Chimps With Weapons
No, I’m not talking about an NRA convention—I’m referring to this fascinating article that was in The Washington Post the other day about these chimpanzees who have been discovered in the West African savannah fashioning spears that they use to hunt bush babies. It’s been sitting in my Inbox for a few days now, because it took me a while to work out exactly how I felt about it. On the one hand, this is yet more incontrovertible proof that animals are intelligent, that they are capable of making plans and carrying them out, and that (this is the important point here) it is therefore imperative that we apply to them the same ethical considerations that we naturally apply to people based on humans’ demonstrated ability to consciously experience things and, consequently, to suffer. Which means, like, not eating or wearing them, or—since we’re talking about monkeys here—not stuffing them in tubes and pumping them full of drugs until they die.
Of course, the part of the story that makes me a little uncomfortable is the fact that this particular demonstration of self-awareness is a violent one, and one that itself causes suffering. But, despite the added twist of the spears, my response to this is the same as my response to anyone who says, “Why would you care about killing animals yourself when they kill each other in the wild?” (You’d be surprised how often that comes up). The mixed blessing of having a highly developed sense of ethics like humans have (for the most part) is that you still have to act morally towards individuals with a less highly developed sense of ethics—which means babies, people with low IQ’s, and, yes, chimps with spears. It’s only really a dog-eat-dog world if you’re a dog, which is one of the many reasons I don’t eat dogs, for instance … or hunt bush babies.
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