Category ►►► Animalculae
June 26, 2008
An Immodest Proposition, or the Last Prejudice
Today, Spain's parliament took a historic first step in righting a wrong that has persisted for decades. Nay, centuries. Nay, millennia. Nay, decamillennia. Nay, ever since the ancestors of homo sapiens (sapiens) first branched away from our hairy brothers and sisters, cruelly pushing them back into the primordial soup with all the generosity and altruism of Bill Clinton rifling the tin cup of a blind beggar.
But yesterday, at long last, the Socialist government of Spain broke the fur ceiling, granting full legal rights of life and liberty to apes:
Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.
Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.
Presumably, this would include habeas corpus.
Every since this blog was created, we have championed the rights of cerebrally challenged species to enjoy the same level of civilization to which we have become accustomed. While it may be true that apes cannot build buildings, design electrical power plants and canals, or mass-produce Priuses, it is no less true that we have only done so on the backs of other species.
Where would public transportation have been, without the hard-working horse? Which great scientific breakthroughs would have been hatched, absent the loyal dog? And what great monuments to modern architecture could we have built, were it not for the stalwart and sturdy rhinoceros?
"This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity," said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.
But as tremendous an ethical breakthrough as this was -- I believe I read that Barack H. Obama has already begun rehearsing his spontaneous support for the Project -- still, it doesn't go far enough. As it stands, Spain still does not extend full rights to our arboreal chums.
Protecting life and liberty is fine and good; but that still leaves our simian siblings at the mercy of the to-ing and fro-ing of politics, adrift in a sea of uncertainty, unable to affect the most basic parliamentary decisions that affect the quality of apish life. Like gay caballeros in the 1950s (or Sephardic Jews in the 1450s), even under the new law of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and fun-loving baboons still remain merely second-class citizens. It's a step, but still only a first step.
What is missing? What would these simians need to fully realize the glory of their being? Clearly, they lack what finally makes Spanish citizenship full and complete, besides a goodly supply of Amontillado: I can only be referring to the franchise: Spain must begin registering Great Apes as legal voters. (If I'm actually referring to something else, please let me know before I make a fool of myself.)
Now the fuse is lit; there is a new ministry in the Spanish government that compels just such a great (ape) leap forward:
Spain did not legalize divorce until the 1980s, but Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has legalized gay marriage, reduced the influence of the Catholic Church in education and set up an Equality Ministry.
Full equality! I should think the new Equality Ministry will have an unenviable task justifying why gays, illegal immigrants, and even Catholics are allowed to vote for members of parliament; but that same right is brutally denied to primates (I mean the simian kind, not the Catholic heirarchy). This despite the well-accepted fact that baboons are evolutionary closer to members of the government than any other group of the electorate.
The joyous progression of multi-species, transcendental rights is inevitable, immutable:
- Gay marriage leads directly to reducing the influence of the Church;
- Reducing the influence of that reactionary body points like a laser beam to the understanding that there truly is no difference between animals and humans; if there is a soul, then a gorilla's is every bit as fine as Howard Dean's. Believing anything less would be discriminatory and unconscionable;
- This non-specist consciousness inevitably begets a Ministry of Equality (and of Peace, Truth, and Love);
- The "Equality Ministry" ineluctably leads to monkey manumission;
- But to fully embrace such animal liberty, how can the Equality Ministry fail to offer full equality -- gibbon government, bonobo-ballots, and all?
Of course, the inability to read poses something of a challenge; but we long ago cast aside the outmoded, proto-fascist prejudice against illiterate or stupid voters. As Michelle Obama noted, those in power constantly try to set the bar higher and higher -- you can't vote unless you're rich, unless you can read, unless you're human -- for no reason than to keep themselves on top and everyone else thrashing about in the evolutionary muck.
Creative technology shows us the way around the problem of inability to understand any form of language: For example, neutral, unbiased members of Prime Minister Zapatero's Socialist government could put bits of banana or other yummies into the voting booth to lure the non-human constituent inside. As primates have very acute visual-recognition skills, the booth could contain fair likenesses of the heads of each party; whichever one the baboon or chimpanzee paws or kisses would indicate a vote for that slate.
The world's greatest and deepest international thinkers agree with Spain's political revelation:
Philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri founded the Great Ape Project in 1993, arguing that "non-human hominids" like chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and bonobos should enjoy the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured.
Peter Singer is an especially valuable charter member of the Project, for you certainly cannot dismiss him as "ideologically wedded" to the idea of rights. As an ethicist, he has proven his independence of thought by arguing that newborn babies do not yet have the right to life.
Singer writes that the babies' mothers or other proxies (such as university ethicists) should be allowed to retroactively abort them up to a year after birth. This supposed contradiction only lends credence to his current position, placing the rights of simians higher up the ethical food chain than the rights of year-old humans. After all, somebody must be on top; and what refreshing altruism that a expert on ethics is willing to allow another species to assume the apex of the pyramid! Kudos to the good professor. (I'm not sure, but I think "kudos" means a kind of shirt or walk-in closet, rather like a water fountain.)
But if we cannot draw a moral distinction between Man and Ape, how much more difficult is it to draw one between primates and other mammals? There is no logical reason to deny such vital voting rights to the rest of Gaea's creatures... even those without hands.
There is always a way: Dogs can bark their preferences; horses can stamp; porpoises can whistle; cats can stare blankly. And why should having breasts and giving birth to live young determine whether a living creature is to be allowed its inherent rights? Rights are universal... even under the current oppressive American regime, we extend them willy-nilly to bums on the street, unconvicted felons, game-show hosts, butchers, bakers, bloggers, terrorists and other rapscallions, oil executives, panderers, liars, drunkards, candlestick-makers, lawyers, and even actors.
Should we not demand even more democracy from the land of Don Quixote, paella, madeira (my dear), Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and flamenco? There should be no animal on the face of the earth -- except perhaps the snake, which has no legs and is inferior to the lizard -- that is denied the most fundamental right guaranteed by the European Constitution to all who creepeth or crawlith or swimeth or flyeth upon, under, within, or above the face of the earth. (I believe the exact formulation can be found in section 98, subsection 217, clause 84, enumeration 3, explanatory footnote 809 of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, in the footnote-continuation on the next page. But don't quote me.)
Civilization has not yet worked out a way for trees to signal their electoral choices, but Al Gore has recently joined the team, so there is hope for progress on that front. Still, that is an argument for another post.
Howsomever, with courage, vigor, and a genetic sense of what is too serious to be joked about, we will cross this penultimate hurdle... and stand at the threshold of the final interspecies barrier. What is the use of allowing animals to vote if they cannot likewise stand for election?
There will, there must, come a day when we can proudly rise and hail the new EU Minister of Forestry... the divine being, Ms. Koko.
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