On May 27th of this year, the US Supreme Court heard the case for two adult male chimps, Hercules and Leo, to be legally recognised as ‘persons’. Specifically, the petitioner (animal advocacy organisation The Nonhuman Rights Project) sought the application of the great writ of Habeas Corpus, a constitutionally enforced legal action disallowing unlawful detention of any persons. If the petitioners are successful, Hercules and Leo will be released from their current residence—three large ‘bedroom size’ cages at Stony Brook university—and shipped off to an ape sanctuary in Florida to hang, literally, with the great has-been movie stars and medical breakthroughs of their species.
The court case emerges from a cultural moment in which our relationship with the nonhuman world—with other organisms but also with corporate entities and technologies—has become murky-shiny, tangled, fearful and fantastic. Where once humans and animals were considered largely separate, each dwelling in their ‘natural’ place whether that be the Oval Office or the dog-house, there now seems to be a dearth of human and nonhuman outliers and nonconformists who traverse the boundaries of nature, culture and technology. At this moment in which babies use iPads, dogs are openly declared ‘fur children’ and pigs’ hearts might soon be xenotransplanted into our grandfathers, we are no longer wholly comfortable with standing distinctions between human, animal and technology. Despite the mild headache, this anxious, liminal space is a good place in which to wake up.
Every day at the dog-park, walking one of my large and unruly foster-dogs, I encounter the prosaic behaviours of humans and animals negotiating life lived together. Here, the overwhelming human attitude is that dogs are, in fact, persons. They certainly have personalities, desires, social orders and contained yet frisky autonomy. Packs emerge. Alliances are forged and strengthened in just thirty minutes per day. Some are coping better with their situations than others. There are dogs and humans on herbal and not so herbal regimes for anxiety and depression. There are humans who interpret their dog’s desire to sniff and lick other dogs’ genitals as sexual deviancy. There are dogs who do not care. There are humans who claim their dog is part wild, a dingo from the great beyond.
This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #27. Get your copy now.
Briohny Doyle is a regular contributor to The Lifted Brow and has published fiction and criticism in Ampersand, Meanjin and Going Down Swinging. She likes to write about movies, the end of the world, and ideology in popular culture. In 2014 she completed a PhD on apocalypse. Adult Fantasy, her first nonfiction book, is due out in 2017 through Scribe Publications.