Human Exceptionalism

Human Identity Crisis: German Court to Decide if Chimp Should Have “Human” Status

I make a lot of speeches, and in recent years I have been warning many of my audiences that serious efforts are afoot to grant animals “human” rights, including the right to bring lawsuits as “persons.” (This is one of the goals of the “Great Ape Project,” for example.) When I get to this point in the speech, the audience laughs. No one can believe it would ever happen.

Believe. A Brazilian court already has issued a write of habeus corpus in the name of a chimp. And now a case in Germany may well decide that a chimpanzee is a “person” with what up until now have been called human rights. From the story in the Guardian/Observer:

He recognises himself in the mirror, plays hide-and-seek and breaks into fits of giggles when tickled. He is also our closest evolutionary cousin.

A group of world leading primatologists argue that this is proof enough that Hiasl, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, deserves to be treated like a human. In a test case in Austria, campaigners are seeking to ditch the ‘species barrier’ and have taken Hiasl’s case to court. If Hiasl is granted human status – and the rights that go with it – it will signal a victory for other primate species and unleash a wave of similar cases.

The consequences of such a ruling will be to begin the project of tearing human beings off of the pedestal of exceptionalism and transforming us into just another animal in the forest. One of the first results will be animals suing humans for the violation of their “rights.” Think not? Again from the story:

If Hiasl is granted human status, Martin Balluch, of the Association against Animal Factories, who has worked to bring the case, wants him to sue the vivisection laboratory. He said: ‘We argue that he’s a person and he’s capable of owning something himself, as opposed to being owned, and that he can manage his money. This means he can start a court case against Baxter, which at the very least should mean his old age pension is secure.

What I find most depressing about all of this is the increasing inability of many people to defend intrinsic human dignity and the unique moral status of human beings–as in the Washington State case a short while back involving an ultimately successful attempt to outlaw bestiality–in which supporters of the law spoke primarily about the inability of animals to consent to sex with humans, instead of the bigger picture which I identified in this Daily Standard article.

Humans are having an identity crisis. And it doesn’t bode well for our moral understanding of the importance of being human.

Post Script: I have heard from several people wondering whether this is a hoax due to the publication date of 4/1. So, I did a little leg work. Here is a BBC story about the lawsuit dated March 29.

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