A smoking chimp is a slippery slope

I love the story of Charlie the Smoking Chimp, and I am sorry to read that he died, although I am delighted to see that by making it to 52, he outlived "normal" (which I assume means non-smoking) chimps by a decade.

Charlie the chimp, known for his cigarette habit, has died at his home in a South African Zoo.

After picking up a smoking habit because of cigarettes being thrown into his enclosure at the Mangaung Zoo in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Charlie began to bum smokes from zoo visitors by gesturing to his mouth with two fingers, mimicking the actions of smokers he'd watched. (See photos of the world's most endangered primates)

Chimps are the closest relatives to humans in the animal kingdom, and that worries me. Because, while I oppose "animal rights" theory, I am somewhat inclined to make an exception for the higher primates. Their intelligence can be compared to human children in many ways, and were I running the world, I would be disinclined to allow humans to kill them, torture them, or conduct experiments on them. I might even be willing to go so far as to say they have a right to life, but then I'd run afoul of the people who know more about right to life than I do, and I might be accused of opening a can of worms or starting down a slippery slope which would ultimately ban hunting, fishing, meat-eating, or even fly-swatting! Except I don't see why I can't make an exception for these intelligent animals to my normal "rule" against rights for animals. Who makes my rules, anyway? It's not as if I'm Ayn Rand charged with coming up with a Single Unifying Philosophical Theory of Everything. I think I have a right to favor certain animals just because I want to. If I think dogs are man's best friend while cows are man's best food, who is to tell me I shouldn't think that? Who makes my rules?

I've also been reading about the legal snarl-up over the girl who claims it is her religious right to wear a nose ring. If it sounds laughable, it's only because her family's church (yes, her parents "raised her that way") -- the Church of Body Modification -- is of recent origin and considered ridiculous by most people. Hey when I was a kid the Nation of Islam was considered not only ridiculous, but dangerous. Especially to we "blue-eyed devils" who were said to have been created by an evil black doctor in test tubes. Seems pretty kooky to me, but then so does the crackpot "Thetan theology" invented by the crackpot Church of Old Father Hubbard. These people have their rights, and if you worship "body modification," I'm not sure the government has any right to stop you.

But still, I wouldn't allow a family to amputate their children's legs. Does that make me a latent fascist, who would use the power of the state to tell people what to do with their own private lives? Or does it make my self-proclaimed "libertarianism" suspect? Why? Again, I never claimed to be anything but a small-l libertarian, and to many large-L Libertarians, my support for the Iraq War made me a dangerous heretic. A pseudo libertarian and a phony libertarian. That's what someone calling himself "Hesiod" said repeatedly. Unlike the real Hesiod (an ancient Greek poet who actually existed), my self proclaimed more-libertarian-than-thou critic was unwilling to put his real name on what he wrote, and his blog no longer exists. I can understand the need some people have for anonymity, because after all, if you put your real name on what you write, people might know who you are, and if you're in a sensitive position, you might not want people to know who you are. But why take on the name of a famous person instead of just calling yourself Tom, Dick or Harry? Does it add pizazz to the writing or something? Like, would I be more persuasive or interesting if I hid my real identity (of which I should probably be more ashamed) and called myself Ganymede? Nah, that's too ancient and pretentious, and besides there was no real Ganymede. So how about Edgar Allen Poe? Nah, he's too well known, so it wouldn't seem appropriately "clever." Say, how about Andre Gide? Yeah, that's who I should be! After all, the man started out as a Commie, but ended up vehemently rejecting Communism (which means he was probably not entirely consistent), and he also... Uh oh! While I've read him before, I just saw something on his Wiki page which makes me have second thoughts about taking on his identity:

"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not"
So If people loved me as "Gide" and I really wasn't Gide, I'd be worse off than I am now.

Scratch that, I guess.

Anyway, I was trying to think about the smoking chimp (what a name for a blog that would be if it isn't taken which it is, as is "thesmokingchimp") and then my thoughts became mutilated by the body modification nose ring thing, so let me work my way back. Anyone who says body modification is not a religious issue should think again. Genital mutilation -- whether done to please the demands or needs of deities, or the demands or needs of men -- is as old as man. A huge war got started because a Roman emperor tried to stamp it out. Personally, I think Hadrian should have been more specific in his law (which was intended to stop castration) and more tolerant of religious practices, but it's too late to offer advice at this point. Like Hadrian, if I were emperor, I would not allow castration either. Except I'm not a Roman emperor; I'm an American small-l libertarian who claims to believe in freedom! (Yay!) And allowing men to castrate other men against their will is something that I think almost all of us -- even libertarians -- would agree that the law should prohibit. But what about men who go to doctors because they want to become women? Most Americans would allow that if there has been an appropriate medical diagnosis of -- what is it? -- gender identity disorder. But suppose the guy just wanted to lose his balls. Should he be allowed to hire a surgeon to perform an orchiectomy? Or is that not in the best interests of society? Let's suppose it isn't. It could lead to a slippery slope of castration fads, or even parents castrating boys so they can have lucrative singing careers. Eunuchs are unsettling to the modern world; Jesus's discussion of eunuchs is lost on most people, but then, so was his underlying argument, which was the condemnation of divorce. So, even though we have decided that allowing women to pay doctors to cut out their fetuses is in the best interest of society, let's assuming that allowing men to cut off their balls is not. Do the interests of society mean the state should dictate what people should be allowed to do with their own bodies? What single, all-encompassing theory of freedom might consistently resolve this seeming contradiction?

Hey, don't look at me. I'm not Ayn Rand.

And the freedom thingie gets even more complicated if we get to the circumcision thingie. You know, where parents pay doctors to slice off a perfectly good part of their male child's penis? Some do it for religious reasons, many do it for what they think are valid medical reasons (although this can be debated), and some do it just because cutting off part of their baby's thingie is just the thing to do.

Am I sounding like I'm against circumcision? Sorry to disappoint the anti-circumcision fanatics (again!), and perhaps I'm a psychopath, but I really don't care. I think it should be up to the parents. If I had a son I don't know what I would do. There are medical reasons, and purely aesthetic reasons -- reasons which might result from cultural biases and which might change over time, but I certainly don't think the government has any right to tell people what to do in this matter.

Yet as I say that, I recognize that the state does have a right to prevent female circumcision. How's that for consistency? Well, it's what I think.

May Ayn Rand strike me dead.

Freedom is not always neat and tidy in all its manifestations. Allowing male circumcision is not the same as allowing castration or female circumcision. And while I'm at it, I would not allow the painful custom of footbinding. And all claims of inconsistency to the contrary, I would allow parents to have braces placed on their children's teeth.

I believe in legalizing all drugs. But suppose I favored legalizing only marijuana. Would that obligate me to also favor legalizing angel dust? Why? And if I favor legalizing drugs, does that mean that I necessarily "have to be in favor of" selling heroin to children? Hell no. For the life or me, I see no inconsistency in applying principles of common sense to freedom. If you think there's a slippery slope, fine, but don't expect me to agree with it. Likewise, if you don't think it's reasonable to apply common sense to freedom, then don't, but it's hardly fair accuse me of lacking the common sense that you have subtracted it from my arguments.

And for the umpteenth time, sex between consenting adults is not the same thing as sex between adults and children. Because I would allow the former, it does not follow that I would have to allow the latter. This strikes me as too obvious a point to require serious debate, but some people are hell bent on reading into my views some sort of duty to agree that the freedom I speak of necessarily countenances the freedom for adults to have sex with children. Nonsense.

Back to the more pressing issue of Charlie's rights. How do I allow myself to get so distracted?

OK, I already said I was for him having certain rights, so I didn't like reading about how humans were trying to take away his rights in the name of rights:

Visitors continued to indulge the chimp, bringing on a hailstorm of accusations from animal rights activists when videos surfaced online not long after, prompting Bloemfontein zoo officials to try to cut Charlie's nicotine supply off entirely.

Zoo officials claim that smoking was not a factor in the Charlie's death, who at 52, lived ten years beyond the normal life expectancy of the average chimpanzee.

(More on NewsFeed: Stop Smoking To Improve Your Sex Life)

"Even though he has been receiving special care, and a special diet including protein shakes, vitamin and mineral supplements, he succumbed to old age," Zoo spokesman Qondile Khedama told the BBC, which also reports of another chimp in Russia who entered a rehabilitation process after "he started pestering visitors for alcohol and cigarettes."

Now that just plain sucks! I think that if animals have rights, then they have the right to smoke if they want to!

And notice the way the piece is loaded with anti-smoking propaganda ads? They even try to sneak it by throwing in sex, when those of us who grew up in the Golden Pre-Airbrushed Days of Hollywood all know that smoking is much sexier than not smoking.

But that poor chimp! He touches on so many human contradictions, simply because he loved smoking, and lived too long.

We can learn a lot from him.

I'd say that I wanted to give him a great big kiss, except that some wise guy would probably come along and accuse me of countenancing bestiality.

MORE: Veeshir's comment about the quality of life reminded me of an old lady I used to know:

I came to know a woman who had finally retired to a rest home at age 97, and she was one of those loquacious grand dames who would sit and hold court on the porch. While smoking like a chimney. As I got to know her, she complained to me about the staff's attempts to get her to stop smoking. I will never forget the way, in a loud voice, she bellowed,

"They want me to stop smoking -- 'FOR MY HEALTH!' Honey, I'm NINETY SEVEN YEARS OLD!"

It struck me as cruel, ironic, and hilarious. She was full of life, sharp as a tack, and had lived longer than her "helpers" probably would.

So while I don't know what anybody's "secret" is, I found myself thinking that this defiant old girl might not have made it to 97 had she done as she was told.

But I'm sure many self appointed scolds know better, and would have loved to make her death as healthy and miserable as possible.

posted by Eric on 10.07.10 at 11:45 AM


I used to have a dog who loved to drink, he even liked to smoke, but not cigs.

I lived in a party house near SUNY New Paltz called "The Modena Madhouse", we actually made High Times twice that year as one of the top ten party houses.

So at the beginning of a party I would pour a little beer on the carpet and he would slurp it up, I always made sure some people saw me.
All night I'd see people saying, "Hey, check this out." and giving him beer. He'd get all drunk and rowdy, he always got somebody to throw his ball into a crowd so he could play bowling ball for instance.
Then he'd pass out and spend the next day laying around and drinking water with the rest of us.

So, being New Paltz (Woodstock South), earnest do-gooders had to give me a hard time.
I asked my country vet what he thought, immediately everybody in the office started telling stories about their dogs drinking. One even liked whiskey.
The vet said, "It's no worse for him than you."

Now maybe he couldn't make an informed decision, but he sure enjoyed partying with us so I encouraged it.

Take away everything that makes life worth living and you still die.
Quoth Miles Monroe, AKA The Sleeper
Dr. Aragon: You must understand that everyone you knew in the past has been dead nearly two hundred years.
Miles Monroe: But they all ate organic rice!

Veeshir   ·  October 7, 2010 12:13 PM

Someone who read Gide. Impressive.

OregonGuy   ·  October 7, 2010 2:01 PM

You know why they are anti-smoking? They hate sex.


M. Simon   ·  October 7, 2010 7:29 PM

OG, if you're impressed, I'm going to have to find that book and reread it for more insights! Nietzsche is easier to read, but I don't think that would work as a fake name either.

Veeshir, thanks for reminding me of my 97 year old smoking friend!

MS, maybe I shouldn't say she was a "smoker"!

Eric Scheie   ·  October 8, 2010 12:57 AM

Thank you for reminding me of Max.
He was a special dog, I will occasionally meet someone who remembers him but has no idea who I am.

Veeshir   ·  October 8, 2010 10:03 AM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits