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Steven Wise of Nonhuman Rights Project on Colbert Report

Steven Wise’s appearance on The Colbert Report last night was all great fun, with Colbert in classic form as the blowhard fundamentalist saying that “animals are animals, humans are humans, and never the twain shall meet, READ YOUR BIBLE!”

Wise explains that 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 can self-determine, the same things that make us [humans] want to file writs of habeas corpus when we’re thrown in human jail.”

Colbert shows us a photo of Tommy in his tiny cage, then quickly says “Let’s take it down because it is sad-making,” and then asks why Tommy wants out.

“Tommy wants out because he’s a chimpanzee,” Wise responds. “No chimpanzee wants to be kept like that!”

Colbert goes back to the Bible, arguing that ”man has dominion over animals” and that “this is just the camel’s nose under the tent and then the camel gets habeas corpus, too.” And then he asks why animals should have “legal standing.”

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Brief tangent: Wise wisely doesn’t get into explaining that “standing” is not the issue. But, for the record, “standing” is often confused with “capacity”. The capacity to sue is one one of many legal rights that a legal person has. If a party lacks the capacity to sue, it cannot sue, though a third party may sometimes sue on its behalf (as the NhRP is doing on behalf of our plaintiffs). Legal standing is an entirely different issue: it requires that a plaintiff must have sufficient connection to the defendant and have sustained an injury caused by the defendant caused and that a court can fix.

But back to the interview: Colbert insists that the NhRP is trying to “take mankind off of the top of the organizational chart … then my dog can sue to get on my couch.”

Wise replies that this case is about chimpanzees, but Colbert presses the matter of his dog.

“I’ll give you my card,” Wise replies. “You can give the card to your dog. Your dog can call me.”

Colbert launches into an expostulation about “what your desire [to free Tommy] does to our legal system and the standing of mankind and our primacy in our vision of the universe is just detritus and wreckage on the way to your mad goal to release one chimp.”

Wise replies that this case simply shows that “we can extend justice to wherever there should be justice whether we’re dealing with a human or with any other being.”

Colbert replies that if Tommy wants to have rights as a person, he should form his own corporation (since corporations are recognized as “legal persons”).

The audience cheers, and that’s it. Enjoy the video! You can also watch the interview here.




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