Of pri­mates and men

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL - JOHN SAINS­BURY John Sains­bury teaches his­tory at Brock Univer­sity.

The fate of the Ikea mon­key (re­mem­ber him?) will be de­cided in an Oshawa court­room this week. For the ben­e­fit of those who might have just wo­ken up from a very long sleep or who have re­cently ar­rived from an­other planet, here is the story so far:

On Dec. 9, a six-month-old macaque mon­key, later iden­ti­fied by his owner, Yas­min Nakhuda, as Dar­win, was found wan­der­ing about out­side a North York Ikea store. His at­tire, a diaper and a shear­ling coat, was min­i­mal­ist yet chic.

If Dar­win was mak­ing a dash for free­dom, his choice of des­ti­na­tion was in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Ikea is a tem­ple to the spirit of do­mes­tic­ity, not known for hos­pi­tal­ity to dis­plays of an­i­mal may­hem. But in fair­ness to Dar­win, who knows what sub­ver­sive schemes were hatch­ing in his simian brain? Per­haps he was plot­ting to pro­ceed through the gal­leries in a counter-clockwise di­rec­tion, or maybe to grab an ex­tra Swedish meat­ball at the lunch counter.

Af­ter his ap­pre­hen­sion, Dar­win was packed off to the Story Book Farm Pri­mate Sanc­tu­ary in Sun­der­land, Ont., pend­ing a court de­ci­sion about his fate. The keep­ers of the sanc­tu­ary want it to be his per­ma­nent home. Nakhuda, a real es­tate lawyer, is de­mand­ing his re­turn (“he’s my son,” she says) while deny­ing ac­cu­sa­tions from Dar­win’s cur­rent cus­to­di­ans that her fam­ily had abused the tiny pri­mate.

How­ever con­vinc­ing her protes­ta­tions, they raise the larger ques­tion of whether treat­ing a wild an­i­mal as if he were a hu­man tod­dler might not be abu­sive in it­self.

Nakhuda ap­par­ently de­cided to adopt Dar­win af­ter watch­ing a YouTube video of two young macaque mon­keys work­ing as wait­ers in a restau­rant in Ja­pan. Their favourite task was hand­ing out warm tow­els to pa­trons.

One cus­tomer is shown prais­ing the mon­key’s cheer­ful com­pli­ance. So un­like his own chil­dren, he says.

He had bet­ter en­joy the simian cour­te­sies while he may.

Be­cause the same mon­key who one day is cheer­fully pass­ing out tow­els might the next be bounc­ing a beaker of sake off the pa­tron’s head.

And this surely is the point. Adorable lit­tle pri­mates, ea­ger to please, turn into hor­mon­ally charged young adults, with se­ri­ous anger is­sues. There is ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ev­i­dence that ev­ery quasi-do­mes­ti­cated mon­key will sooner or later have its own “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not go­ing to take it any more” moment.

The mes­sage here is that we really need to sort out our con­nec­tion to the non-hu­man an­i­mal king­dom. An at­tempt to do this is made in the book Zoopo­lis (pub­lished in 2011) co-au­thored by Will Kym­licka, one of Canada’s lead­ing po­lit­i­cal the­o­rists, and Sue Don­ald­son, a ve­gan cook.

They pro­pose that do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals (cats and dogs es­pe­cially) be ac­corded the sta­tus of ci­ti­zens. Mean­while, wild an­i­mals should en­joy the ben­e­fits of “sovereignty,” while crea­tures, such as rac­coons, that share space with hu­mans, should be ac­corded the dig­nity of “denizens.”

The the­sis has the merit of bold­ness, but it fails on sev­eral counts.

Don­ald­son and Kym­licka rep­re­sent cit­i­zen­ship for domestic an­i­mals as the high­est form of an­i­mal rights, but on closer in­spec­tion it seems more like an­i­mal re­pres­sion. To be good ci­ti­zens, pets must con­duct them­selves with ap­pro­pri­ate civic decorum, re­press their ves­ti­gial hunt­ing in­stincts, and even ac­cept a ve­gan diet.

More to the point here, the book doesn’t pro­vide any­thing use­ful for un­der­stand­ing the Dar­win de­ba­cle. All we are of­fered about pri­mates is an ac­count of how Ca­puchin apes can learn to rec­og­nize money and spend it re­spon­si­bly. How more do­mes­ti­cated can you get than that?

But mon­keys make a mock­ery of Zoopo­lis’s static cat­e­gories (“domestic” and “wild”) by dart­ing mer­cu­ri­ally be­tween them. They elicit a de­gree of hu­man em­pa­thy be­yond that even of cats and dogs, while pe­ri­od­i­cally (of­ten vi­o­lently) re­mind­ing us that they are wild an­i­mals at heart. They wouldn’t make good ci­ti­zens in the au­thors’ sen­ti­men­tal fan­tasy-land.

Po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, in gen­eral, has proved in­ad­e­quate in defin­ing proper re­la­tions be­tween hu­man and non-hu­man an­i­mals. We need a credo that es­tab­lishes ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tinc­tions, not one in­tent on dis­solv­ing them. We need to re­cover, not vi­o­late, the dig­nity of dif­fer­ence be­tween our­selves and pri­mates such as Dar­win.

Per­haps we should re-ex­plore what Chris­tian hu­man­ism has to of­fer. Here are some com­pelling words from St Thomas More, one of its most elo­quent prac­ti­tion­ers, as ren­dered by the play­wright Robert Bolt: “God made the an­gels to show him splen­dour — as he made an­i­mals for in­no­cence and plants for their sim­plic­ity. But Man He made to serve him wit­tily, in the tan­gle of his mind.” (More him­self kept a mon­key, but em­phat­i­cally not as a hu­man sur­ro­gate.)

I hope that the judge in Dar­win’s case has suf­fi­cient wit to un­tan­gle the com­plex­i­ties, and re­ject heart­felt but wrong-headed pleas that a pet mon­key is legally equiv­a­lent to an adopted child.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.