Thursday, June 28, 2012


Frans de Waal suggests that the continuing prohibition on anthropomorphizing chimpanzees smacks of something he calls anthropodenial, “a blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves,” a blindness that emerges from our subconscious need to promote human exceptionalism at all costs.
I’ve written before on this blog about what Andrew Westoll here calls “human exceptionalism.” I’ve not been sympathetic to the tendency.

Although I can’t quite say I’m fond of the particular coinage offered by Frans de Waal, it’s probably useful to have a pejorative to counter the pejorative. Denying that nonhuman beings have emotions is one of those thought games that, when imposed on the real world, has justified a lot of cruel behavior. The prohibition on anthropomorphism, it seems to me, is closely allied to the ranking of human races. They may seem like us, but it’s an illusion. Really, those creatures displaying human-like characteristics aren’t human. Therefore it is okay to treat them in a way we would never tolerate with other humans. See: chattel slavery. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine, if you read up on torture, the dropping of the atom bomb, the factories of death in Germany or the neighbor-to-neighbor machete killings in Rwanda, what atrocity one could name that humans refrain from perpetrating on other humans.

quote source: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: a true story of resilience and recovery by Andrew Westoll

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