Beast Banner April 2007
ISSUE #115
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Features

ArrowPresident Rubber vs. Speaker Glue
Pelosiís scarf and GOP barf

Allan Uthman

ArrowIn Defense of Ann Coulter?
Conservatives have a right to be assholes, just like real people

Paul Fallon

ArrowWithdrawal Symptoms
Iraq timetable’s a political fix

Matt Taibbi

ArrowJesus Christ!
People will believe anything

Ian Murphy

ArrowWhat, Me Worry?
Iranians aren’t scared of a U.S. attack

Russ Wellen

ArrowLandslide of Failure
The battle for election integrity is led by... the Governor of Florida?

Brad Friedman

ArrowDeregulation Killed my Cat
Food contamination: the Bush legacy

Allan Uthman

ArrowThe Whining Minority
Republican congressman turns from bully to baby

Matt Taibbi

ArrowIt's tax time again and I want to maul you
A.Rabid Dog

ArrowContradictum
Self-refuting quotations from the world of politics

ArrowBonobos vs. Chimps
A Debate for Lemur Philosophers

A. Monkey

Departments

ArrowThe Beast Page 3
Censored Chocolate Jesus

ArrowKino Korner: Movies
Are We Done Yet?, Grindhouse, Blades of Glory, Pride, Reign Over Me, The Lookout, The Reaping, Perfect Stranger, Vacancy, Fracture

ArrowBEAST-O-Scopes
As divined by your ethereal guide

Arrow[sic] - Letters
A Very Thin Hope, Classy, Mile High Club, Equal Rights Harassment, Kiwi Fruit and more

  Bonobos vs. Chimps
A Debate for Lemur Philosophers
A. Monkey

bonoboI like to call myself a monkey, and I know that’s a bit of a misnomer. I’m an ape of course. But it doesn’t have quite the ring to it that monkey does... There’s a reason why the French are a bunch of fucking surrender monkeys, not surrender “apes.”

So I’m sticking with monkey, even in this column about two of our closest cousin apes – the Chimpanzee and the Bonobo. I bet you haven’t heard of the gentle hedonists, the bonobos, before. I hadn’t either, until I read a copy of primate behavioralist Frans de Waal’s book, The Inner Ape (shitty title). A separate species, bonobos are a relatively unknown very close relative of chimps.

As recently as the ‘60s, bonobos were caged in zoos and laboratories with chimps and no one noticed the nice monkeys that didn’t hit back, that didn’t go into shit-throwing rages, that kept flashing their dicks and tits at you, begging for some action.

Frans de Waal spent decades staring at the bonobos, and his point in “Inner Ape” is that these monkeys don’t employ violence to get things done: they fuck, they share their food, and they spend hours playing and touching each other. Once he gets that across, he writes imploringly that if only the early literature on the man-monkey connection – like Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape (shitty title) – had focused on bonobos and not chimps, we wouldn’t use biology to justify our violent tendencies; we’d be ashamed about them. A major PBS documentary that they keep showing every other Tuesday night about the bonobos makes the same case: the ‘60s were no aberration; that ‘free love’ stuff was the real us!

It’s a pretty pointless point, when you come right down to it. In the first place, approximately 0.0% of human behavior is inspired by any kind of knowledge regarding our primal ancestors – it’s hard enough to be inspired by your parents.  Second, the bigger deal is that the monkeys we are most like are ourselves. I am somewhat like my cousins, more like my two brothers, but like me most of all. So why not take a good long look at me to understand what I’m like?

Desmond Morris supposedly had all of us believing that since we are chimp-based monkeys, we’re violent types. Yet another crock of shit. I hung out for a day at a maximum security prison in 2005, and the wardens told me that less than half the inmates in there for violent crimes committed violent infractions at any point of their incarceration, and a mere 40% of the violent types were going to go back to jail after their terms were over. In other words, the really violent types in our society, the ones we lock up for being sooo violent, aren’t so violent after all: They are just like us, and on very rare occasions, they get physical.

There’s a good reason Desmond Morris and Francis de Waal can’t quite look at monkeys like us and come up with useful answers about who we really are: Because, while chimps and bonobos have fascinating friendships and hierarchies with each other, they don’t have the slightest clue or interest in the monkeys outside of their little clique.

We do: We worship monkeys who died thousands of years ago as gods, we obey and obsessively chatter about our living monkey leader thousands of miles away from us, we know the marriage and mating habits of our brethren monkeys on every corner of the planet. And we can get so mad and greedy about what some other monkeys have thousands of miles away from us that we spend years on weapons projects designed to kill them and take their stuff.

Robert Sapolsky, another monkey watcher/wannabe inspirer to his fellow monkeys has argued about the “plasticity” of our nature – we’re capable of believing and behaving in any which way. That’s true. But like de Waal, Sapolsky immediately makes an offering at the holy altar of Our Peaceful Natures.

After sitting in this monkey stew for some time, my advice is to think about other implications of this “plasticity.” There are monkeys shaping the behavior of other ones out there – brainwashing them, telling them what to do, and you can be one of them! You can be a god for Christ sakes! It might even be – gasp! – worth fighting for.

 

 

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