Me Tarzan, Ape man. You Jane.
There are very rational reasons why people are so irrational about being primates. As mammals, the different are inherently “scary”. We are programmed to identify with our own tribe, and to be in defense of what we see as us.
In fact, our more cerebral functioning is at the very root of the problem. We began to speak and think in language, and this provided a technological edge that we used to develop religions and city states. Religion called for us to distinguish ourselves from all other living things, to direct our Creator into making us feel like we are special, or that all other species must surely be inferior.
In defense of ancient religion, they actually were more connected- if we are to believe the archeological evidence,-to animist belief systems, which attributed spirit to other living things. But for the sake of being able to exploit food and animal resources, we had to have a defense mechanism that allowed us to feel justified in killing, eating, and exploiting others (including forests and water, etc.) in order to successfully do so. Now we are more separate then ever, living indoors, and feeling smarter than other animals, due to our cleverness with gadgets, which is very clever indeed. Space stations rock.
It is interesting to note that the brightest apes so far, such as Jesus, Socrates, Darwin, Einstein, and many more, affirm that we are all part of the creation, and do not see why we should settle for this primitive rationalization of our superiority. For centuries the wise have recognized we destroy ourselves when we do not open our minds to nature's intelligence and laws.
So it is perhaps all a matter of education. It must be noted that even other humans, to this very day, see even other humans as threatening. That is why there is racism, sexism, wars and terrorism. We all have a startle when we see a big spider or snake. When we learn as small children that not only are spiders not dangerous, they do vital work in the world, we respect spiders. When we learn they are pests, ick! Kill it! Then that is what we do.
It is the same way with primates. We very rarely think about them or their well being. And if we do, say after a zoo visit, we see their captive behavior and not their natural behavior. It is said we should all love a species that can spit ball its feces, but although the source of great humor and many a joke, we don’t much understand why anyone would throw their poop, so we think they are dirty little savages. They throw what they can get their hands on, which in captivity is quite often poop, as part of their social displays.
Perhaps it is too painful to think about their plight in labs, and in prisons, or as bush meat, and this too, is part of why we must think of them as inferior to humans. Humans cannot usually handle the truth if it's painful.
It is truly sad that more people cannot know or come to appreciate the great sensitivities, culture, play, beauty and talents of other apes. They are quite rapidly disappearing from the planet, and only we have control of the planet, so they have no say in it. Dr. Jane Goodall has a made a compassionate life quest of trying to teach humans how desperately we need to know our relatives. It is as much for our good as it is for their own good. In fact, there is only ONE good, the good done for all (Goodall) perhaps.
More then anything else, I believe it is religious intolerance that keeps humans from fully appreciating how vitally connected, how much we share of soil, water, and air and how truly amazing other animals with whom we share our DNA really are. Truly spiritual people, whether religious or not, already know that there is divinity, not shame, in sharing all our molecules and inter-dependence with other living and non living systems.
Humanity is diminished by any kind of pride that puts humanity above that which is part of the creation, and that is not only tragic for our closest primate relatives, but for all of us who live in a world where we can never known them as individuals that they actually are. We lose by our volunteered alienation, and we lose big.
In the really grand scheme of things, we will see it turns out something like the Iconic Planet of the Apes, but such evolutions are likely thousands or millions of years ahead. If they ever do arrive, we will not be the same humans we now are, and other species will also have undergone genetic and cultural evolution.
Meanwhile, let me be the first to introduce a new less Heston-esque greeting, assuming we know the cautions of won confidence, comfort level, and non-threatening defenses with one another: "Glad to shake your hand, you darn dapper ape!"