Monday, March 9, 2015
What would it mean to retire?
What would it mean to retire, if you were a chimpanzee in a language experiment? Would it mean that you would never use language again? Would it imply that you would never have another conversation? Enough talking. Now it is time to be silent.
The problem with the idea of retirement as a respite from work is that not all work is unpleasant. Not all work is drudgery. Not all work is something you want to end. Can you imagine taking a vow of silence upon your own retirement, if talking was part of what you did at work?
I saw this idea brought up in a discussion concerning plans to retire some chimpanzees from NIH research and to send them to another facility where ape language research is conducted. Someone said: Why send them into more research? Why not let them retire? Haven't they suffered enough?
This person was equating medical research -- in which the chimpanzee's body is ravaged by all sorts of unpleasant and harmful effects -- with language experiments in which, at most, the chimpanzee is exposed to language. There is a huge difference.
The kind of experiment that I conduct is not harmful to Bow. It is not something that causes him pain. It doesn't take away from his ability to express himself: it just adds one more channel. He is not less himself as a result of what we do together: he is more so.
The other side to all of this is that anyone who works is also earning a livelihood. Being retired, for an animal such as a chimpanzee, a horse or an elephant, means not having funding that enables one to go on living.
Recently the Ringling Brothers gave in to pressure from animal rights activists and agreed to retire their elephants. Many animal rights people and those who listen to them are cheering this as a victory for elephants. But did they ask the elephants what they wanted to do? Do they have any idea what will happen to the elephants once they are out of a job?
Quite likely this will lead to the death of many Asian elephants in the United States. It's not as if these elephants were minding their own business out in "the wild" and one day a bunch of nasty circus people kidnapped them. These elephants have been working hand in trunk with humans for generations. They don't know any other life. They don't have anywhere to go.
A similar struggle is being waged over carriage horses in New York. It is alleged that using a horse to pull a carriage is cruel, and so the horses should be retired. Never mind that there are humans who earn a living this way and who will lose their livelihoods if the ban goes through. What do the tender-hearted AR people think will happen to the horses, once they are out of work? Will they go on unemployment benefits, do you think? Or will they end up as dog food?
All these ideas of liberating others while being heedless to the consequences have affected humans, too. Due to the minimum wage, for instance, many unskilled laborers today have to go without any work at all. They at least have benefits to support them when their job is eliminated. But what do you think happens to animals when no one will pay for their keep?
Retirement is sometimes a euphemistic label that accompanies the end of life. It's one thing to go on a very long vacation and quite another to stop working forever. Most humans who retire end up working again, doing something else for as long as they are able, because there is really not much pleasure in life without productive work.
In nature, chimpanzees do not retire. They don't stop doing what they have to do in order to get food no matter how old they are. Why on earth would you expect them to do so when in human society?