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Here we go again.
Socrates gave up his life for the ideal of pure wisdom. Galileo was threatened with torture for his commitment to scientific truth. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his campaign to end apartheid.
And now, attorney Steven Wise is seeking to be the next torchbearer for virtue and justice by seeking legal personhood for two chimpanzees currently deprived of their primatial integrity by incarceration in the anatomy department of New York’s Stony Brook University. Mr. Wise has even found a judge willing to hear his case.
This is a natural outgrowth of our collective obsession with rights and entitlement which has, proportionally, shrouded our notion of personal responsibility. A healthy culture recognizes that it has a moral obligation to show compassion to all living creatures. But as the very concept of morality flickers and fades from social consciousness, only the assertion of rights prevents the rapid disintegration of society.
And as we lose our sense of responsibility, the distinction between man and animals grows harder to define until, ultimately, it all but disappears. In California, the “rights” of a little fish trump the welfare of humans: crops wither in arid fields during the worst drought on record as the state dumps trillions of gallons of fresh water into the ocean.
It’s worth noting that in 1933, two years before the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of both civil and human rights, the Nazi government passed some of history’s most progressive laws for the protection of animals, legislation considered emblematic of the highest moral values of a people.
Elevating animals to the level of human beings inevitably results in human beings acting worse than animals.