Temple Grandin, an amazingly high functioning autistic with a number of impressive intellectual accomplishments to her credit (including livestock slaughter facilities designs), reviews Frans de Waal's book Our Inner Ape which advances the argument that examination of Chimp and Bonobo behavior yields two sides of what makes up human nature.
In this fascinating book, de Waal suggests that the two species represent sides of our own nature. We have "not one but two inner apes," he writes, speculating that humans may act like a hybrid of bonobos and chimps.
Grandin notices that de Waal avoids the genetic significance of his observations.
De Waal does not discuss the possible genetic implications of many of his observations. Animals who have high-fear genetics are less inclined to be aggressive because they are afraid to fight, and stressful, scary situations can affect them more dramatically. When bombs fell on Munich during World War II, de Waal tells us, all the bonobos in the zoo died of heart failure, but all the chimps survived. Unfortunately, he does not discuss how these differences in fearfulness might affect social behavior. Fear and other traits, like aggression and sociability, have a strong genetic component. In my own work with antelopes, I have observed huge differences in the startle and fear response between individual animals. It is likely that there may be genetic differences between the most peaceful and most violent chimps.
Since personality characteristics vary between humans due to genetic and development differences some humans are closer to the average chimp and others, relatively speaking, are closer to the average bonobo.
The more precise terminology for labelling the Chimps and the Bonobos is Common Chimpanzee or Pan troglodytes for what we commonly just call Chimp and the Bonobo is called Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee or Pan paniscus.
We aren't technically a hybrid of Chimps and Bonobos. The Chimps split off from the humans before the Common Chimps and the Bonobos split off from each other. But different humans share characteristics with Chimps and Bonobos to varying degrees.
Noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) thinks human behavior cannot be fully explained by selfish genes and Darwinian competition. Drawing on his own primate research on chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest animal relatives—he shows how much we can learn from them about ourselves: our qualities of "fellow feeling and empathy" as well as our power-obsessed, violent side. We are "bipolar apes," de Waal says, as much like bonobos as like chimps. The latter are known for their viciousness and "red in tooth and claw" social politics, but bonobos offer a radically different social model, one of peace and hedonistic orgies; de Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied to illustrate such questions as why we are irreverent toward the powerful and whether men or women are better at conflict resolution.
Advances in genetics and neurobiology are going to undermine more sentimental, religious, and ideological views of humans in favor of a view of humans as smarter primates. The political implications for this coming change will be profound. Liberalism, even among secular liberals, is still based upon a mystical view of humans as magically equal and hence entitlted to equal rights. That view is not going to survive the coming avalanche of scientific evidence. But religious views are in for similar rough times as urges to commit many sins are traced back to genetic sequences and neuronal wiring patterns.
I do not know what sorts of political schools of thought will emerge after human nature becomes demystified. Dumber people will probably to continue to believe many myths because much of the evidence against their myths will be incomprehensible to them. Also, some smart people will opt for self delusion. But quite a few people will come to understand the real score. What will they decide to have as their political philosophies and ideologies?
I'm expecting a partial return to some ancient pre-Christian Roman and Greek schools of ethics and political philosophy. Take away Christianity and liberalism and high pagan culture might appeal to Western elites of the 21st century. But I'm just guessing.
Update: Of course people do not always change their beliefs when confronted with new evidence. Michael Gazzaniga argues in his book The Ethical Brain that not just religious people but also highly scientific people resist changes in their beliefs when confronted by new evidence.
Nowhere does the human capacity to form and hold beliefs become more stark than when clear scientific data challenge the assumptions of someone’s personal beliefs. It would be easy to spin a story line about how a particular person with a set of religious values resisted the biological analysis of this or that finding in an effort to reaffirm his or her belief. There are many such stories, but they miss the point. Scientists themselves are just as resistant to change a view when confronted with new data that suggest their view is incorrect. All of us hold on to our beliefs, and it now appears that men are even more tenacious about not letting go than are women
Let me be as clear as I can about what I mean by “holding beliefs” or having belief systems. Many roads lead to holding beliefs. For many religiously oriented people, rules and codes to live by are spelled out and delivered by the religion in question, when one signs on to it. For the scientist, scientific rules and codes become part of the beliefs one must uphold upon joining the ranks of the particular science. For utilitarians, the decisions society makes about life’s challenges become their own beliefs. Overall, and this is my view about the nature of beliefs, our species instinctively reacts to events, and in a specialized system of the human brain that reaction is interpreted. Out of that interpretation, beliefs emerge about rules to live by. Sometimes they have a moral character; sometimes they are of an utterly practical nature. We can form beliefs slowly or quickly. Studies have shown startling aspects of how we can generate and hold onto a belief. People who buy a computer-generated lotto ticket for a dollar are reluctant to part with it if offered more money for it seconds after its purchase. Offering two bucks—a 100 percent increase in their investment—doesn’t do it. In many instances the offer has to be extended to twenty bucks. Why? Why do we hold onto our beliefs—new or old? Interestingly, it turns out that scientists are slower to change their views in the face of new data than are preachers.
People will often put far more effort into rationalizing a reconciliation of their beliefs with new evidence than they will put into abandoning their beliefs. Beliefs are like possessions. People feel a sense of loss when they have to give up a belief and they resist the potential loss.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 October 15 10:57 AM Human Nature|