Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Chimps Not All that Much Like Us

Not Much Like Us, Actually

Tibor R. Machan

Titles of books, movies, poems, and such tell but little of what?s to
come?they are, like advertisements, attention getters. So Jane Goodall?s
title for her movie, Chimps: So Like Us, might not need to be taken
seriously. Since, however, in her narration of this very appealing
depiction of her interaction with chimpanzees, she keeps saying, very
seriously, earnestly, how chimps are ?so like us,? the claim may be taken
as more than just a come-on.

There is, of course, the DNA evidence that human beings and chimps share
about 98% of their DNA, and this has been known for quite some time. So in
terms of the biological facts of the case there is not much new in this
movie. Nor would those of us who have stood transfixed at the chimp and
other great ape sections of zoos and witnessed the amazing array of
behavior these animals exhibit, admittedly under training, in movies and
other entertainment venues be surprised with what the movie shows us.
Chimps are quite clearly, contrary to all those reactionary critics of
Darwinian evolutionary theory and natural selection, closely enough
related to the human species on several fronts. Arguably their social
behavior also calls to mind some of what human beings do, as parents,
mates, even managers of various organizations.

It is fortunate that this documentary movie is so much fun to watch apart
from Jane Goodall?s endless whining and intoning about how the chimp is
virtually a human being. I have seen it with the audio on and with it off
and it is far more enjoyable without Goodall?s narrative, at least for me.
When I hear what she has to say, all that comes to mind for me is that
this is a lengthy example of the informal fallacy of reasoning called
pleading one?s case.

In this fallacy, which obviously calls to mind what attorney?s do in
court in behalf of their clients, one who advances a position is entirely
focused on the pieces of evidence that back it up and leaves anything that
might call the position into question out of the presentation. Which is at
it should be in the adversarial forum of the law courts or even formal
debates?the other side will take care of the skeptical points. But
scholarship, and whatever approximates it?such as documentaries that aim
to tell it to the general public as it is, of which Chimps: So Like Us is
a clear case in point?must avoid the fallacy of pleading one?s case.
(Michael Moore should have thought of that in all his failed attempts to
produce responsible work.) One needs not only to look at evidence that
helps the position one thinks may be true but also evidence that suggests
otherwise. Only if this method is deployed, can one have reasonable
confidence in the conclusions reached.

Alas, Jane Goodall, although offered up as a well credentialed scientist,
sounds, instead, more like a sentimental child throughout Chimps: So Like
Us. Even in watching the film, how could it escape anyone that it is human
beings making movies of chimps and not the other way around? It is human
beings who do research on animals, not vice-versa. It is they who write
lengthy books reporting on this research, not their subjects. And that?s
just for starters.

Even more importantly?aside from all the evidence about how much more
creative, productive, inventive, imaginative, intelligent and the like
human beings are than chimps that are supposedly so much like us?there is
the fact that while Jane Goodall and many of her supporters freely wag
their fingers at those who do not accept their views on chimps, no finger
wagging at all occurs when it comes to anything that chimps or other
animals do. Chimps & Co., in other words, are not moral agents, none of
them, whereas normal adult human beings are. And that is why those like
Dr. Goodall are confident about relentlessly imploring us all to be better
than we are when it comes to how we treat chimps and the rest of the wilds.

I am personally quite taken with the animal world. I, and my children
have always had, and have taken good care of, both domesticated and some
wild beasts. None of us, however, has made the error of attributing to
them the qualities of consciousness and personality that give rise to
moral responsibility and, most importantly, basic rights. That would be a
very serious confusion and those who have made it have produced some
serious problems as a result, what with several animal research
laboratories having been pressured to close down recently and leaving
behind the work that could well lead to serious beneficial findings to us
in medicine and other areas of research.

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