Of human rights in unlikely places (part one)

Sitting with my friend and colleague Dr. Andy Jones, UC Davis’ academic technology czar and a consummate “information age” man, the conversation turned to the remade “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  We both enjoyed the movie.  Andy, an English professor liked the Shakespearean vibe; I saw it, like Pierre Boulle’s original novel, La Planète des singes as a fable that used sci-fi and inter-species relations to explore core concepts of the study of human rights from dignity and racism to torture.  But for me the critical human-rights moment was when Caesar the altered chimpanzee utters “no” in the face of abuse and imprisonment.  As I told Andy, one of the key questions about human rights is where do they come from? Among possible explanations is that they exist because we claim them in what we do and what we say.  For some this is why chimps and great apes can’t have human rights: no chimp or gorilla has asked for them. This fact didn’t impede the Spanish Parliament from passing legislation, fostered by the Great Ape Project, from extending human rights protection to them in 2008.

What the movie also hints at is that science and technology will continue to move the human rights frontier in novel and unexpected ways.

The UC Davis HRI has set aside this blog as a place to broach the question of the role of the Humanities in the study, teaching and promotion of Human Rights.  Future blog post will give UC Davis scholars and students somewhere to “think out loud” about this (un)likely connection between humanistic study and human rights.

Keith David Watenpaugh, Director

UC Davis Human Rights Initiative

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