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Rattling The Cage: Toward Legal Rights For Animals

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Rattling the Cage explains how the failure to recognize the basic legal rights of chimpanzees and bonobos in light of modern scientific findings creates a glaring contradiction in our law. In this witty, moving, persuasive, and impeccably researched argument, Wise demonstrates that the cognitive, emotional, and social capacities of these apes entitle them to freedom from imprisonment and abuse.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Steven M. Wise

12 books20 followers
Steven M. Wise (born 1952) is an American legal scholar who specializes in animal protection issues, primatology, and animal intelligence. He teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He is a former president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. The Yale Law Journal has called him "one of the pistons of the animal rights movement."

Wise is the author of An American Trilogy (2009), in which he tells the story of how a piece of land in Tar Heel, North Carolina, was first the home of Native Americans until they were driven into near-extinction, then a slave plantation, and finally the site of factory hog farms and the world's largest slaughterhouse. Though the Heavens May Fall (2005), recounts the 1772 trial in England of James Somersett, a black man rescued from a ship heading for the West Indies slave markets, which gave impetus to the movement to abolish slavery in Britain and the United States (see Somersett's Case). Drawing the Line (2002), which describes the relative intelligence of animals and human beings. And Rattling the Cage (2000), in which he argues that certain basic legal rights should be extended to chimpanzees and bonobos.

Wise received his undergraduate education at the College of William & Mary. While at William & Mary, Wise first became interested in politics through his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Wise was awarded his J.D from Boston University in 1976, and became a personal injury lawyer. He was inspired to move into the area of animal rights after reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975), often referred to as the bible of the animal liberation movement. A practicing animal protection attorney, he is president of the nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project, where he directs its Nonhuman Rights Project, the purpose of which is to obtain basic common law rights for at least some nonhuman animals. He lives in Coral Springs, Florida.

Wise teaches “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Vermont, Lewis and Clark, University of Miami, and St. Thomas Law Schools, and has taught “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard Law School and John Marshall Law School. He is also working on a fifth book, which will be a memoir about the Nonhuman Rights Project.

He has authored numerous law review, encyclopedia, and popular articles. His work for the legal rights of nonhuman animals was highlighted on Dateline NBC and was the subject of the documentary, A Legal Person.

He regularly travels the world lecturing on animal rights jurisprudence and the Nonhuman Rights Project, and is a frequent guest on television and radio discussing animal rights law and the Nonhuman Rights Project.

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Matthew.
31 reviews12 followers
February 10, 2008
"Rattling the Cage" should be required reading for law professors, law students, lawmakers, and anyone even remotely interested in living an ethical life. This book lays out a solid case for eliminating the legal and moral classification of non-human species as 'things' for no other reason than their membership in collective non-humanity. The author lays out the historical and theological roots of the Western view that non-human life does not matter in and of itself, and shows that these underpinnings gave rise to current morality and laws which treat non-humans as objects. Further, the author shows that the underlying theological and historical bases which once undergirded societal views on non-human animals have long been washed away by the steady march of biology, genetics, psychology, linguistics, and a whole host of other disciplines - leaving non-human animals in the difficult spot of being legal and moral 'things' when there are manifestly no valid reasons for thinking of them, or treating them, as objects rightully used for our own enjoyment to their detriment. This no-man's-land in legal territory is begging for judges, attorneys, and lawmakers capable of reasoning the issue through to its deeper levels and rebuilding the wall between 'persons' and 'things' in the proper location.

In a following book, "Drawing the line," Professor Wise lays out what criteria he believes should be used to draw that line and where the line might end up being drawn. An influential and powerful book (particularly when paired with its follow-up book), "Rattling the Cage" is a piece of legal and moral reasoning that belongs in every legal and ethical professional's reading list.
Profile Image for Issy.
87 reviews277 followers
March 7, 2022
The book is certainly dated in some respects, after all it is over 20 years old. Nonetheless, it is one of the better books on the animal personhood discussion- very concise and a good introduction to the topic. The book is definitely rooted in the moral theory of personhood, and touches only on minimal aspects of the jurisprudence behind the idea. I feel more legal theory would have made a more compelling argument, although this was obviously not something Wise had experience in at the time of writing. An updated version following Wise’s time in the Courtroom would definitely make for an interesting read!
Profile Image for Lori Schiele.
Author 2 books23 followers
September 3, 2019
"Rattling the Cage" was released in 2001, unlike "Unlocking the Cage" which is a documentary about the same topic created years later. The topic? The "personhood" of nonhuman animals--specifically apes: chimpanzees, bonobos mostly.
The author is a lawyer who has practiced animal law and protection for over three decades and is also the president of the "Nonanimal Rights Projects" --a group of over 400 (and climbing) number of lawyers working pro bono with more and more animal rights classes for up incoming lawyers, all working pro bono for the sake of these animals. The ones languishing in medical research facilities being injected with Hepatitis and AIDs and insecticides, and having their brains "cracked open" all the while they are living alone within a small concrete cell with no windows or sunlight or enrichment toys. The ones who, even as infants, may never have seen sunlight or felt grass beneath their feet, or climbed a tree. These are some of the most important cases that the Project is trying to rescue.
And that is where Steven M. Wise, the author, steps in. While he agrees that not all non-human animals should be given personhood because they are not human and do not show the "counter-stones" required for such a momentous task, he shows that chimpanzees and bonobos certainly do. However, at the same time, judges have awarded personhood to rivers, religious idols and other inanimate objects for whatever bizarre reason, yet resist offering the same to apes.
The beginning of the book is a bit difficult to get through because, even though he simplifies it as easily as possible it was still about the laws and the court systems, as well as common law and the difference between civil liberty and common liberty, fundamental rights and legal rights, as well as human dignity, equality and ethics. He talked about what it means to have legal personhood (note the objects that have been given personhood above) and how nonhuman animals--specifically chimpanzees and bonobos currently in biomedical research labs, alone, in small concrete cages with no contact with their own kind and very little--mostly indifferent--interaction from humans have no rights. If it was a child, there would be an uproar, but because it is a chimpanzee (a non-person), it has no rights and is "a thing" in the eyes of the law.
For the remaining 2/3 of the book, Wise discusses the taxonomy of chimps and bonobos to humans (nearly less than 1% difference genetically) and their consciousness and beliefs--the things that judges are having difficulty understanding. The very same type of disbelief that, years ago, judges had difficulty believing that blacks, women, children or the mentally handicapped were still worthy of liberty against bodily harm. But finally they were forced to and they were finally treated as people. But not chimpanzees or bonobos, or any other non-human animal.
The main difficulty here is that, even though hand-raised chimps/bonobos can learn ASL (American Sign Language) from a very early age or learn to use a lexigram (a board with hundreds of symbols that when pressed, the symbols create spoken "words",many believe it is because of "training, like parlor tricks", even when chimps like Kanzi signs"Kanzi banana want" and other much longer sentences. They can also follow direct, sometimes complex, instructions: "Sherman, go get the ball in the bedroom" (even tho there is a ball in the same room.) They have even been seen "talking" to themselves the way a toddler might, but also use their lexigram to have conversations with other lexigram-using chimps/bonobos. And there have been cases of mothers teaching their young to use ASL without human intervention.
Within two different "laboratories" Wise discusses the work being done with chimps and/or bonobos who are being raised --not like "stupid, non-thinking animals" but as animals quite capable, and even eager to learn. The facilities are not concrete bunkers, but are full of windows and enrichment toys and have human contact most of the time, and, in one, even take walks through the hundreds of wooded acres of forest along with their "handlers" where the signing animals constantly learn new words by asking what something in the woods is called--and retains the information!
Without going into the entire book, the list of items required for something to be considered a person can be checked off on the list by nearly all the chimps and bonobos discussed in this book. However, just because they can display this list of behaviors, does not mean that the judge will, or even has to, give them personhood. And that is the problem that many are facing in this new century. Judges who are using old rulings from past centuries to make their decisions, many afraid to "rock the boat" or of setting a precedent that will cause a flood of cases being brought to court in order to have every type and sort of animal be deemed a person, rather than a thing. But even Wise argues that not all nonhuman animals should be given personhood. But certain chimpanzees and bonobos most certainly should.
This book was written in 2001 and a great deal of laws have changed since the writing of this book. To my knowledge, although certain animals across the world have reached "personhood", not a single one in the U.S. has. I hope that will soon be rectified.
Profile Image for Jane.
151 reviews6 followers
March 19, 2022
Ok...What I have found out from this book left me bewildered.

“Journalism professor Deborah Blum, who won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about primate research and researchers, has written that the work at the Language Research Center is “considered by some to be revolutionary.” Today Kanzi, Panbanisha, Mulika, and Panzee, all graduates of Savage-Rumbaugh’s School of Language Comprehension (a new student, Nyota, was born of Panbanisha in 1998), all comprehend more than 500 words and pronounce more than 150 words, and know that word order is vital to sentence meaning: “Feed your ball some tomato” is not the same thing as “Feed your tomato some ball.” They understand past and future verb tenses. They understand pronouns of possession such as “mine” and “yours.” (Remember Ai and her green feeding bowl.) They understand expressions relating to time, such as “now” or “later.” They understand qualifications of state such as “hot” and “cold.” They understand that one clause within a sentence can modify another portion of the same sentence, for example, “Get the ball that is outdoors, not the one that is here.” They can eavesdrop on conversations in which they are not involved, and understand them. Savage-Rumbaugh reports that they “easily participate in three- and four-way conversations that deal with the intentions, actions, and knowledge states” of others and understand narrative dialogue.”

And at the end, I realized that this book was this lawyer’s attempt to save these smart apes from ending up in a research institute where they will be tortured all in the name of the greater good. When I read this:

“A judge of the Virginia Supreme Court in 1827 described the legal metamorphosis of a slave to free woman, legal thing to legal person, in almost religious terms. She “becomes a new creature, receives a new existence.” Legal personhood is the frame upon which we stretch fundamental immunities that block abuses of power, whether that power is rooted in precedent, policy, principle, or prejudice. Governments, legislatures, and judges can blind themselves to legal personhood and violate dignity-rights. But the lesson of the killing doctors of Hadamar, of the murderers of the White Rose, of the Nuremberg trials, of Eichmann in Jerusalem, and of the killers of Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo is that even governments cannot make dignity-rights disappear. That is why no lawyer will argue that any human being could be subjected to the torments that the biomedical researchers plan for Kanzi, Panbanisha, Sherman, Tamuli, and Nyota.”

I went, OH NO, OH NO NO NO. NO NO NO, my heart, NO NO NO NO….NO NO NO NO NO….

The author, Steven Wise argues that in the past people justified slavery by saying that it was good for the economy. Now we all agree that is disgusting and horrifying. He argues that scientists who torture animals do the same thing. They justify something that maybe one day, after thousands and thousands of years will be seen as disgusting and horrifying, just a pathetic excuse.

Wise warns us of the terrible injustice we are doing when we treat other beings as things…

“Whatever legal rights these apes may be entitled to spring from the complexities of their minds. Today they are legal Harveys, invisible to law, without personhood, lacking rights. We know what happens when humans are stripped of their legal personhood and dignity-rights. Australian aborigines, African slaves, Turkish Armenians, German Jews, Rwandan Tutsis and Burundian Hutus, and Kosovar Albanians fall victim to genocide. It can be no surprise that not only bonobos and chimpanzees but also thousands of other species of animals have been pushed into extinction or teeter on its brink. We do what we do to a Jerom because he can’t stop us. None of them can. We can only stop ourselves. Or some of us can try to stop the others. The entitlement of chimpanzees and bonobos to fundamental legal rights will mark a huge step toward stopping our unfettered abuse of them, just as human rights marked a milepost in stopping our abuse of each other.”

I know there is a war, but Putin couldn’t have appeared at a more inappropriate time. Climate change is real (don’t listen to Dr. P.) and animals are dying. As you can see Putin, dear, we had other more pressing problems, you needn’t have added your trifles.

Some quotes I liked:

“Critics of animal cognition offer occasional bromides intended to communicate just how wonderful animals are. For instance, the journalist Stephen Budiansky says that “an honest view of animal minds ought to lead us to a more profound respect for animals as unique beings in nature, worthy in their own right” and that “[t]he intelligence that every species displays is wonderful enough in itself; it is folly and anthropomorphism of the worst kind to insist that to be truly wonderful it must be the same as ours.”

"Why should language be such a big deal? It has allowed humans to spread out over the planet and wreak large changes, but is that any more extraordinary than coral that build islands, earthworms that shape the landscape by building soil, or the photosynthesizing bacteria that first released corrosive oxygen into the atmosphere, an ecological catastrophe of its time?"

"Writing about issues of “human uniqueness, animal welfare, and the dignity—and even rights—of other species,” Daniel Povinelli and his colleagues have said that “separation is in the interest of all parties” and claim that “their research will actually uncover the unique qualities of chimps.” To what end? To gain “insight about the type of animals that are [an] appropriate model for specific research.”

“But cognition is a very big deal because the fundamental legal rights of animals, the least porous barrier against oppression and abuse that humans have ever devised, depend on it. We are well within what National Geographic recently called the “Sixth Extinction” of life on earth. The first five were probably caused by climate changes or comets smacking into the planet. But the Sixth Extinction is being caused by what one scientist called “the exterminator species.” Us. My grandchildren may never see a chimpanzee or bonobo, for they are severely endangered. They are shot, eaten, kidnapped, jailed, vivisected, and deprived of habitat—not because we “respect” them or see them as “unique” or because we believe that they are “truly wonderful” but because we don’t. No one but a professor or a deep ecologist thinks that a language-using animal is not a bigger deal than island-building coral, soilbuilding earthworms, or photosynthesizing-bacteria.”

My conclusion after reading this book is that Homo sapiens ain’t that special, so we should stop eating all beings around us, cutting all trees, and reproducing as mad (I mean soon so many people on a dying planet will live in a dystopia like Atwood’s Madd Addam trilogy. Sorry no sorry. Somebody has to warn you.)
Profile Image for Morgan Djuna Sorais Harrigan.
134 reviews16 followers
March 6, 2016
This book is intensely real and very very important. Reading this made me want to get up and make a lot of change. I recommend this for any and all animal lovers. I also recommend this to anyone interested in justice and ethics.
Profile Image for Laurie.
27 reviews
June 3, 2022
This was a decent book. A lot of information but a bit too heavy for my liking.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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