It starts with a visit to low-rent roadside attraction "Santa's Reindeer," where an adult male chimp is kept out of view in a small cage:
Tommy’s original owner, we learned, was named Dave Sabo, the one-time proprietor of a troupe of performing circus chimps. The repairman said that Sabo raised Tommy, who appears to be in his 20s, from infancy. Sabo, who had been living for a number of years in a trailer on the grounds of Circle L Trailer, recently died. “He’s back in there now somewhere,” the repairman said, quickly tracing with his hands what seemed to be the outline of an urn of ashes. “In a room next to Tommy’s.”
As I argued below in "Hollywood should stop using real chimps," Americans need to develop a sense of realism and stewardship about chimpanzees. While they make for amusing entertainment when young, the older they get, the cuter they ain't, so there is a constant demand from the media and advertising industries for new baby chimps (e.g., in Martin Scorsese's latest movie).
But chimps live almost as long as humans, and need almost as much space to be happy. Yet, the adult males are so violent they need to be locked up away from people. The only institutions that can afford to meet these competing needs are rich zoos and some of the better-supported shelters far out in the countryside.
Thus, we American humans should act like responsible adult human beings and reduce the number of these subhuman dependents of ours who are in America to levels that we can afford to properly care for.
The English-speaking world has a tradition of developing norms against cruelty to animals that goes back a couple of centuries at least to pioneers such as the eccentric Irish politician Humanity Dick Martin. For example, in the 1930s Hollywood regularly crippled horses in stunt falls in cowboy and Indian movies, but over time systems have been developed to prevent violence to our dumb chums in the making of movies. Now, almost all movies featuring animals come with a "No Animals Were Harmed" endorsement in the credits from American Humane Association watchmen.
(On the other hand, the long-term effects of the use of animals in the entertainment industry is still to be reckoned with. Southern California is dotted with grungy shelters for retired movie animals run by mostly broke ex-movie people. For example, 11:00 in [warning: lots of commercials to sit through], here's the old HBO series Tracey Takes On in which TV star Linda Granger directs a fund-raising video for the Aged Animal Actors Home owned by Australian stuntwoman Rayleen Gibson [who was raised by dingoes, but that's a different episode].)
However, that kind of old noblesse oblige logic is severely out of fashion these days in which the concepts of equality, rights, and majority oppression of minorities dominate thought. World War C is, of course, largely metaphorical, and thus pointing out that bringing chimpanzees to America has proven to be a mistake is not welcome.
As this NYT article on Professor Wise's crusade implies through its absence, there appears to be little appetite for a fight through the democratic process to improve treatment of chimpanzees. Instead, there's a growing desire for chimpanzees to be the next minority victim group whose equality is vindicated by the Supreme Court (although World War C will likely have to get in line behind World War T and the waging of World War G in Eastern Europe).
Seven weeks later, on Dec. 2, Wise, a 63-year-old legal scholar in the field of animal law, strode with his fellow lawyers, Natalie Prosin, the executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project (Nh.R.P.), and Elizabeth Stein, a New York-based animal-law expert, into the clerk’s office of the Fulton County Courthouse in Johnstown, N.Y., 10 miles from Circle L Trailer Sales, wielding multiple copies of a legal document the likes of which had never been seen in any of the world’s courts, no less conservative Fulton County’s.
‘I thought to myself, Well, if I’m interested in social justice, I can’t imagine beings who are being more brutalized than nonhuman animals.’
Under the partial heading “The Nonhuman Rights Project Inc. on behalf of Tommy,” the legal memo and petition included among their 106 pages a detailed account of the “petitioner’s” solitary confinement ...
“Like humans,” the legal memo reads, “chimpanzees have a concept of their personal past and future
For example, chimpanzees can make plans. From the Los Angeles Times in 2009:
A chimpanzee named Santino has shown researchers that the great apes can plan ahead and execute carefully plotted maneuvers. Santino, the alpha male chimp at Sweden's Furuvik Zoo, planned rock-throwing attacks against zoo visitors, which shocked zoo staff and fascinated scientists.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, Lund University doctoral student Mathias Osvath explains how Santino prepared an arsenal of rocks before the zoo opened, then waited until midday before throwing them at zoo-goers watching him across a moat around his enclosure.
"These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," ...
More from the NYT article:
. . . they suffer the pain of not being able to fulfill their needs or move around as they wish; [and] they suffer the pain of anticipating never-ending confinement.” What Tommy could never have anticipated, of course, huddled just up the road that morning in his dark, dank cell, was that he was about to make legal history: The first nonhuman primate to ever sue a human captor in an attempt to gain his own freedom. ...
It has been only in the last 30 years or so that a distinct field of animal law — that is laws and legal theory expressly for and about nonhuman animals — has emerged. When Wise taught his first animal-law class in 1990 at Vermont Law School, he knew of only two others of its kind in the country. Today there are well over a hundred. Yet while animal-welfare laws and endangered-species statutes now abound
Huh? The history of animal-welfare laws is a lot older than Professor Wise's career. From Wikipedia:
Early legislation which formed the impetus for assessing animal welfare and the subsequent development of animal welfare science include the Ireland Parliament (Thomas Wentworth) "An Act against Plowing by the Tayle, and pulling the Wooll off living Sheep", 1635, and the Massachusetts Colony (Nathaniel Ward) "Off the Bruite Creatures" Liberty 92 and 93 in the "Massachusetts Body of Liberties" of 1641.
Since 1822, when British MP Richard Martin brought the "Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822" through Parliament offering protection from cruelty to cattle, horses, and sheep, the welfare approach has had human morality and humane behaviour as its central concerns. Martin was among the founders of the world's first animal welfare organization, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or SPCA, in 1824. In 1840, Queen Victoria gave the society her blessing, and it became the RSPCA. The society used members' donations to employ a growing network of inspectors, whose job was to identify abusers, gather evidence, and report them to the authorities.
One of the first national laws to protect animals was the UK "Cruelty to Animals Act 1835" followed by the "Protection of Animals Act 1911". In the US it was many years until there was a national law to protect animals—the "Animal Welfare Act of 1966"—although there were a number of states that passed anti-cruelty laws between 1828 and 1898.
Yet, this long legislative history, led by the Anglo world, seems to be dropping down the memory hole because it doesn't fit the contemporary paradigm of minority rights uber alles and the utter evil of the Bad Old Days of white men.
To carry on from the NYT article:
the primary thrust of such legislation remains the regulation of our various uses and abuses of animals, including food production, medical research, entertainment and private ownership. The fundamental legal status of nonhumans, however, as things, as property, with no rights of their own, has remained unchanged.
This legal campaign isn't really about improving the treatment of chimpanzees.
Wise has devoted himself to subverting that hierarchy by moving the animal from the defendant’s table to the plaintiff’s.
... Wise’s increasing involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement while at the College of William and Mary began to stoke a growing interest in social activism. ...
A few years later, while continuing to lecture in animal jurisprudence to law students, Wise revisited the famous case of Somerset v. Stewart. In 1772, the chief justice of the English Court of King’s Bench, Lord Mansfield, issued a writ of habeas corpus — a court order requiring that a prisoner be brought before a judge by his or her captor in order to rule on the legality of that prisoner’s detainment — on behalf of a slave named James Somerset, a being as invisible then to the law as any nonhuman. Mansfield ultimately decided to free Somerset from his Scottish-American owner, Charles Stewart — a landmark decision that would drive one of the first wedges into the wall then dividing black and white human beings from one another. ...
World War C is metaphorical.
Of course, a number of people both in the legal world and beyond find the very premise of seeking legal personhood for animals an oxymoron. There are, they assert, already ample protections available under current animal-welfare laws, on both the federal and state levels, without having to go down the practically and philosophically fraught path of extending a human right to a nonhuman.
Or, if there aren't enough protections available under current animal-welfare laws, why not work to get legislatures to pass more? What about initiatives and referendums? Or are those means too democratic?
Richard Epstein, a New York University law professor, is an outspoken critic of Wise and of the notion of extending rights to animals. ... “Steven is extremely ingenious,” Epstein told me in his N.Y.U. office in January. “I don’t think he’s a great intellect. He’s a man of tremendous persistence. He just doesn’t think there is any serious argument that can be made on the other side. It’s like watching someone with tunnel vision. . . . My attitude is this: There are two ways to think about it. He thinks of it as rights. I think about it as protection. You can guarantee the things he’s seeking through animal-protection legislation without calling them rights. I mean, you may want to enforce the laws better. I just think the argument of making animals into sort of human beings is what’s crazy.” ...
Welcome to the 21st Century mind, Professor Epstein. Democracy is de classe. A court decision is desired.
A triumphant Supreme Court vindication, and then the firings of the
Ultimately, Wise is not interested in trying to distinguish between bad and better forms of captivity. What he is trying to provoke is a paradigm shift in how we think of our relationship to animals. ...
World War C, like World War G and World War T is largely metaphorical:
“It’s those deeply held beliefs that I’m concerned about,” he told me. “The judge who either doesn’t recognize that he’s ruling against us on those grounds, or who does, and decides that way anyway. Our challenge is to lay bare that bias against our facts. I will say: ‘Judge, you know, we’ve been here before. We’ve had people who’ve essentially said, “I’m sorry, but you’re black.” Or “I’m sorry, you’re not a male or a heterosexual.” And this has led us to some very bad places.’ ”
P.S., In the comments appears an interestingly radical rejection of the zeitgeist:
KarlosTJ Bostonia 13 hours ago
Can I sue a chimp when it attacks me? When it steals from me?
The fundamental property of "rights" is: reciprocity. Your right to your life is inherent in the belief that you hold my right to my life sacred - and vice versa. No animal can comprehend or respect the rights of humans - therefore, animals cannot have human rights.
Giving animals "rights" is an attempt to destroy the term "rights". Animals can be given "protections", but that's all they are - because animals cannot reciprocate, or even recognize the protections. Activists believe they are improving the lives of animals by creating "animal rights" - what they are really doing is casting humans down to the level of animals. That is the definition of true hatred: hatred of human beings.
I haven't thought this through particularly, but certainly "reciprocity" is out of fashion and sheer Who Whom reasoning dominates, as in Justice Sotomayor's much-celebrated opinion this week on why Michigan voters can't be allowed to vote for equal protection of the laws: her team, which is The Good People, the Powerless Victims of The Bad People, lost the election.