Rights for Great Apes?

Submitted by Janine on Mon, 05/29/2006 - 14:09

I recommend this excellent, thought-provoking article by Princeton University bioethics professor Peter Singer in Saturday's Guardian. His argument is that great apes are so close to humans in evolution, and share so many of our traits - long-term relationships, self-awareness, bereavement, communication skills, intelligence - that as human society, we should declare that they have rights, and protect them from abuse of these rights. Commenters might try to unconvince me, but for now, I'm convinced.

Spanish MP Francisco Garrido (whose politics I should go and look up) is proposing that the country's Parliament approve the aims of Singer's Great Ape Project - "to grant some basic rights to the non-human great apes: life, liberty and the prohibition of torture". It wouldn't be the first thing I'd table if I were an MP - that would be the Trade Union Freedom Bill - but I'll follow Garrido's progress with a generally-supportive interest.

Prof Singer's view certainly weighs in on an argument elsewhere on this website.

Regular readers will know that I can't possibly praise one article in the Guardian without slagging off another to compensate. So please turn to the Work section. With the odd exception, I usually find this section over-stuffed with no-brainer management-babble that ought to swiftly disabuse the reader of the notion that the Guardian is "left-wing".

I only read this one because it also claims an interest in the behaviour of great apes and its similarity to that of humans. Unlike its far more intelligent cousin, though, this article strikes me as pop-science junk. It uses otherwise-interesting behavioural studies of apes to suggest that if only people were a little more humble with colleagues, the workplace and the world would be a much nicer place.

Er, excuse me, but what about management bullying, inequality, exploitation, lack of industrial democracy? The root cause of workplace misery is the boss-worker relationship, the fundamental structure of capitalism. The study of human society can tell us that. Great ape behaviour may shed a little candlelight, especially in exposing behaviours that pro-capitalists might pass off as 'natural'. But Marxism turns on bloody powerful floodlights.

Once again, a Guardian article on work seems to have surgically removed class politics from the subject where it most obviously belongs.

Issues and Campaigns