Spain to declare rights for great apes

The government of Spain today apparently declared support for the right to “freedom and life” for great apes — making it the first world legislature to recognize the rights of non-human entities.

It seems they were swayed by the lobbying of the Great Ape Project, the brainchild of philosopher Peter Singer. Singer’s point has long been that the category of “animals” is weirdly broad and imprecise: Both chimpanzees and snakes are classified as animals, but for Singer this makes no sense, because chimpanzees are closer to humans than to snakes. Anyway, Singer’s organization includes a “Declaration on Great Apes” that says that apes should not be killed except in self-defense, that they are not to be “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” and ought not to be subject to torture. I’ll avoid the obvious Gitmo-Bay joke and point out that I’m not sure whether Spain has is adopting Singer’s Delcaration outright, because the Reuters story doesn’t clarify it.

Interestingly, animal-rights thinkers argue that Spain’s actions constitute a philosophical tipping point. As Reuters wrote:

The Spanish move could set a precedent for greater legal protection for other animals, including elephants, whales and dolphins, said Paul Waldau, director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University.

“We were born into a society where humans alone are the sole focus, and we begin to expand to the non-human great apes. It isn’t easy for us to see how far that expansion will go, but it’s very clear we need to expand beyond humans,” Waldau said.

They may also want to look at the potential rights of our celaphopod overlords. As Eric Scigliano documented in a wonderful Discover magazine piece in 2003, octopuses are so freakishly smart that they’ll fashion toys out of debris in tanks just to stave off boredom. And given that we are eventually going to be totally 0wnz0r3d in the Giant Squid Uprising, it would only be prudent buy some goodwill by enshrining the rights of Architeuthis via the UN.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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