There’s an age-old question whether morality* is innate (like a biologically or divinely implanted voice or compass) or something we collectively and historically accumulate via reason (or maybe a bit of both). We cannot deny reason and we cannot deny emotion. As the French moralist and essayist Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues put it, “Reason and emotion council and supplement each other. Whoever heeds only one, and puts aside the other, recklessly deprives himself of a portion of the aid granted us for the regulation of our conduct.”
*At this point I should conduct some minor research into the distinction between morality and ethics, which is a heinous crime for a guy who once studied philosophy to not know. But I’ve since forgotten the simplest principles of formulaic logic and 90+ percent of the bullshit about Marx and Kant too – so fuck it!!! I haven’t even taken a shower yet today and it’s going on midnight.
So the question seems to be, which of the two is the charioteer and which are the horses? Are there circumstances in which the horses should triumph and reason should submit its reigns and lashings? We are governed by this shitty concoction of emotion and reason. Obviously, our emotions sometimes lead us astray; hence, the arbitrator of reason. Yet, reason isn’t that great an arbitrator either. For example, when is anger and its ensuing violence justified? On the one hand, the Bible dictates to us to “love thy neighbor” and “turn the other cheek”, while at the same time giving us an “eye for an eye”. See, that’s some contradictory advice that makes the pure rationalists bristle.** Yet, I’d say that pure reason doesn’t give me a good enough justification on how I oughta feel and act when somebody else fucks my wife. Should I be angry? Should I try to understand her feelings and forgive, given the evidence that we may not be emotionally/psychologically/biologically designed for monogamy? Or should I be angry that she’s broken a sacred trust? Is it just petty jealousy….a jealousy that ultimately hurts me and, in return, would hurt her too if she wasn’t sociopathic?
**God bless Descartes for rewinding all the way back from the wax to, “Cogito ergo sum. (I think; therefore I am.)” Yet, there’s ample evidence to suggest that language in and of itself shapes how we think (reason). See Benjamin Lee Whorf and most of the discipline of Linguistics, for that matter.
Or, as Aristotle far more eloquently put it than this parable about infidelity and cuckoldry:
“Anyone can be angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right way – that is not easy.”
But aside for the meta-quandary of emotion vs. reason, I’m often plagued by micro ones too. In particular and specifically today, the one I can’t escape is whether or not we could, ethically, eat other primates. Of course, some culture eat monkey, which isn’t an argument for or against its ethicality as a taxonomically acceptable class or order for consumption.
More often than I’d like to admit to anyone, including myself (which is rare cause, to date, I’ve never been asked about it), I contemplate why it’s not common practice to consume primates. Some might say it’s a relatively macabre thing to contemplate, which is a fair enough assessment, I guess. But, thankfully, I was born with stunted reason that, like the outlet lawyers whose advertising niche is public transportation, allows me wiggle out of things pretty easily by saying it’s a philosophical inquiry instead of some morbid preoccupation. So I ask myself: is it mere custom that we don’t eat other primates? Would it be moral? Are they too much like us? Do they just not taste very good?
It’s all very intriguing. My intuition says we’re inclined to dismiss our fellow primates as foodstuffs based more on sentiment than reason. So, in Cartesian fashion, I will, to the best of ability, put sentiment aside to employ pure reason to the problem. Granted, this project isn’t nearly as ambitious as Discourse on the Method. But any other philosopher’s gotta start somewhere.
Perhaps somewhere deep down inside us there’s a remnant of our reptilian brain that instructs us instinctively, “don’t eat what’s too much like you”, sorta like whatever instructs us not to fuck a relative that’s perched too close on the same branch. Reason or common sense might also red-flag us with Mad Cow Disease – that there’s some universal rule against cannibalism (or eating too close within species class, order, family, etc.) that’s punishable by God but ultimately discovered by science. See: Ebola virus and bushmeat. So it makes sense we don’t eat what’s too close to us ancestrally/evolutionarily, but that means there’s got to be a place to draw the line. For, if there’s too close, then logically, there’s also not too close.***
***None of this is to say that eating monkeys has been universally panned. There are places through the world, particularly Africa and Asia, where monkey is eaten. In fact, Nagano proverb reads, “Don’t feed your wife autumn monkey – to do so would be to waste a fine-tasting delicacy”.
I was in Louisville recently at a place whose gimmick is to serve exotic game, mostly in the form of burgers and meatballs. I had kangaroo and wild boar and alpaca and elk, I think. One was sweeter than the others but I don’t remember which one. But of all those I had, in addition to those I had to pass on (duck, local lamb, local bison, venison, wagyu beef), there was no primate – no monkeys NOR lemurs. I didn’t ask why, but let me surmise.
Generally, monkeys are cute (with the exception of those with the flaming-red asses and the one with the floppy, mushy nose). But we eat plenty which is cute. We eat squirrels and bunnies and lamb, notably. So I don’t accept cuteness as an exclusionary reason. For, although they didn’t sell bunny burgers or squirrel meatballs, this joint did have that local lamb.
So with the sentimentality (emotion) of cuteness out of the way as an excuse, we make room for a reasoned moral argument for primate consumption, which I intend to present. I understand this is controversial terrain but sometimes a paradigm shift in thinking and comestibles requires the courage and imagination of a maverick. There’s Duchamp and Copernicus and Constantine and da Vinci and Lena Dunham. Perhaps, in time, I will inhabit their hallowed company.
Taxonomically, apes and monkeys are both in the order of primates, which are further divided into two suborders — the prosimians and the anthropoids. As humans, we of the superfamily Hominoidea. Under this umbrella or within this tribe are also orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos (our closest relatives by virtue of shared subfamily Homininae).
Eating primates like marrying a cousin:
Laws regarding marriage to a first-cousin vary state by state – with neither reason nor custom nor law nor the ethics of the practice being firmly decided. There’s probably a scientific (i.e. reasoned) argument against it, which is the probability of genetic defects passed on to the subsequent offspring.
It can be presented that, along the family tree, first-cousins are separated by one degree of division (sharing a common grandparent). Second cousins are then separated by two degrees of division along the family tree, sharing, in this case, a common great-grandparent. In no state in the United States is second-cousin (i.e. second-degree removed) marriage prohibited.
I propose that eating primates can be rationally moralized by conservatively applying the “two degrees of separation rule” that likewise allows us to bypass the moral dilemma of sex and/or marriage between first degree cousins by simply marrying a second-cousin.
First and second degree separation in primates
First-degree separation: Family Hominidae (hominids)
The first common order of humans to other primates is within the family hominidea, which includes orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Think of the family hominidea as the grandparent that unites/binds first-cousins. And just as first-cousins should’t mate, hominidea won’t cannibalize.
Second-degree primate separation: Superfamily Hominoidea (apes and humans)
The second degree of our separation from the “lower” primates is at the superfamily order. Under the umbrella of superfamily hominiodea, we bring gibbons and siamangs into the culinary-prohibited fold.
Past superfamily hominiodea, we are minimally two degrees removed from all other primates. This includes monkeys, lemurs and baboons. At the level of minimally 2 degrees of separation, I submit we are ethically “in the clear”. Thusly, I believe I’ve provided ample moral justification, by way of reason, for the consumption of monkeys, lemurs and other “lower” primates.
So fuck Ebola. Fuck prions. Fuck genetic inbreeding beyond first-cousins. And bon appétit, my friends. Enjoy some spider monkey jerky or deep fried macaque or ginger and sage baboon breakfast sausage with a clear conscious. We got this shit covered.****
****Note: Under these rules and ethical guidelines, a good rule of thumb will be “if the primate has a tail, it’s okay to eat.” However, similar to the rule of thumb that venous snakes have elliptical eyes, there may be exceptions to the rule.