On Small Increments of Success (?)
Steve Ross, the supervisor of behavioral and cognitive research at the Lester Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo, is pleased that a growing number of companies have said they will stop using primates in advertisements. He explains why in "Chimps Aren’t Chumps" in today’s New York Times.
I assume no one reading this wants primates to be used in advertisements. Ross says that having companies pledge not to use them is some sort of progress: a small increment of success.
I also assume that some people are going to say it’s not progress because it’s based on a speciesist premise (it absolutely is). In addition to how exceptional (and exceptionally like us) chimpanzees are, Ross refers to the public’s "dangerous impression that chimpanzees have a safe and comfortable existence" because of their use in advertisements. This is very much like yesterday’s post about orangutans no longer being forced to "act."
Ross writes: "Misrepresentations of chimpanzees may not be as repugnant as racism, bigotry or sexism. But they can still serve as a benchmark for our society’s moral progress." I do want to ask him why he stops at misrepresentation and doesn’t consider the idea of holding them captive in a zoo and using them for entertainment. Perhaps then his sense of repugnance might rise. I also want to ask him why being like us is so darn important that it appears to be one of two reasons they deserve respect (the other is that they are in danger in the wild–as presumably captivity isn’t a problem for them).
Given the myriad points of disagreement I have with Ross, part of me wants to make it simple and object to everything he says and stands for. And I can come close. But it’s not that tidy, as I can agree that ceasing the use of chimpanzees in advertising is indeed a small increment of success. (Got a microscope?)
I’d imagine that any time we stop using a sentient nonhuman, in the beginning (i.e., now), the reason will be either that they’re so much like us or that the use causes them too much suffering. Discontinuing the use of any species isn’t likely to happen because it’s not right to use them–at least not in 2008. This doesn’t mean we change what we say or what we want, but it does mean we have to address what others will believe are successes and decide where we stand.
Is it a small increment of success that chimps won’t be used in advertisements and orangutans will no longer be forced to "act?" What do you think?