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steven wise and steven colbertsteven wise and steven colbert

WATCH: Colbert Talks Legal Rights for Animals with Steven Wise

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Steven Wise, lawyer and President of the Nonhuman Rights Project, was a guest on “The Colbert Report” on Thursday advocating for animals to have the same rights for justice as the humans who currently control them.

“I’m trying to get a chimpanzee the right to get out of a cage on writs of habeas corpus,” explained Wise whose book, ‘Rattling the Cage: Towards Legal Rights for Animals,’ was just released in paperback. “A chimpanzee is an extraordinary being. She can think about the past. She can think about the future. She can think about how she wants to live her life. She is self determined. And these are the same things that make us so important and make us want to file writs of habeas corpus when we’re thrown in human jail. When she’s thrown in chimpanzee jail she should get out too.”

When Steven Colbert asked if that would open the flood gates to all animals (allowing his dog to sue him to be able to get on his couch), Wise replied in the same humorous way suggesting Colbert give his card to the dog.

Wise also talked about Tommy, a chimpanzee who has been in captivity and whose story was featured in New York Times’ magazine earlier this year. Wise showed a picture of Tommy behind the green bars of a cell looking despondent. Colbert sarcastically told his staff to quickly remove the image since it was “very sad making.”

When asked about how he knows that Tommy is not happy, Wise admitted Tommy never told him, but Jane Gooddall and other experts told him that no chimpanzee wants to live in a cage.

As for the reason why he’s there, the answer was simple.

“He was born a chimpanzee and because he’s a chimpanzee he’s our slave,” explained Wise. “We can do whatever we want to him and the folks who are keeping him are keeping him in the way you just saw. They’re allowed to keep him in those kinds of conditions. We want to get him out.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only organization currently fighting for the alteration of the law to give non-humans legal rights such as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.

“What it shows is that we can extend justice to wherever there should be justice whether we’re dealing with a human or any other being,” summarized Wise about his mission.

Colbert then replied in the most Colbert way possible.

“If Tommy wants to have rights as a person, he should form his own corporation.”

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  • rodentx2

    Animal rights, like “human” rights, means: Not BIGGER cages, but EMPTY cages. Life, joy, peace, freedom, planet Earth: Not for “Humans Only.” The other animals are our evolutionary kin and fellow Earthlings–they are not aliens, and they have a right to respect for their dignity, lives, and welfare, NOT to be valued merely as “property” or “resources,” nor are they “things,” but conscious, thinking, feeling, caring beings like us, whose lives and families matter to them, what happens to them matters to them. “Animal welfare” is a cover for
    human extremists who profit from commercial animal slavery, or as consumers of animal products and service. This is why the animal-rights agenda provokes hostility from arrogant people who enjoy power over other animals, from the insecure who boost themselves by devaluing and exploiting other animals, and from the guilty who do not want to confront their ignorance and implication in humanity’s institutionalized violence against the other animals. Get with the agenda: EVOLVE.

  • Although I really appreciate Wise’s work, I don’t agree with his approach to animal rights. He argues for animals’ rights based on their cognitive abilities. He essentially says that some animals are much more intelligent and human-like then we thought (e.g. primates, parrots, dolphins elephants) and therefore they deserve to be persons and not objects in front of the law. If successful, this would obviously make life better for many apes and other animals with high cognitive abilities, but it’d change very little for most of the world’s farmed and otherwise used and abused animals. In a way, Wise is advocating that we redraw the line of speciesism to include a few more species on the “winners’ side,” rather than arguing for an end of speciesism.

    I also thought the interview was a bit timid. Wise didn’t even answer when Colbert asked if he was a vegetarian.

    That said, I’m excited to see animal rights advocates making it into the mainstream media at all! Animal rights shouldn’t be a fringe issue.


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