The movie was a lighthearted family comedy, Zookeeper. It was basically an apologetic for the idea that animals are not only sentient, but emotional and intelligent. As the animals teach him how to be an alpha male, Kevin James, the bumbling zookeeper, becomes a better man and a fine catch for all the ladies who are mysteriously attracted to him. I kept expecting Christopher Hitchens to walk into the zoo and say, as he says at the beginning of his debates, “My fellow primates…”
This anthropomorphism is not new. After the movie “Babe”, the pork industry took a hit. Seriously. Entertainment has the power to change how people view the world, and that cute little pig put the idea in a lot of young minds that pigs are very much like us. Cute movie; wrong message.
No wonder so many nations are passing laws that increasingly give animals the same rights as humans. ABC News has noted, “some legal reformers would like to see the legal definition of "persons" expanded to include chimpanzees…” Recently, Spain gave 'human rights' to apes, joining Switzerland, Germany and other EU nations in the race to broaden the definition of personhood.
Here’s the problem: When we treat things that are not human as if they are human, we become very confused about what it means to be human. And when we become confused about our own nature, we are in trouble.
On the other hand, there is the AMC drama The Walking Dead. I don't like the comics, but the show addresses some pretty deep philosophical issues, not the least of which is the question of (once again) what it means to be human.
One of the key tensions in the show revolves around the fact that the Walking Dead are former friends, relatives and neighbors of the living. They sure look a lot like they did before, and have at least some sentience, awareness, and consciousness. So….how do you treat someone who sure looks human, but might not be anymore…or might be… (The end of season one suggested at least a minimum of brain function).
Because the stakes are so high, the Living at times have to kill the (un)Dead to protect themselves. It’s interesting, though: the more callous the characters become toward the Walking Dead, the more hardened they become toward the living. It’s as if committing violence against even a shadow of humanity kills a person’s soul bit by bit.
By showing this dilemma, the show makes an important point: When we treat things that are human as if they are not human, we become very confused about how we ought to treat other humans. And when we become confused about how we ought to treat others, we are also in trouble.
If Zookeeper is correct, the definition of "human" apparently ought to be blurred; if The Walking Dead is correct, that line should never lose its clarity.