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Old 07-14-2008, 05:51 PM   #1
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ALMOST HUMAN - Rights Extend to Nonhumans



ALMOST HUMAN A chimp at an Israeli wildlife park in April. Spanish lawmakers recently voted to grant apes some rights.


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When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
July 13, 2008

If you caught your son burning ants with a magnifying glass, would it bother you less than if you found him torturing a mouse with a soldering iron? How about a snake? How about his sister?

Does Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — the Guantánamo detainee who claims he personally beheaded the reporter Daniel Pearl — deserve the rights he denied Mr. Pearl? Which ones? A painless execution? Exemption from capital punishment? Decent prison conditions? Habeas corpus?

Such apparently unrelated questions arise in the aftermath of the vote of the environment committee of the Spanish Parliament last month to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives, the great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

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.

What’s intriguing about the committee’s action is that it juxtaposes two sliding scales that are normally not allowed to slide against each other: how much kinship humans feel for which animals, and just which “human rights” each human deserves.

We like to think of these as absolutes: that there are distinct lines between humans and animals, and that certain “human” rights are unalienable. But we’re kidding ourselves.

In an interview, Mr. Singer described just such calculations behind the Great Ape Project: he left out lesser apes like gibbons because scientific evidence of human qualities is weaker, and he demanded only rights that he felt all humans were usually offered, such as freedom from torture — rather than, say, rights to education or medical care.

Depending on how it is counted, the DNA of chimpanzees is 95 percent to 98.7 percent the same as that of humans.

Nonetheless, the law treats all animals as lower orders. Human Rights Watch has no position on apes in Spain and has never had an internal debate about who is human, said Joseph Saunders, deputy program director.

“There’s no blurry middle,” he said, “and human rights are so woefully protected that we’re going to keep our focus there.”

Meanwhile, even in democracies, the law accords diminished rights to many humans: children, prisoners, the insane, the senile. Teenagers may not vote, philosophers who slip into dementia may be lashed to their beds, courts can order surgery or force-feeding.

Spain does not envision endowing apes with all rights: to drive, to bear arms and so on. Rather, their status would be akin to that of children.

Ingrid Newkirk, a founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, considers Spain’s vote “a great start at breaking down the species barriers, under which humans are regarded as godlike and the rest of the animal kingdom, whether chimpanzees or clams, are treated like dirt.”

Other commentators are aghast. Scientists, for example, would like to keep using chimpanzees to study the AIDS virus, which is believed to have come from apes.

Mr. Singer responded by noting that humans are a better study model, and yet scientists don’t deliberately infect them with AIDS.

“They’d need to justify not doing that,” he said. “Why apes?”

Spain’s Catholic bishops attacked the vote as undermining a divine will that placed humans above animals. One said such thinking led to abortion, euthanasia and ethnic cleansing.

But given that even some humans are denied human rights, what is the most basic right? To not be killed for food, perhaps?

Ten years ago, I stood in a clearing in the Cameroonian jungle, asking a hunter to hold up for my camera half the baby gorilla he had split and butterflied for smoking.

My distress — partly faked, since I was also feeling triumphant, having come this far hoping to find exactly such a scene — struck him as funny. “A gorilla is still meat,” said my guide, a former gorilla hunter himself. “It has no soul.”

So he agrees with Spain’s bishops. But it was an interesting observation for a West African to make. He looked much like the guy on the famous engraving adopted as a coat of arms by British abolitionists: a slave in shackles, kneeling to either beg or pray. Below it the motto: Am I Not a Man, and a Brother?

Whether or not Africans had souls — whether they were human in God’s eyes, capable of salvation — underlay much of the colonial debate about slavery. They were granted human rights on a sliding scale: as slaves, they were property; in the United States Constitution a slave counted as only three-fifths of a person.

As Ms. Newkirk pointed out, “All these supremacist notions take a long time to erode.”

She compared the rights of animals to those of women: it only seems like a long time, she said, since they got the vote or were admitted to medical schools. Or, she might have added, to the seminary. Though no Catholic bishop would suggest that women lack souls, it will be quite a while before a female bishop denounces Spain’s Parliament.

But we’re drifting from that most basic right — to not be killed for food.

Back to the clearing. As someone who eats foie gras and veal (made from tortured animals) and has eaten whale (in Iceland), I don’t know why I suddenly turned squeamish when offered a nibble of primate. On reflection, I probably faked that too. When I was young, my family used to drive over Donner Pass each year to go camping, and my mother would regale us with the history of the Donner Party. Even as a child, I had no doubt that, in extremis, I would have tucked in.

On our drive back to Cameroon’s coast, my guide insisted that some of the local Fang people, well known for cannibalism in the 19th century, still dug up bodies to eat. I believed him partly because in South Africa, where I then lived, murder victims were often found missing the body parts needed in traditional medicine.

Cannibalism is repugnant to the laws of all countries. But that repugnance is not written in the extra tidbits of DNA that separate us from chimps. Quite the opposite: “pot polish” on human bones found in various archaeological sites suggests that some of our ancestors exited this world as stew. That too puts us in the “community of equals” with apes; female chimpanzees are known to eat rivals’ babies.

But when human law does intervene in this primate-eat-primate world, it is also on a sliding scale. Even animal cruelty laws have a bias toward big mammals like us. For example, in a slaughterhouse, chickens are sent alive and squawking into the throat-slitting machine and the scalding bath.

But under the federal Humane Slaughter Act, a cow must be knocked senseless as painlessly as possible before the first cut can be made.

Which raises an interesting moral dilemma for the righteous Spanish Parliament: What about bullfighting?

As in all great struggles separating man from beast: a lot of it’s in the capework. Olé!
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Old 07-14-2008, 08:16 PM   #2
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Old 07-14-2008, 08:18 PM   #3
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I almost posted this under your "intelligent dinosaurs"

but put it here instead.
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Old 07-14-2008, 08:20 PM   #4
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When they give intelligent birds rights thats probably the place.
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Old 07-14-2008, 09:49 PM   #5
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Next thing you know, they're going to want the right to get married or something.
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Old 07-14-2008, 09:58 PM   #6
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Cuttlefish are people too, you guys.
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Old 07-19-2008, 04:35 PM   #7
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Is this a human behavior in animals ?






Quote:
Do Monkeys Pay for Sex?

By Krista Mahr

It turns out that one of humanity's oldest professions may be even older than we thought: In a recent study of macaque monkeys in Indonesia, researchers found that male primates "paid" for sexual access to females — and that the going rate for such access dwindled as the number of available females went up.

According to the paper, "Payment for Sex in a Macaque Mating Market," published in the December issue of Animal Behavior, males in a group of about 50 long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, traded grooming services for sex with females; researchers, who studied the monkeys for some 20 months, found that males offered their payment up-front, as a kind of pre-sex ritual. It worked. After the females were groomed by male partners, female sexual activity more than doubled, from an average of 1.5 times an hour to 3.5 times. The study also showed that the number of minutes that males spent grooming hinged on the number of females available at the time: The better a male's odds of getting lucky, the less nit-picking time the females received. Though primates have been observed trading grooming for food sharing or infant care, this is the first time this kind of exchange has been observed between male and female primates in a sexual context, says lead researcher Michael Gumert of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, demonstrating that the amount of time a male macaque "will invest in [its] partner" depends largely on how many options it has around.

We, more evolved primates, may be tempted to take a cynical view of these findings, but the study's author suggests a more favorable interpretation: The macaques' exchange of services simply illustrates a nifty system of cooperation that allows for successful mating. The basic premise, says Gumert, is called biological market theory, which follows the elementary principles of supply versus demand. When applied to the voluntary sex life of long-tailed macaques, it means that the price that one group is willing to pay for a commodity that the other group has depends on the scarcity or abundance of that commodity on the market. Scientists think female macaques may use grooming, too, to try to maintain social relationships within the group to benefit their offspring, or as a way to distract or appease males from getting aggressive after a sexual encounter. In fact, when female macaques groomed males, their services decreased sexual activity in males.

It's easy to draw parallels between the monkeys' mating dance and our own, but Gumert warns against reading too much into primate studies like this one. The paper draws no conclusions about what these observations in monkeys mean for the human world. In fact, whether and how scientists should extrapolate from primate behavior is a fairly "big debate," says Gumert. Certainly, our biology underpins much of what we do, but so does our culture and environment. Gumert asks, "Where do we draw the line?"
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Old 07-19-2008, 06:15 PM   #8
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Good article. Hopefully the law passes and spreads to other countries and to include other animals. One thing Spain should outlaw is bullfighting. The way the bulls are tortured and brutally killed is absolutely horrible. And the worst part is that it is not for food but just for pure human pleasure.
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Old 07-20-2008, 08:45 PM   #9
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damn dirty apes!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:02 AM   #10
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I think that's pretty stupid honestly. Why are apes more important than other animals? Oh yeah, because they look and act more human and are therefore easier for shallow humans to identify with. We can still butcher animals and eat them though. Why? Because that's tradition. I love how people cherry pick morals to follow.

And how can we act like we're giving apes equal rights when we're keeping them in frickin pens? That's imprisonment.
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Old 07-30-2008, 04:32 AM   #11
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"The Forgotten Apes: Why Can't Gibbons Get any Respect?"

It's time to stand up for the lesser apes. - By Ben Crair - Slate Magazine
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Old 07-30-2008, 09:26 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shart1780 View Post
And how can we act like we're giving apes equal rights when we're keeping them in frickin pens? That's imprisonment.
You do realize that apes which have been in zoos or similar institutions their entire lives, perhaps even for generations, now lack the necessary skills to survive in the wild?
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Old 07-30-2008, 06:10 PM   #13
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Do I see a "planet of the apes coming?"

All animals should have rights, and that right should be to live freely and safely from hunters, poachers and deforestization while remaining in their own habitat.

One of my dream jobs (and I only have 2) was to be a gorilla handler.
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Old 07-30-2008, 06:11 PM   #14
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Old 07-31-2008, 12:00 AM   #15
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Quote:
The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist,
...who, by the way, not only defends "sex across the species barrier" but is also a vocal proponent of infanticide.

“Characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness…make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings."

In 2005 Singer wrote, "During the next 35 years the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments."
Embracing the view that animals live on the same moral plane as humans and share the same inalienable rights will only quicken that process.
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