Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

Our Inner Ape

Today's recommended book is Our Inner Ape, by Frans de Waal, a primatologist. The cover shows a man sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper and eating a banana. I think the cover captures the friendly tone of the book. I read or heard about this book somewhere before I saw it offered on Quality Paperback Books, from where I ordered it.

In this relatively small paperback the author explores relationships between humans and their closest cousins, the chimpanzees and the bonobos. There is so much I didn't know, and so much to back up what I already suspected or knew. I have long held that our inclination to "do good" does not come from religion. In fact, I find the idea that you should do good because if you don't you go to Hell a ridiculously selfish proposition. And in fact, if we look at our primate relatives we can see that they, too do good in exactly the same ways that we do. Whoever says other animals are amoral hasn't watched one of these colonies. Or read about them.

But that only scratches the surface. This exploration results in a conclusion that there isn't anything that is uniquely human. Everything we do and everything we are can be traced back in evolution. It all  makes good sense, of course.

de Waal doesn't stop with just describing the connections. He looks ahead to where we can go with this knowledge. I see a society that balances competition and cooperation, a society that takes care of those less advantaged (yes, in the wild other primate societies would never think of abandoning those who are weaker) yet remains selfish enough to take care of ourselves. He points out what has happened to this country,  the U.S., where he has lived for much of his adult life (he is, of course, from the Netherlands), how we have essentially "gone against nature", to our own detriment. How our health in particular has suffered.

One thing I didn't know: humans resemble infant primates of other types. In other words, we are like domesticated dogs, bred dogs. Huumans retain characteristics of baby primates, including our fun-loving nature. This, to me, is peculiar indeed.

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