Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Should the Great Apes have Human Rights?

Is it true that humans have a divine right to rule over all animals and animals have only rights we give them, if any?

We are taught in school that selfish and corrupt dictators, and fascist regimes typically abuse human rights. Sometimes hawkish leaders come up with innovative methods of classification to marginalise some people on us versus them axes so that ‘they’ can be ‘contained’ for the protection of ‘us’. 
Currently we have at least two ongoing wars where the purported aim is to improve the human right situation of these countries where the wars are being fought. What is perceived as cultural legacy in one country is considered human rights abuse in another. Yet, we have a universal concept for human rights.

What is the Concept of Human Right
To give a clear idea of what “Human Rights” means, the United Nation declares that all human beings are born free and are equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The United Nations universal declaration of human rights can be found in 360 languages.
As the first country in the “Modern world”, Spain has extended this protection to the Great Apes by passing a law about rights and fair treatment of animals

The Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Orangutans, called the Great Apes are our cousins on the biological tree. Along with humans, they belong to the subfamily Homininae of the biological family Hominidae.  
  • The Great Apes share about 96% of their DNA with humans.  
  • Mice share about 90% while plants have more DNA than humans. 
  • Scientists estimate that humans and chimpanzees probably split less than 5.4 million years ago.
Animal Rights in the Modern World

The Spanish parliament has approved resolutions, which argues that "non-human hominids" should enjoy the right to life, freedom, and not to be tortured. 

The philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri, who started the Great Apes project argue that the apes are the closest genetic relative to humans and display emotions such as love, fear, anxiety and jealousy – and should be protected by similar laws as humans. Arguing that this law would be going against divine will, which puts man above animals, the Catholic bishops are dead against giving legal protection to animals.

Using apes in circuses, television commercials, or filming will also be banned and while housing apes in Spanish zoos, of which there are currently 315, will remain legal, their living conditions need to improve substantially.
  • In 1999, New Zealand's parliament gave the great apes legal protection from animal experimentation. Britain now forbid experiments on chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. 
  • The German parliament voted in 2002 to add the phrase “and animals” to a clause in the country’s constitution requiring the state to uphold the dignity of humans. 
  • In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to recognise animals as “beings,” and not “things.”

Animal Rights in the Ancient World

In the ancient world, respect for animals wasn’t totally unknown. In cave paintings of Lascaux or Altamira, 15,000-30,000 years ago the artists rarely portrayed the animals as being hunted or eaten. They were rather mythical figures of worship.

In his (The Fourteen Rock Edicts, 1) Emperor Ashoka of India decrees "No living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice". 

About ancient Egypt, Herodotus (484-425 BC) tells us that “
The Egyptian Priests do to kill anything that has life, except such things as they offer in sacrifice, and animals are accounted sacred. Should any one kill any of these beasts, if wilfully, death is the punishment”.
In ancient Greece, Pythagoras (580-500 BCE) urged respect for animals. He believed that humans have the same kind of souls as animals, in fact, it is the same one spirit that pervades the universe. The souls transmigrated from humans to animals. Pythagoras bought animals from the market to set them free in nature, where they belonged according to him.

In any culture, the mentally ill or retarded can be stripped of their human rights to free movement by being strapped to their beds. 
  • Western democracies with women presidents or prime ministers snugly accept that they can’t have women priests, as they are considered inferior to men. 
  • 4 million Americans, over 80% of them black, have been permanently disenfranchised because of even petty crimes. 
Has anyone ever heard of monkeys being jailed for stealing bananas or seagulls detained as “unlawful enemy combatants” and given shock treatments for terrorising people in market squares?

Now, as the seventh Great Ape, humans are consistently driving the other six to extinction, extending ‘human’ rights to animals is a great moral step for the human animal.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Midsummer Ritual Bonfire in Different Cultures

Why do people in different cultures celebrate natural phenomena like midsummer or the summer solstice? 

Are these rituals remnants of an ignorant “pagan” past or are they quests for discovering man’s own identity and finding answers to questions about our origin and destiny, our role in the big picture?

Midsummer Celebrated in Many Cultures Worldwide

Midsummer or summer solstice is celebrated in many cultures as the longest day of the year. Especially in the northern hemisphere, from Finland to Spain, it is often associated with bonfires. In many European countries people gather around bonfires, often fed with old and unwanted wooden furniture, broken boats and some people jump over the fire while making wishes. 

Though 24th June is technically the longest day, 21st June is celebrated in most countries since the Gregorian calendar reform. But neo-pagans celebrate summer solstice on June 24th along with most European folk festivals. 

Origin of Midsummer Festivals is Pagan

As with many other pagan festivals, midsummer has been Christianized in most Western countries. In England it has become “St. John’s Eve”, “St John’s Day” or feast of John the Baptist in many countries, in Russia it is Ivan Kupala Day, in Poland it is Noc Kupały or Noc Świętojańska.

The ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. Midsummer night, when in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere the sun does not sink even at midnight, was full of fire festivals and love magic, and divination. Pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames believing that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire's power, maidens tried to find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.

Modern Wiccan Version of Midsummer

Like the ancient Celts, the modern Wiccans believe that at Litha or the Feast of the Faeries at twilight in midsummer, the portals between the worlds open and faeries may enter our world. Humans who welcome them are blessed with joy and wisdom. The modern Druids call midsummer Alban Hefin while the ancient druids called it “Alban Heruin” or "Light of the Shore".

Evidence of Midsummer in Ancient Cultures

There is evidence of Midsummer festivals in ancient cultures: 
  • in Newgrange in Ireland from around 3000 BC
  • among the Essenes, a Jewish sect from 1st century A.D.
  • the ancient Hopi and the Nachez people in the Americas 
  • the Chinese. For the Chinese the summer solstice ceremony celebrates the earth, the feminine yin force. It complemented the winter solstice, which celebrates the heavens, masculinity and yang forces. 
  • Even the peoples of North Africa, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, especially the Berbers also celebrate midsummer.

In many countries there are many kinds of beliefs and traditions related to Midsummer. Even William Shakespeare speaks of “Midsummer madness” in his most delightful play, Twelfth Night as a form of madness brought on by the heat of midsummer.

Midsummer or Juhannus is the Most Important Festival in Finland

In Finland, midsummer or Juhannus is the main festival of the year when cities are virtually empty as people go to their countryside cottages. People gather around the kokko or bonfires and watch the fire. 

Juhannus is a popular day for weddings as also unfortunately excessive drinking, drowning and accident figures (driving a car and drowning) are the highest in the year. In earlier days, maidens went naked to the meadows the night before to collect seven different wild flowers, which they placed under their pillows so that they then dreamt of the man who would become their husband. 
More about these Finnish midsummer rituals here.