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Making a Monkey of the Law

Hercules, Leo, and the dissolving line between humans and animals

Progress on the legal front:

A judge in Manhattan has ordered a hearing that will touch upon the continuing debate over whether caged chimpanzees can be considered “legal persons,” in the eyes of the law, and thus sue, with human help, for their freedom.

At issue in this case — one of several percolating through the courts in New York and elsewhere — is the fate of Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees who their legal representatives say are “unlawfully detained” at a university on Long Island.


Some legal experts, however, seemed to offer support for the idea that animals could file suit for their freedom. Laurence H. Tribe, the Harvard Law School scholar, said he believed habeas corpus ought to be available to test the treatment and confinement of “other beings whose capacities are limited but who are potentially capable of bearing rights,” a category he contended ought to eventually include chimps like Hercules and Leo.

Mr. Tribe added that Justice Jaffe’s decision was “a legally sound and suitably cautious step forward in the struggle to extend legal protections,” regardless of “whether or not we are yet ready to crown those others with the title of ‘human person.’ ”

This is quite insane. If the chimps are being treated cruelly, we have animal protection laws for those cases. They are not persons, and must not be thought of as persons. I find it more shocking that Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law actually believes in erasing a legal line between animals and humans.

A reader wrote just yesterday:

I wanted to let you know that the charges you level against the loony bin that is the humanities in higher ed (especially graduate education) is absolutely on point. Long-outdated psychoanalysis, tired Marxism, and deconstruction hold sway over the field of literature, such as it is. My professors and fellow graduate students care little for literature as such. They only care about their pet ideologies (theories) and use literature to try to prove them “true.” One funny (or sad) example happened today:

In a seminar I am taking, there was a “debate” between the professor (a post-colonial theorist) and some of the students who are interested in so-called animal studies. The debate was on whether animals have suffered oppression in a way analogous to other oppressed groups. The professor, the “conservative” in this exchange, argued that elevating animals in this way is bad because it minimizes the oppression that humans have suffered and that we should hold to the theories and critical approaches (identity politics, race and gender constructionism) propagated by our forefathers in the 70s and 80s. The animal studies students insisted that we need to all get on board with the recent breakthrough of New Materialism and Trans-humanism, and that the professor risked being painted as a (and I’m not kidding) human-exceptionalist.

The reader, understandably, is so discouraged by the intense politicization of his PhD program in literature that he’s dropping out at the end of this semester.

Once Hercules and Leo are free, I think they ought to apply to join the English faculty at this reader’s university. Sounds like they’d fit right in.



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