Posts Tagged ‘primate rights’

by Dr. Kevin Boileau, PhD, JD & Nazarita Goldhammer, scientists and psychoanalysts

We dedicate this prolegomenon to all the primates that human beings have savagely harmed, abused, neglected, and forced into servitude or imprisonment, both past and present. We hope that wiser humans will follow and support this prolegomenon with an actual primate rights bill that would become federal law in the United States, and that would influence similar laws around the planet Earth.

It is recognized that all primates, including human beings, have a common
evolutionary origin even though each primate group has differentiated itself from the others, and even though the human group has differentiated to the greatest extent.

It is recognized that all primates have similar nervous systems and capacities for autonomy and suffering.

It is recognized that all primates have complex sets of interests, needs, and preferences, and that the recognition of natural rights protects these. Therefore, all primates and all primate groups have natural rights.

It is recognized that the very existence of a primate group implies that it has the natural right to continue to live free from interference from this living by human primate groups.

It is recognized that the ignorance of disrespect for these natural rights causes serious harm to primate individuals and groups; to nature as a whole; and to human beings.

It is recognized that the respect for the natural rights of all primate groups is inextricably tied to the respect for the natural rights of all human primates.

Part 1

This prolegomenon applies to all beings who are in the class of primates.

We recognize that there has been a historical evolution in the conceptual and legal distinction between personhood and property. For example, we recognize people of certain race, color, age, who have long suffered invidious discrimination, including African Americans, women, children, the disabled, laboratory fetuses, and we recognize that non-human sentient animals such as primates have also been affected and harmed by this distinction.

For example, in some states, dogs are viewed as cash crops, treated no differently from oranges. We also recognize there is an analysis on the moral plane, in which non-human sentient animals have the same relevant, moral characteristics as human beings, but who have also been treated dissimilarly. For example, the class of beings called primates, which includes but which is not limited to orangutans, bonobos, monkeys, chimpanzees, who are individually autonomous, who are capable of suffering and who are aware of their suffering, are treated differently from human primates. There is a historical and analytic component to this understanding of a system of morality, which includes dimensions of the social, political and scientific that treats similar cases dissimilarly. This is the very definition of injustice.

This prolegomenon focuses on this injustice and this analytically illogical treatment and historically illogical treatment of non-human, sentient primates. Its various provisions both separate and collective, intends to correct this injustice by promulgating proto-federal law that protects the rights and the interests of all primates to be free from physical and psychological harm and, moreover, mandates an actual responsibility and requirement that human beings acknowledge, promote, and serve the best interest of all primates in the world today whether they are living in the wild, in a research facility, in any other government organization, in a private home, or in any other place.

It is important to point out that these natural and legal rights of primates do not depend on whether they are considered to be persons or not. The status of persons is based on a Kantian moral system in which rights and duties are considered to exist together, correlatively. This means that for a person to have rights he must also have duties. Given that primates do not have duties it is supposed that they cannot have rights. Therefore, they cannot be persons. However, in the bill that we promulgate here, the natural and legal rights of primates do not depend upon this system of correlative rights and duties. Instead, the foundation is that natural rights come from the faculty of autonomy, sentience, and the potential to suffer. This does not depend upon the assignment of the status of personhood.

It should be absolutely clear that we recognize both natural and legal rights of all primates, including but not limited to human beings because there are no morally relevant differences between one type of primate and any other type of primate given that they all are capable of autonomy, sentience and suffering.

Human rights declarations focus only on the natural rights of human beings, but they ignore the natural rights of other primates to be free from harm and to pursue a natural life pattern as part of a vital role in all eco-systems; to enjoy the common faculty of autonomy, choose life plans, and seek shelter, comfort, and adequate food; and to live amongst their own species in nature family groups. From these natural rights, which are no different from the natural rights of human beings—save the desire to form nation states and human laws—we hereby promulgate the following legal precepts that will protect, serve and foster the natural rights we hereby acknowledge. It is our goal to produce several successive iterations of this proto-law, with the intent that its principles eventually be promulgated as United States federal law.
Part 2

If we compare the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights we can see that they make assumptions that the beings to be protected have natural rights. According to the documents, these rights come from having certain characteristics and then are promulgated by fiat. The methods are exactly the same: certain characteristics lead to natural rights. In the case of human rights, non-human animals are ignored. In the case of animal rights, humans are ignored.

We can see, however, that there is no relevant difference between human primates and other sentient beings who are classified as primates. Logically, this requires us, therefore, to include all sentient beings within an account of rights even though we have not yet done so historically. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the “UDHR,” calls attention to certain features of human beings, such as “inherent dignity,” “equal and inalienable rights,” a “right to life, liberty, and security,” a right not to be “subjected to torture or to cruel or degrading treatment or punishment,” and a “right to freedom of movement.” These speak of a high valuation of human beings that comes just from their identity as humans. It comes from our natural conceptions about human life and our recognition that we must protect important values and goods. In the case of humans, we simply agree that human life is valuable, attaching various positive terms to this valuation. It is a pronouncement by fiat.

In this process we ignore other sentient life, tacitly agreeing that other life is not important enough to include in various statements about natural rights. Historically, animals have not been thought to deserve inherent rights, only gaining value in terms of their instrumental value to humans (which, by the way, Immanuel Kant acknowledges). Yet this does not mean that animals do not have inherent dignity just like humans, or any of the other protections that are listed above. Let’s consider what could account for this.

Historically, we understand that the kind of self that we have created valorizes the development of the autonomous self in which each of us lives in the world in terms of his own mental categories. In this tradition we approach Others in terms of our own subjective interpretation of meaning and analyze Others relative to what we already know. It is an appetitive approach in which we consume Others by reducing them to the same cognitive categories of our own minds and experience.

This is an anthropological mistake that operates both between humans and also between humans and other sentient beings. More specifically, it operates between humans and other primates. We have seen how this anthropological mistake operates in an intra-human context. Now, let’s explain how it works when we consider other sentient beings. First, in a humanism of the “I,” this masterful, egocentric self tries to dominate everything in its path, which closes the natural capaciousness of consciousness into a direction that ends in destruction and horror. This is the consciousness that callously disregards the interests of all animals, most humans, and many primates. You see, just because we come to idolize the ideals of humanism we fall into a self-deception about the praxis. Upon inspection, we see that humans don’t actually do very well in meeting the demands set forth in a universal declaration of human rights because we don’t often protect the inherent and natural dignity of other humans. This is the state of consciousness that is selfish, egocentric, violent, and narcissistic. Yet, unfortunately, the discussion stops at the borders of the human and all consideration for other sentient beings is lost. It appears very clear that the structure of consciousness in egocentric narcissism by humans toward other humans, is exactly the same structure in behavior by humans toward animals. It is the very same egocentrism that causes a human to act violently toward another human that also causes him to preclude animals from a statement of natural rights and therefore, to give implied permission for their instrumental use and violent death. This is the psychological structure that we overcome in an interpretation of our human anthropology.

A secondary argument that accomplishes the same goal involves rationality. The argument has often been made that because animals cannot reason they are of lesser ontological worth than humans. However, this very type of consciousness bleeds back into intra-human affairs in which we subtly come to believe that the more “rational” one is the more he or she is worth. Thus, humans with severe birth defects in which their cognitive abilities are seriously impaired are implicitly viewed as having less value than those with normal or superior abilities (especially in a utilitarian moral system). The defective human (and this extends to those in prison, those who have menial jobs and the like) and the animal rate lower in value than those humans who have better rational capacities. It is a specious argument, and its consequences only serve to fuel the perennial “war of all against all” in our civilization. This is Thrasymachus’s position in the Republic, which Plato shows all too easily cannot serve as a foundation for justice. Moreover, in a derivative way, we can also see how this very same structure of consciousness is foundation to the neglect, abuse, and destruction of the environment. A trans-humanist foundation that treats like cases in like manner amongst the full spectrum of primates challenges this way of thinking.

For purposes of this bill, we will focus on humans and other sentient beings, and leave the environment in general to another day. We shall also leave to another day the definitions of sentient being, animal, and those creatures who/that do not achieve such a denomination. As far as the natural rights of humans go, we engage in a great deal of deception. It seems clear that the notion of [equal] human rights becomes more of something to say—to use in a manipulative way—than to actually practice. Perhaps this stems from a true lack of the ontological parity thesis, the result of which leads to violence toward any Other. In short, there is no basic ontological difference between humans and any other feeling animal that would lead to different moral treatment. We also believe that the exclusion of animals from a bill of natural rights comes from the same thinking that creates a bill of rights for humans but that does not actually respect it. There is also a third argument that does not have any convincing effect whatsoever. This is the argument that in order to have rights one must have duties, for this is what creates a reciprocal system. It is, instead, the case that there are many people who have rights but who are not capable of exercising duties. These people are the elderly and the mentally or physically infirm. Thus, it makes no sense to distinguish rights on this basis, and to conclude that because non-human animals cannot enter into the rights-duties system they don’t have rights. In effect, this continues the “might makes right” mentality and does not get us to a better position than the very narcissistic, egocentric state of mental development. Let us, therefore, leave this dimension and move to the phenomenological aspect that we can articulate through a discourse about solidarity. As a bridge to this discussion, however, we offer an idea about a new foundation for rights for both humans and animals that emerge from a common root. This is the root of life. This is vivantonomy, a new concept that expresses a new human anthropology and a new understanding of the place of humans on the planet Earth. This is a reconstituted humanism.

In the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights it is stated “that Life is one, all living beings having a common origin and having diversified in the course of the evolution of the species”; “that all living beings possess natural rights”; [and further in the Preamble] “that the respect of humans for animals is inseparable from the respect of man for another man.” The declaration goes on to specifically delineate 14 articles that address the notion that animal rights and human rights come from the more primordial dimension of life itself. We have seen how humans have developed a declaration of human rights from the notion of natural rights, although animals and the environment are excluded. In this declaration for animal rights, we recognize a great diversity in living creatures, and specifically acknowledge that each of one has natural rights. These rights come from the sole fact of being alive, and participating in a wondrous, complex eco-system if you will, but more than that, representing a different facet of the interrelatedness of all living beings. We can see that a declaration of human rights that bases its strictures on notions of natural rights cannot escape the fact that natural rights also belong to other sentient beings. Our problem is that we have either neatly ignored or forgotten this fact. or we have callously disregarded it (both a product of the ego-centric mind). We have prepared the reader to overcome these limitations through the provisions of the bill.

Part 3

There are many species of beings that we humans will never see, and many that are in our daily ecosystems that we choose not to see. Yet, they are there—here—rather, constantly watching, looking, appealing—usually to us humans. We don’t see them because our own systems of value are informed by our narcissism: our egocentrism. This type of consciousness therefore closes itself in on itself, not seeing other life, other humans, and our very selves. This is the possessory, dominating subjectivity that instrumentalizes all others, and even in a system indoctrinated by rights and duties, fails to see the Other’s world on its own terms, as its unique manifestation. Here are the 6 axioms that underwrite an understanding of the principles of the natural and legal rights of primates:

First, we must dismiss the notion that humans are better, of more worth, or higher on a value scale. We must substitute it with a new axiom of ontological parity.

Second, we must agree that in principle that most of us have little knowledge about the whole: about how all beings, processes, and structures work together in an ecosystem. We substitute it with a new axiom of rigorous inquiry.

Third, we must accept a new Archimedean point. We cannot pretend to be at the center of the universe or the planet earth. This means that we must render an accounting of all life forms, including ours, holding that all living beings have equal interests and rights. We must, therefore, have an axiom that recognizes we play a part in the whole but are not the whole, and that we must mediate and weigh our interests relative to those of other life forms. If we do conclude that we are the center of the planet then we must reject our species narcissism and our hubris, and replace it with a strong sense of responsibility to all other life forms and to all other primates and primate groups.

Fourth, we must recognize that all life forms come from the same source. This leads us to the reconstituted notion of solidarity. This is a trans-human notion that includes all other life forms equally with the human.

Fifth, we must acknowledge and accept a new depth and breadth of our responsibility to others, including humans, other sentient life forms, additional life forms, and the environment in general.

Sixth, we must work diligently to formulate and articulate a new philosophical anthropology for human beings. This means we must strive for new meaning and understanding of the world and our place within it. This is neither the autonomous subject nor the heteronomous subject but it is a new human. This re-formulates the reality principle. Here are the 31 articles of this Prolegomenon, followed by a philosophical exegesis of their foundation.


Dr. Kevin Boileau & Nazarita Goldhammer

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