Saturday, January 14, 2012

Psychology Today magazine, "mating" with an ape and how to dress your chimpanzee at the wedding

Funny or exploitative and misleading about apes? February 2012 issue


My favourite and sometimes provocative magazine Psychology Today has an eye-catching photo on the cover of its February 2012 issue showing a chimpanzee in a tuxedo with a woman in a wedding dress as her "mate."

The article is called "Are You With the Right Mate? What to do when you think it's all a mistake (and you will)"

As an older divorced primate with what I believe is now a promising second attempt at lifelong companionship, I am compelled to read this article and others, ones in the February issue like the cure for insomnia, thinking like a genius, how to keep your brain young -- all essential information for me.

The chimpanzee mate article is illustrated inside with a series of photos of a chimpanzee dressed in human clothes with his bride, with a final photo of them sharing a kiss. (Chimpanzees naturally kiss without having to be coaxed by human beings.)

There is a playful, humorous suggestion in the photos -- but not in the article itself -- that a male chimpanzee is almost akin to a human mate. One wonders what the children would be like.

But avoiding the temptation to see where the idea of a chimpanzee mate leads, is it right to dress an ape in human fashion?

Facebook profile photo that sparked outrage
I know that some of my Facebook primate friends would be appalled. In the last few days they have had a scorching debate about censoring a Facebook contact of ours who is using a monkey dressed in clothes as her profile photo.

The moral issue is a fascinating one.

The argument is that it is wrong to turn a fellow thinking and sentient being into an object of our pleasure. That is not only degrading, it validates their status as "pets" and helps to justify the abuse of the species.

The same type of thing was done years ago to women and non-Caucasians, in the days when male Caucasians had all the power and seemed destined always to have all the power.

Just in case you haven't heard, the reign of the white, male Caucasian has come to an end.

What was disturbing about the Facebook monkey photo feud was how quickly it descended into moralistic squabbling to pressure and punish anyone who didn't attack the offender.

But enough of social squabbles. What about the rights of apes?

Like all moral principles, particularly when they are promoted as absolutes, principles need to be scrutinized.

From Psychology Today magazine
We might say that it is absolutely and universally wrong to murder another human being, but then how is it right to fight wars, execute murderers, and kill terrorists? Are there some situations where murder is justified?

I would argue, by the way, that killing an ape is also murder, and I expect there would be fewer exceptions than there are for human beings.

But back to clothing and apes.

What if a chimpanzee decides of his own free will that he would like to wear a piece of clothing? Should we say that he does not have a choice, because we humans know better and have taken the right to make decisions for him?

But, someone will say, chimpanzees in the wild don't wear clothing. We want to keep them in a pristine state and wearing just your natural fur is part of that.

An interspecies kiss, in Psychology Today magazine
One answer might be another hypothetical test. Suppose you found a previously undiscovered tribe in the Amazon jungle. Should they be kept in a pristine and uncontaminated state without choice, against their will? Should they be given the choice if they want to learn from us and adopt some of what we have?

At what point do apes have basic rights and the freedom to make basic choices for themselves? How can we make all the choices for them?

Whatever the answer, whether Psychology Today magazine is bold for making a chimpanzee somewhat of a "mate" of a human being or reprehensible for a joke that makes an ape a plaything, our thinking about apes is far too sloppy.

The U.S.-based Psychology Today uses a chimpanzee human plaything on the cover at a time when the moral issue of using chimpanzees in medical experiments is being seriously debated in the U.S. Only two countries do this -- the U.S. and Gabon.

 Even with the best of motives we have done apes wrong.

Who is reading this blog entry? Where is the interest? In the first week of this blog item being posted on the web, here is a breakdown by country of the page views: United States 332, UK 99, Canada 85, Germany 24, France 20, Australia 19, Russia 19, Indonesia, 18, China 14, India 13.

(By the way, Psychology Today is still my favourite magazine (along with the Economist), despite our rocky history. I was invited to write an online column for Psychology Today magazine in 2010 , with the publication of my book about orangutans, but I was dismissed later that year for raising the issue of the magazine's treatment of online columnists. I also criticized the magazine for using a cover photo of a woman in a bikini that seemed more Cosmopolitan magazine than Psychology Today.)

The editor of my favourite primate psychology magazine:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apes NEVER belong in clothes...