NYT Ethicist Answers an Unusual Robin Williams Question

Well done. Reminding that sometimes 140 characters just doesn’t cut it, Chuck Klosterman in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine offers a thoughtful, intelligent and provocative response to a reader’s lament.

Rita Long, a reader in Oakland, thinks it was cruel and perhaps even immoral for the keepers of Koko the gorilla to inform the primate that Robin Williams, whom she met once, had passed away. From Klosterman’s reply:

Since an ape can’t comprehend the concept of “celebrity,” that [Williams] meeting should be no more intrinsically meaningful than any one-time interaction Koko shared with anyone else. It’s not as if Koko sits around constantly rewatching Moscow on the Hudson.

So if Koko was still impacted by that 2001 meeting in the year 2014, it would suggest something pretty profound about ape consciousness. I mean, can gorillas vividly recall and contextualize every interaction they experience? Do gorillas feel empathy for all mammals equally? Do gorillas have the ability to sense (and mentally catalog) specific interactions with “special” individuals (and did Robin Williams fall into that class)?…”

One thing Klosterman does not address is the fact that before meeting Williams, Koko did in fact watch Mrs. Doubtfire. That movie memory and subsequent association of the movie to its charismatic, tickling star may have played a part in her recent sadness.