’t allow the law to define a group of creatures as “special” and deserving of better treatment than others.  Not only is this not fair to the others but it also leans dangerously towards the welfarist mentality.  The issue can’t be how the captives are treated or how big their cages are; the issue at the forefront of our minds must always be the fact that we have non-human captives at all.

We must continue making waves, letting these chimp cases be but the first of a series of animal cases; but even when Tommy is given a bigger cage, and even if and when they capture a friend or two for him, and even if and when he is rescued from captivity altogether (which must remain our ultimate goal for him), we at DxE will continue fighting until every animal is free.

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