Letting Apes Be Apes

Russel Paul La Valle, in the Washington Post, wrote an anti-animal piece:

“Should animals have rights? The quick and only logical answer is no. A ‘right’ is a moral principle that governs one’s freedom of action in society. This concept is uniquely, and exclusively, human — man is the only being capable of grasping such an abstraction, understanding his actions within a principled framework and adjusting his behavior so as not to violate the rights of others. The source of rights is man himself, his nature and his capacity for rational thought. To give rights to creatures that are irrational, amoral and incapable of living in a rights-based environment makes a mockery of the very concept of rights and, ultimately, threatens man.”

Were the understanding of “such an abstraction” of rights necessary for the related human behavior of respecting individuals’ autonomy necessary, rights would only be applicable to a small percentage of highly intelligent and well educated humans. That is, were La Valle correct in his assumption of what individuals must possess in order for laws to bestow rights upon them, rights wouldn’t be granted to the majority of humans.

Ironically, what’s most offensive about his absurd anti-ape article is how he’s framed his final statement:

“let’s let apes be apes and not try to teach them how to recite the Bill of Rights.”

As though the Spanish prohibition on using primates for research is a hindrance on letting “apes be apes” when in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Animal rights advocates aren’t trying to teach primates to recite the Bill of Rights, yet they/we are the ONLY ones trying to “let apes be apes.” The Great Ape Project is proably the closest thing to letting apes be apes in the legal history of human-nonhuman relations.

2 Responses to Letting Apes Be Apes

  1. There was so little argument in this article that I’m stunned it was printed.

    La Valle’s argument amounts to “We’ve learned a lot by our exploitation of animals, therefore, we ought to permit it – oh yes, it’s because nonhumans aren’t rational that this is okay”; which begs the question that you raised about human infants or the mentally challenged, for example.

    He even raised Singer’s argument (“There is no sound moral reason why possession of basic rights should be limited to members of a particular species”) without even addressing his premises. Finally, his “straw man” attack on Singer: “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person,” he has written. “Sometimes it is not wrong at all. Apparently, though, killing an animal is.””

    Quite a piece of work there; I very much hope someone writes a response.

    ~ Recent blog post: Good ol’ "canine racism." at http://www.not-quiteright.net/tvg ~

  2. I wrote a response – hopefully it gets published.

    ~ Recent blog post: Good ol’ "canine racism." at http://www.not-quiteright.net/tvg ~


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