In 1994, philosophers Peter Singer and Paoula Cavalieri published The Great Ape Project which proposed that chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans be given the same rights as human beings. These primates share 98.7% of human DNA, they argue, which makes them nearly human. Unfortunately, that resemblance also positions them as ideal subjects for medical research, and so opponents have argued that, “Being near human, isn’t the same as being human.”
Nonetheless, with the help people like chimp expert, Jane Goodall, continuing research has shown that these animals are compassionate, altruistic and can communicate with one another, making the line between apes and man demonstrably thin. The holdouts cling to their position, however, with a new argument: Man has a consciousness. Other primates do not. Unfortunately, that position is weakened by the fact that neuroscientists have yet to define consciousness or to determine where it arises in the human brain. (“Legal right for apes,” The Week, August 9, 2013, pg. 9.)
A new documentary, Blackfish, goes further than Singer and Cavalieri. It insists upon rights for other intelligent mammals: dolphins, porpoises and whales. Though evidence for their proposal is largely anecdotal, they hold that keeping highly evolved animals in captivity for the entertainment of humans is “the essence of cruelty.” (“Blackfish,” The Week, August 9, 2013 pg. 22.)
As science increases our understanding of all life forms, we have reason to question the primacy of humans — particularly if we are measured in terms of our stated role as guardians of the planet. Dinosaurs, creatures of small brains, ruled the earth for millennia, doing less damage to the environment than we humans have done in the past 160 million years.
Perhaps it’s time for our species to develop a little humility. We do not own this world. We share it.
(Courtesy of pakmed.net)