Bad news for Bonobo

It turns out—shockingly, to some correct-thinking academics—that the bonobo ape is just as bloodthirsty as the rest of the higher primates. Yes, it’s true.

Bonobos, a sex- and peace-loving species of ape often held up as an exemplar for human emulatation, like to hunt, kill, and eat other primates. Researchers first learned this by looking at bonobo poop, which contained more than just the expected half-digested berry seeds.

After the spoor had given up it secrets, researchers put a tail on some bonobos and they discovered the truth: the apes hunt in packs, which is obviously more efficacious than hunting singly. Their prey, after all, is fast and wary.

Now, this wouldn’t be the least interesting (or even surprising) except for a curious development in the Enlightened world (Europe, of course). Spain will grant human rights to apes.

Some of you will hail this special instance of Progressive thinking; but before you cheer let me remind you of a fact. Logically, you cannot have a right without entailing a responsibility. What this at least means is that if you grant “human” rights to apes, you must also ensure they own up to their “human” responsibilities.

Thus, if a certain ape were to, say, steal a banana from a fellow ape, he would be guilty of theft, and so must be held accountable and punished. If a gorilla were to be so bold as to take more than one mate, he must be prosecuted for polygamy. If a monkey, as monkeys sometimes do, kills a conspecific, then that monkey must pay the price (not the death penalty—that would be inhuman—but perhaps life in prison).

The immediate consequence is obvious. Spain will require an enormous number of translators so that, when a primate is brought to court, he can be made to understand the charges against him.

Meanwhile, in another Spanish-speaking country, Ecuador, people have just voted in a new constitution which—wait for it—grants human rights to Mother Nature. Some of the language from that constitution:

The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

This can be read to mean, for example, that no more will farmers be allowed to breed their stock in an intelligent manner, nor will they apparently be allowed to use fertilizer. Tough luck for the farmers—and for the people who have to eat their food.

But to concentrate on the negatives that will befall some people misses the main point: this language snippet delineates certain rights for Mother Nature. And just like with the apes, you cannot have rights without responsibilities.

This obviously means that the next time a flood washes away some property, Mother Nature must be held accountable. When lightening kills a cat, a penalty must follow. If a person is killed in a storm….something must be done!

But I can’t bear to think of it. Because, as everybody knows, “You don’t fool with Mother Nature.”

(Thanks to SooperDave for finding the Mother Nature Clip!)


  1. Ray

    A right implies a moral claim on another. I wasn’t aware animals or nature had morals.

  2. Briggs


    Thanks very much!

  3. The Man

    You said: “Logically, you cannot have a right without entailing a responsibility”

    Utter rubbish. Rights, in this context, are granted by the power invested by ‘the authorities’ (e.g. a parliament or king). If that same authority does not make the right conditional on duties, responsibilities, behaviour, genetics, or any other failable criteria, then those rights are still legally enforcable regardless of what you do/do not do.

    “Human Rights” are supposed to be separate from your behaviour, they are linked to genes and biochemistry. That’s why even coma patiants and babies get human rights. When a crime is committed what the convicted person is supposed to lose are their civil rights.

    It is civil rights that are conditional on behaviour.

    Your confusion on this issue is all too common. You, and many other thinkers, simply do not understand the division.

  4. Briggs

    My Dear Mr Man,

    You are wrong.

    There cannot be a right without a subsequent responsibility. This is a statement of logic, and a true one. Note carefully that it says nothing about who is granting the right or is creating the responsibility.

    Consider the right “not to be murdered—unless it is necessary to maintain party unity”. No, sorry; I am being silly, cross off the “unless it is necessary to maintain party unity”.

    The human right “not be be murdered” creates a responsibility in me, and in you, the king or parliament, and in everybody else not to murder. Presumably, it also creates the same responsibility in Spanish apes. They too must not murder.

    The distinction between human and civil rights is artificial. They are the same.

    But I tell you what. You list here just one right, human or otherwise, that does not entail a responsibility. If you can do this, I will consider you have proved your case.

    In the meanwhile, stay away from surly-looking apes on street corners.

  5. Joy

    When the Spaniards stop their medieval and sadistic sport of bull fighting they can preach to the rest. Anyone who has watched that and hasn’t shed a tear or felt a pang of sadness hasn’t got a heart.
    They’ll tie themselves in legal knots over this ape issue with the European courts but as per usual they’ll carry on and do what they like when they like and ignore the rules. After all most European laws are for other countries! They particularly don’t apply to Spain.
    Perhaps the Spanish are trying to ape their British counterparts on the Rock of Gibraltar but confused human with humane. They need a better dictionary.

    ‘The Man’” is that the main one? hockey stick Man? If so can I have your auttograph!

  6. Joy

    How can one have human rights without having civil ones? Even if these are later taken away for loitering with bananas in a suspicious manner?
    It is a matter of English as well as logic that the owner of a right that is called “human” must by definition be human. The rights that are owned by an ape must be ape rights.

  7. Luis Dias


    I don’t believe those news. Sorry. Show me an independent source and I will concede. Until then, it’s comic zone for me.

    And yes, “The Man” is obviously right, mr. Briggs. We as humans are free. This means that we are free to concede rights and free to not obligate duties. We’ve done this throughout the ages. For instance, slaves had a lot of duties but little rights. Kings, otoh, had a lot of rights, and little duties. It’s not rocket science. You can always concede these things if you really want to.

    The real question is, is this even sane?

  8. Briggs


    You might be right. I don’t trust the story completely either. But there is this, from a well known newspaper:

    IN Spain, a funny thing is happening on the way to the circus — all the monkeys are disappearing. At least, that is what a group of legislators on an environmental committee is hoping will happen, now that the Spanish parliament is considering a resolution to grant certain human rights to “our non-human brothers” – great apes, gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orang-utans. The measure has broad support and, barring the unexpected, is likely to become law within a year. After enactment, harmful experimentation on apes, as well as their use for circuses, television commercials and films, will be prohibited. It will be legal for the 350 apes in Spanish zoos to stay there, but their conditions will have to be drastically improved. With a single stroke, Spain will also become the first country to acknowledge unequivocally the legal rights of non-humans. Russell Paul La Valle, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 2008

    But I am not wrong about rights entailing responsibilities. Though I think I see the confusion.

    You and Mr Man are asking about who, or what agency, is granting the right. Perhaps you are also making comments about should they be allowed or do they have the authority, and if so, who gives them that authority.

    Good questions. But they are not relevant to the fact that once a right is granted or is said to exist, there must necessarily be a responsibility attending that right.

    This is why I asked Mr Man to think of a right that doesn’t have a responsibility. It is a useful exercise to try.

  9. Joy

    “is this really sane?” No Luis, your worst fears!
    No, the world has gone mad, that’s why the queen has finally lost patience and decided to dissolve parliament and take over the world. She’s started with the internet. It’s for our own good.
    “God Save the Queen”

  10. John

    The responsibility created by an authority granting a (sub?) population a right is the responsibility of that authority to uphold it. The group receiving the right is not ubiquitiously obliged to accept a responsibility.

    If Spain wants to grant chimpanzees the right to not be “use for circuses, television commercials and films”, the responsibility lies on the authorities in Spain to ensure this is upheld. The only responsibility for the chimpanzees would be to not force other chimpanzees to stand in front of a camera while wearing a clown suit.

  11. John

    ammended – I actually need to take back this statement “The only responsibility for the chimpanzees would be to not force other chimpanzees to stand in front of a camera while wearing a clown suit.”

    an enlightened(sci-fi) chimpanzee might make a personal decision that he is morally obligated to follow the rules of the land, he can only be held responsible to his ideals. The chimp’s responsibility in regards to this right are optional.

    You could argue the American colonists were to be held responsible for paying the stamp/tea/etc taxes imposed by the King of England as a result of the rights given to them as colonists. The colonists dissagreed – no taxation without representation.

    An authority cannot mandate a responsibility with the giving of a right unless the receiving party agrees to the terms. The authority can try to enforce the (to them) implied responsibility, but ultimately it is their responsibility to enforce rather than the mass’s responsibility to abide.

  12. Briggs


    Those “sci-fi” chimps aren’t so far beyond the realm of possibility as you might like to think. See the following documentary film: Click here!

  13. Bonobo

    Some humans feel that by virtue of being a human they have the right to a set of rights — without regard to what those rights actually are (i.e. other humans will work the specifics out as we go along, adding some, taking away others as human society evolves). If this is true — if the right to human rights is itself a human right, is there a corresponding responsibility to that right?

  14. Thomas Means

    As a human, I have certain rights. I start with the rights to life, liberty, and property. I assert those rights, and certain derivative rights, such as the right to defend the aforementioned against violation. As a citizen of the US, I live under its constitution. However, I do not consider the constitution to “create” nor “grant” me these rights, merely to acknowledge them and promise not to violate them.

    Having those rights myself obligates me to the responsibility not to violate the same rights of others. In this way, the “human right” of, say, a person in a coma, to life, is not to be violated in the form of active measures to end that life. There is a grey area where active (not to say expensive) measures to prolong life may be applied when there is a reasonable prognosis for recovery, but then there can never be a “one size fits all” policy in the interstitial cases. That’s all beside the point, however. The point is, that to assert one’s own right is to acknowledge it to others, and while a person in a coma cannot be reasonably expected to ACT upon any responsibility, for others to acknowledge that right places the responsibility on them not to violate it for that person.

    As to slaves, while in effect they had many responsibilities with few rights, in fact their status as slaves was itself a violation of their own rights to liberty and property, and the “responsibilities” were arbitrarily added by the violators themselves! Slaves which are human are still human.

    If it were possible to demonstrate that some chimpanzee, sci-fi or otherwise, were capable of comprehending such abstract concepts as these rights and the attendant responsibilities not to violate them in others, perhaps we should expand our definition of human, or strike the term “human” and replace it with “sentient”. I am not convinced, however, that any sort of chimpanzee can really grasp the idea that some other sort of chimpanzee is not “food”. Therefore, in the wild they’re on their own, and humans are responsible for the humane treatment of any that are in captivity.

  15. Mr Man

    “There cannot be a right without a subsequent responsibility. ”

    Lets test this assertion.

    Non-human Apes in Spain have human rights.

    Non-human apes, in Spain, have no legal responsibilities.

    Therefore: Non-human apes have human rights and no responsibilities.

    You claims are broken on the rocks on empirical evidence.

    Walk away from your wishful thinking. It is proven empirically wrong. What you assert must be is shown not to be true.

  16. Briggs

    Mr Man,

    Nope, doesn’t work. Not even close. You have, “sadly, and it would seem purposely, missed the point.” You are essentially making the statement “Apes have this and that right and I decree that they have no responsibility.” That is a far cry from a logical argument to prove that rights do not entail responsibilities.

    And even in your example, responsibilities are entailed. Say one right of an ape (there are no non-human apes, by the way; a technical point) is “the right not to be killed.” This entails upon you, me, etc. a responsibility not to kill them.

    This is so for every right you can think of.

    You’ll have to try harder. But, quite honestly, I do encourage you to try.

    (By the way, completely off topic, you have see The Blues Brothers, right?)

  17. John M

    Do these apes generally live long enough to attain voting age?

  18. Aviator

    Perhaps we need to extend the definition to ‘simian rights’ and include us and the giant apes in the same category. However, I have always operated under the assumption that rights incur obligations (or responsibilities in our host’s terms), so they are opposite sides of the same coin. I do not want some geriatric silverback obtaining a driver’s licence (although I suspect from some of the drivers in my town that giant apes may have already leapt this barrier…) as privilege becomes an extension of rights in Western society. It is rather scary to think that Spain may be at the forefront of social change in this regard. Does my dog get the vote next, after all 3 x 7 = voting age?

  19. JH

    “…is considering a resolution to grant certain human rights … ”

    I don’t know exactly what those certain human rights are and how they are written. Are we talking about the rights of life and free from torture? Maybe it’s the influence of my Buddhist upbringing, I think those rights are also NATURAL animal rights. Unfortunately, sometimes we do have to use legal means to protect helpless animals.

    I am not saying that rights don’t entail responsibilities. But, does incapability of understanding the responsibility dis-entitle one’s nature right?

    I’m also not saying that granting “legal” “human” rights to animals is the way to go. As ridiculous as granting them certain legal rights may appear, the fate of animals is something that we human beings of greater abilities and power cannot ignore. Indifference to their fate is inhumane to me.

  20. JH

    typo… dis-entitle one’s natural right?

  21. The Man

    I haven’t missed the point. You are simply mistaken.

    ‘rights’ do not create responsibilities. I’ll prove it again. I hereby grant you the right to *** ** *** ****.

    If your theory is true, you are aware of a resposibility to go with that right, and can tell us what it is.

    If you are wrong (and you are) no have not become aware of a responsibility.

    What does this prove? it proves you can have rights without you knowing what they are. it proves responsibility has not been ‘created’ (if it has, where is it?).

    You don’t understand society or rights. You do not understand authority.

    And you simply do not understand that logic, regardless of how beuatiful you think it is, is nothing if that facts don’t fit.

    And on a technical note, we are African Apes.

  22. Briggs

    Mr Man,

    Calm down, old son.

    You granting me the right to “*** ** *** ****” is what we call, again in technical terms, gibberish.

    Fill in the blanks and we’ll talk.

    Also note that my being aware or not being aware of a right does not, in any way, change the logical fact that a responsibility is entailed. Awareness doesn’t come into it. For if somebody were to violate my right to “*** ** *** ****”, then they would be violating their responsibility. Even if they, too, were unaware of it.

    You are still confusing the power of granting rights or creating responsibilities with the logical statement that rights entail responsibilities. They are separate questions.

    We are not African Apes. We are human. True, we share some genes with extant apes, but so do we with squid.

  23. Rich

    In context it appears that what is actually occurring in Spain is that some rights considered to be possessed by human will be recognized legally as being possessed by apes: life, liberty and freedom from torture.

    It seems the Spanish have noticed that if you pass a Bill forbidding the mistreatment of animals then that’s the end of bullfighting. So “rights” is window-dressing to achieve a result for apes while allowing bulls to be killed for amusement. Tendentious rubbish in my view.

    I work in an office in “Three Cocks Lane” so named because it was a site of cock-fighting in times past. But cock-fighting – and bear-baiting – have been made illegal without any fantasy of granting rights to cocks or bears.

    Also, in Hartlepool according to legend a monkey was hanged as a French spy during the Napoleonic wars. It’s not recorded whether they read him his rights or not.

  24. Luis Dias

    Mr Briggs, you simply fail to understand that we can give rights and not obligate duties, if we wish it to be so, logic be damned. Think more about it, I don’t think you thought long enough about it. I think you are only repeating a mantra that your father or society has teached you and that it sounds funny and somehow correct that “rights entail responsabilities”. And yeah, I agree with that, until I don’t. Simple as that.

    It’s like saying that the square root of 1 is logically impossible. But then, someone said it is not, and created an imaginary number. You can change the rules, if you really want to.

    Now, I do think that it is probably a stupid political move, driven by idiocy in its core, and it will bring nothing worthy, a completely useless and confusing legal extravagance. Probably, the only people that are happy are some idiots that think this is great progress and the lawyers, who thrive in confused legal environments.

  25. The Man

    > Fill in the blanks and we’ll talk.

    So no magic occurred.

    > You are still confusing the power of granting rights or creating responsibilities with the logical statement that rights entail responsibilities. They are separate questions.

    I do not argue that rights do not entail responsibilities. I state the obvious point that the recipient of a right recieves a right, not a responsibility *unless* that right has been caveated so that it is dependent on a responsibility.

    The granting of a right creates a responsibility on the granter of the right to ensure that right is delivered.

    Thus apes and babies get rights, but have no responsibility to ensure other apes and babies get those rights.

    The most beautiful logic in the world is wrong if it fails the “but is it empirically true” test.

  26. Briggs


    I am actually surprised that we are discussing this as I had thought the point was obvious, and rather banal. I have the odd feeling that this logical point is dividing people by the standard left-right politics, but what I have to say has nothing to do with any political belief.

    Look, we can settle this simply by you, or anybody, finding any right that does not entail a responsibility. List that right and you’ll convince me.

    Again, it is a true statement to say that a right entails a responsibility. But it is not true that you or I or anybody has to be aware of the right or the consequent responsibility (this was Mr Man’s thought). It is not true that somebody has to grant the right or that right just is a right (say, God given; I think this is your thought).

    I am in no way talking about who or what is granting the right and creating the responsibility. It does not even matter if it is possible. It does not even matter if the right is good.

    I am surprised Mr Man did not take up my example. Let’s again agree that everybody agrees that the right “not to be murdered” exists, for whatever reason.

    This right obviously implies that you have the responsibility not to murder me. If you or he can prove to me that this responsibility does not follow, then I will concede that I was wrong.

    If you say a bunch of apes have the right not to be killed, then you are also saying that you have the responsibility not to kill them. You are also saying that one ape must not kill another (as they sometimes do). You can of course modify the right, but of course this modifies the subsequent responsibility.

  27. Luis Dias

    You can of course modify the right, but of course this modifies the subsequent responsibility.

    Well, look, I think the whole affair is insane. I think that we’re trying to discern the logic of something that has no logic at all, and so it’s probably a stupid exercise. Still, I’d like to point out that the right does not in fact entail responsabilities. Let me explain further, using your own example.

    Man has the right not to be killed. Ok. But that’s it. We all have the right not to be killed. The responsability that comes out of this (and that you refer is completely inevitable) is not mentioned. For human society, it’s quite easy to get this right enforced: take responsibility on men that murder. Could there be others? Well, if we restricted freedom and put everyone in jail we would stop murder. It’s an absurd example, but here you have another solution that doesn’t entail responsability whatsoever.

    Now look, this is lawyers terrain. They are expert in this kind of thinking. I am sure they will have an answer, how absurd it will even be, I have no idea.

    I have the odd feeling that this logical point is dividing people by the standard left-right politics, but what I have to say has nothing to do with any political belief.

    Perhaps, mr Briggs. I do tend to question everything, and specially tradition. But I see responsability as a chosen consequence of rights, because it’s the best way to enforce those rights, not as inevitable.

    Mostly, right-winged people that I talk to talk as if the the table of rights and responsabilities were somehow fixed thousands of years ago by a thunder or some epiphany of some kind. They are very afraid of change, and rarely admit that things do change. Well, why they change? Because people choose to do so. That simple.

    Alas, this is an absurd example, and so I don’t think that we should think on “human” down-to-earth, sensible solutions, and that’s why I admit the possibility of these crazy things to happen to the law. There is always the possibility of logical caveats.

    I just wanted to kick the hell of this idiots’ [auto-snipped] for adding even more insanity to this world. Isn’t Sarah Palin enough? (flameback in 2… 1….)

  28. John

    Mr Briggs,

    Your arguement so far has been, If A then B.

    “There cannot be a right without a subsequent responsibility. This is a statement of logic, and a true one. ”

    Providing 1 premise statement is not an arguement of logic; and saying your premise is true doesn’t make it true.

    Your support for your arguement has been [prove me wrong and I’ll concede].

    Your example “the right “not to be murdered” exists, for whatever reason”

    This right, more specifically the right to life as detailed in the US Declaration of Independance, is certainly true in the USA because the government offically grants this right to its people. If it were not specifically written, even this right would be a near consensus philosophical idea, not a fact. I am not sure if this paragraph matters but I wrote it anyway.

    Let’s look at your example again though. The right life.
    A 6 month old baby human presumably has the right to life. This same child is not responsible nor will it be be held responsible for the death of any human, under any circumstance.

    Further, in order to act on a responsibility, one must be aware this responsibility exists. To act in line with or against a responsibility implies intent – that a choice to follow or not was made. A chimpanzee or 6 month old human child cannot act on an intent to follow or circumvent a responsibility.

    I have yet to read you address the statement which has been made by multiple posters – The responsibility lies in the authority granting a right to enforce it, not to the recipient of the right.

  29. Briggs


    Look here, now. Let’s all look at this statement:

        A = “Every right entails a responsibility”

    and try to do so without asking who grants the right, who enforces the right, who ensures the right is practical, who is aware of the responsibility, who is aware of the right, and so on. All those questions are good ones and important. But they are besides the exceedingly simple point I am trying to make.

    John is right that I have not formally proved A, but I sought, for reasons of space, to show by example that it is true.

    I have a metaphor that is stuck in the back of my head that shows A simply, but it won’t come out. I am hoping that ingestion of a certain quantify of quality ethanol with dislodge it later. But for now…

    A right and a responsibility are two sides of the same coin. See a right, flip it over, and there lies a responsibility.

    This is almost like saying that for every true statement, a false one can be made (simply by negating the first). (I realize that this metaphor is not beautiful, but it is nonetheless true. I am frustrated with myself for not thinking of my good one, so I apologize for that.)

    For now, I still leave it as a theoretical exercise for somebody to propose a right that is not accompanied by a responsibility. Nobody, except Mr Man, has attempted this. Do not be distracted by what is a good right, or a bad one, or who is granting it, or whether it is possible, or who can be aware of it, and so on.

    And, Luis, you know you love Sarah Palin. Remember yesterday when she said, “The answer is a three-letter word. Jobs. J – O – B – S.” Oh, wait, that was Biden. Or how about when Palin said about the great stock market crash of 1929, that “Franklin Roosevelt got on TV and reassured the people.” But of course, Roosevelt was not president (Hoover was), and TV was not available to anybody. Oh, wait, that was Biden. Or how about when Palin said that … (you get the idea).

  30. Thomas Means

    The declaration of Independence refers to those rights as being ordained by the creator, and is not itself granting or creating the rights, merely acknowledging them. Whether or not you go along with the “creator” part, the rights exist outside of society, government, the state, whichever. Submitting ones rights to “authority” is cowardly, and is the way citizens become disarmed subjects. When one asserts one’s own right to life, or not to be murdered (which is different from being killed), one assumes the responsibility to respect that right in others. It would be hypocrisy to assert that right for oneself yet feel free to go about murdering others and expect no consequences.

    THAT is the kind of responsibility that comes with a right, and there’s an analogous one for everything which is truly a right. The right to smoke cigarettes, a liberty issue, brings with it the responsibility not to endanger others with your toxic byproducts. The right to freedom of expression brings with it the responsibility not to yell “fire” in a crowded movie house, though yelling “movie” in a crowded firehouse would probably be ok.

    If you think about it in this way, you can find a responsibility attached to anything which can be considered a right, if only the reflexive responsibility not to violate the same right in others. Now, we might pass a law stating that it is illegal for a human to murder a chimpanzee, but it’s still not a right for the chimpanzee in the sense that we can’t meaningfully make it illegal for another chimpanzee to murder him. Until the chimpanzee can grasp the concept that it’s wrong to do to another chimpanzee what he would not accept another chimpanzee to do to himself (so eloquently stated as the golden rule), the concept of “rights” for chimpanzees fails BECAUSE they are unable to take RESPONSIBILITY.

  31. Joy

    I can’t think of another way of putting this without being repetitive.
    Humans have human rights because humans own the rights. The word ‘human’ is not there by accident, it is there to define or delineate the class of right.
    To possess human rights as a member of the human race one must accept the obligation that all members of the human race share the same right therefore one has a responsibility or obligation to respect the rights of others who fall into the same class. This doesn’t seem remotely controversial and I am surprised that anyone would find it so.
    Now, a separate issue, ignorance of the law is no defence.
    The difference here is that Apes may well have to be excused just as children or those not of sound mind are treated differently by the law. This issue however is secondary and not relevant to the first point.
    There must be attending obligation or the right vanishes or is nonsensical.
    On the Green Man roundabout, only a few miles from the centre of London, cows have right of way! In Herefordshire the same rule applies. This means that all drivers have an obligation or responsibility to give way to the cows. (Sensible not to argue with them) but it is irrelevant to say that the cows don’t know this or that some people might not understand this or choose to ignore it.
    When cows get behind the wheel of a car they must accept that they must give way to the other cows. It’s a good job they don’t drive or East London would be a gridlock.
    In effect, apes will have to be excused after the fact.
    If they spoke of animal rights they’d have to toe the line on their blood sport. If they call it “ape rights” then someone will say, “How about bull rights?” and they’d be right.

    This above all: To thine ownself be true,
    “Then it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst’ not be false to any man.”
    (a similar argument and is also logical)
    You can’t have one without the other.

  32. Bonobo

    Mr. Briggs,

    I thought that I, above, had at least proposed the possibility of a right unaccompanied by a responsibility. No?

  33. PI

    “Bonobos, a sex- and peace-loving species of ape often held up as an exemplar for human emulatation, like to hunt, kill, and eat other primates.”

    I wasn’t aware that hunting monkeys forfeits anybody’s love of peace. Hunting isn’t war.

    We already knew that bonobos hunt and eat other animals. We just didn’t know they hunted monkeys. Bonobos have their “peace loving” reputation because, unlike chimpanzees, they don’t (to our knowledge) hunt, kill, or eat each other. (Nor other apes, but they don’t live where any other apes are, so we don’t know if that’s significant.) They do fight each other, but again, much less often than do most other apes. Claiming they’re “just as bloodthirsty as the rest of the higher primates” is a rather severe mischaracterization of their actual behavior.

  34. Mr Man


    Give it up. Your argument has been trounced.

  35. Briggs


    A right to rights? Well, then there is a responsibility to somehow (Lord knows who), to ensure that that right to rights is not abridged.

    But I have the feeling that the “right to rights” is sort of like a “set of all sets” kind of thing.

    Mr Man,

    Really? How? Have you found the counter example yet?


    You might have me there. Now we’ll have to see whether anybody discovers bonobo conspecific murder.

  36. Thomas Means

    Bonobo: No. The right to “human rights” entails upon humans a responsibility to respect those rights among other humans, if nothing else. That reflexive thing.

    PI: Perhaps Bonobos are not murdering other chimpanzees, but is this because they have scruples not to do so, or because they live in isolation from other chimpanzees and are therefore not presented the opportunity? It is still open to speculation what they would do if they found themselves in competition with another population of chimpanzees, nicht war?

    Mr Man: Trounced? I think not. In fact, (please try to follow the arguments I have presented) I think his argument is well supported logically. Please try to provide an example which can be agreed by all is a “right” in the sense that the person exercizing it is conscious of it as a “right”, which does not in turn obligate the person exercizing it to some sort of action or inhibition of action when another person recognizes and exercizes this “right”.

  37. Since nobody else has done it, I will define “rights”: A right is a (social) contract that restricts freedom.

    In a condition of utter freedom an entity or actor may do whatever they wish to do, within physical limits (elephants can’t fly). Exercise of utter freedom, however, is inimical to social cohesion because free actions can lead to conflict (whose apple is it?). Hence human beings have created social contracts that restrict freedoms (sometimes mutually, sometimes imposed by authority).

    You may not enter my home, sit on my couch, watch my TV, and eat from my refrigerator because I have the right to exclude you. My right (of exclusive use of my home) diminishes your freedom. My right exists only if it is enforceable, and the common manner of enforcement is via law. Also, it helps enforcement if rights are egalitarian; that is, if everyone possesses the same rights. Then the diminishment of freedom (also called a responsibility) is equally shared, and I may not enter your home, sit on your couch, watch your TV, and eat out of your refrigerator (without your permission).

    When the apes of Spain are granted rights by the Authorities, it is a diminishment of the freedom of the human beings who encounter an ape. The humans assume responsibilities. The apes, however, cannot assume responsibilities because they are not capable of that. They lack the intelligence. An ape can be trained, but it cannot enter into contracts. The apes cannot respect the rights of humans; they cannot assume responsibilities. It is beyond their intelligence to do that.

    Similarly, when human babies are granted rights, the freedom of others is diminished. The babies do not assume responsibilities; older people do. But make no mistake, the granting of a right is, by definition, a diminishment of somebody’s freedom. Hence it is a truism that the granting of a right is accompanied by a responsibility.

    Do both accrue to the same actor? Not always, as in the case of babies and Spanish apes. They get rights without the encumbrance of responsibilities. Is that a good idea? Yes, in the case of babies, and no, in the case of apes, in my opinion. Does my opinion count? Well it should, because it is my freedom that is being diminished in both cases. And without my consent (actually the consent of a critical mass of encumbered humans) the right being granted will be very difficult to enforce.

    Ultimately, rights are a social contract. If the King or other Authority wants to grant some, he better be able to back them up with enforcement powers or they will be abridged and meaningless. That’s why mutual consent of self-governed people is much better way to ensure that social contracts (rights) are enforced.

  38. Thomas Means

    The rights of a child short of the age of majority, including a baby, are held in trust by that child’s legal guardian(s), and it is a responsibility (there’s that word again) of such legal guardian(s) to see to it that the “rights” of the child are respected, since the child is presumed not competent to see to it itself.

  39. Luis Dias

    These super-geekier discussions is one of the reasons why I come back here so often 🙂

  40. Rich

    For me this discussion demonstrates that, sometimes, logic is not by itself enough. It might be that the issues around rights are too complex deal with or that multiple definitions of “right” are floating around unnoticed. In such cases I think reasonable people fall back on reasonableness. So: I don’t think rights for animals is reasonable but legislating decent treatment for them is.

  41. Briggs


    Uproot it and plant it at Harvard.

  42. gens


    As a fellow Cornell alum, I am sure you would agree with me that forcible relocation to Harvard is cruel and unusual punishment for any species of life (even a weed) and could rightfully result in a trip to the Hague…

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