Would you join a club that would have you as a member?

Ash. Photo (cc) Owen Booth.

There’s an interesting piece on the Grauniad’s Comment is Free today (yesterday by the time this goes live). People are campaigning for Hiasl of Austria to be considered comparable to people convicted of drug abuse, drink driving or George W. Bush.* Why would someone want that? They argue Hiasl should have basic human rights. Whether or not he’ll get them is uncertain because he’s a chimp.

The reason Hiasl needs rights is because you have to be a person to receive personal donations in Austria. The donations are sorely needed because his sanctuary is out of money. This reminds me a lot of the Great Ape Project. The aim of the Great Aim Project is to extend moral rights to apes. When I first heard of this I assumed it was a particularly warped branch of animals rights, but reading round it I think the idea has a lot of merit.

Ok, maybe I’ve slipped into madness here. The usual objection is that it’s a slippery slope. Once apes have rights they’ll have the vote and then be standing for office. Can you imagine what would happen if apes were elected to Parliament? Or imagine an leading politician being interviewed by an interrogator whose idea of rigorous political analysis was flinging faeces. Ok I exaggerate. That last point would never happen because Fox News would sue all the other channels for plagiarism. Besides, if you read the declaration of the Great Ape Project that’s not the aim. The targets are all rather basic.

  • The Right to Life – You can’t slaughter them on a whim.
  • The Right to Liberty – You can’t trap them for no reason.
  • The Prohibition of Torture – You can’t use them regardless of their discomfort for your own ends.

These rights are based on the suffering that apes can feel. Research shows they seem to have minds and personalities. They may not be as sophisticated as ours but retarded humans still have some rights if not all rights. Similarly we don’t give children every right, but nonetheless they have protection.

I’m not decided on this. Apes aren’t humans so you can question if human rights are appropriate. What I think the value of the Great Ape Project is, is not so much what it says about apes. It raises the question of what appropriate behaviour for a human is. Why do be have the concept of human rights and what are those rights? If we can grant those rights to apes, would they also apply to humans? Equally if we cannot or will not grant those rights to apes then why not? Just because the answer isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s ridiculous to ask the question.

If you want to pursue this further then Primatology.org is a good weblog to visit, and the entry on Hiasl is a good starting point. Other entires go into the problem in greater depth.


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