Depending on who we are, and how we look at things, certain words can easily trigger negative or positive connotations based on our values, belief system and our personal situation. Take the word "cage". It has gotten a bad rap, so lots of people use the word "enclosure" and then everything is perfectly okay. I don't like this kind of game with words, and I think that it causes a lot of misunderstandings. A cage can be bad, if you are trying to get out, and it keeps you from things that you want. A cage can be good, if it protects you from danger: hence a diving cage, to keep divers safe from sharks. Even the whole question of who is on the inside or the outside of a cage or fence is largely determined by perspective. Do our borders keep aliens out or do they keep us in? It depends on the situation. It depends on where people want to go.
If you are happy in your cage, then a cage is good. If you are sad, then it is bad. It's all in the mind of the beholder.
But when we start to call cages that we like "enclosures", and cages that we don't like "cages", then communicating with somebody else who has a different perspective becomes more difficult. Their values are built into the words, and they can't seem to step outside their bias.
Take the term "concentration camp". It has a bad connotation for most of us, and rightfully so, but do you know what it really means? I'll tell you what it does not mean: "A bad place run by Nazis." Sometimes when I refer to a facility as a concentration camp, people accuse me of name-calling. But do you know what the literal meaning of a concentration camp is? It is a place where certain groups, to the exclusion of other groups, are concentrated in a given location. Usually, the groups that are singled out for being at that location are forbidden to be anyplace else. They don't have the right to leave, and they also do not have the right to keep others out. The group affiliation in a concentration camp is usually determined by genetic criteria, ethnicity, place of origin or nationality.
Here are a few examples of concentration camps by this literal, denotative definition:
- internment camps for enemy aliens run by the Japanese during WWII
- internment camps for Americans of Japanese extraction run by the Americans during WWII
- camps run by the Nazis in WWII in which many Jews and other "undesirables" were exterminated
- detention centers for illegal aliens currently being opened in the United States
- chimpanzee sanctuaries in the United States and elsewhere
The idea behind a concentration camp, and hence its use of the word "concentration", is that individuals of a certain sort, as defined in a certain way, are problematic for those in charge, so they are concentrated in certain locations, and forbidden to be elsewhere. This does not necessarily imply that the individuals so concentrated are going to be treated "inhumanely" or that they are all going to be eventually executed. Many people came home from the Japanese internment camps. Most people made it out safely from the American internment camps of WWII. Right now, many people are assuming that the children in the detention centers are being given asylum, and not that they are going to be treated badly. Many sanctuaries for chimpanzees pride themselves on the humane treatment of the individuals that they house, and they believe they are being given an asylum from bad people who formerly kept them in "cages". The sanctuaries don't use "cages". They use "enclosures". Lots of people can't see past the labels.
Besides it being unfair and unjust to single out certain groups for this treatment, there are other concerns about all concentration camps, just based on the way they concentrate certain groups in one place. One of the dangers of singling out specific groups for different treatment is that we don't always know what happens to them after they go in behind closed doors. In WWII, red cross representatives were able to make inspections of the various concentration camps. But we know from historical accounts that the things they were allowed to see were very different from what went on day by day. Another danger is that once a certain group is concentrated in a specific place -- even if it is for their "own protection" -- the regime may change, and when somebody else comes to power they may then be treated differently.
For this reason, I don't think it is wise to concentrate all chimpanzees in one of a few locations. It does not work that way in nature, where chimpanzees live in smaller groups of warring tribes, and where the decimation of one group leaves others to survive.
Even if all the people working at the current chimpanzee sanctuaries are nice people, this says nothing about what they are going to be like in the future with changed management. So while I am not immortal and someday Bow will need other people to look after him, I must try to find people younger than myself to take my place. What I do not want to do is to entrust Bow into a concentration camp with changing management and priorities that differ from mine. People my own age or older can guarantee nothing about what will happen to Bow after my death, anymore than I can. I need to train disciples, not give Bow up to my contemporaries, however well meaning.
If I did give him up, it would be back the the breeders, where he could live among his own family of origin. But the breeders are under attack, too, and they are no younger than I am. In fact, they are more senior. I would need to see who replaces them in their own organization and what the priorities of the younger generation are, before I could trust that our goals are sufficiently similar.
Bill Lemmon who ran the Lemmon Farm from which Washoe, Nim and Lucy emerged, was always willing to welcome back the chimpanzees that had been lent out for language experiments. He has a bad reputation and is described as a very scary guy, but in my opinion the worst thing that he ever did was that when he fell upon hard times, he sold out to medical experimenters. If people had been interested in sparing Nim his worst experiences, they should have helped Lemmon with his expenses on the farm. And this is why I react so strongly to the anti-breeder bias in current literature about ape language research. Without local breeders the researchers and the sanctuaries would both be out of luck. There simply would not be any chimpanzees in the United States at all. In fact, I suspect that this is the ultimate goal of the sanctuaries, no matter how humanely they are going about pursuing it. I don't share that goal.
Bow and I spend twelve hours a day in our cages -- or our enclosures -- together, As a result, I am aware of the conditions Bow lives under. If it is too hot or too cold, I know. We eat the same foods, so I know what he is eating, and I know if it's nutritious. We go in and out of the house often, and Bow gets to decide when. This means he has control over his environment. Most importantly of all, Bow gets to decide who is allowed into his space and who is kept out.
The dogs have the whole yard to roam in, but they usually stand right next to the pen, gazing at us longingly, as if the best possible place to be would be inside with us.
Bow has a sense of ownership and control, looking over my shoulder and inspecting everything I do. And I think that each of us prefers the cage we can control to a palatial institution where we are prisoners.
The real difference between a prison and a home is not how big of an enclosure it is, or even whether you can leave it safely, but whether you can decide for yourself who gets to come in.