Which is our inner Ape – A Peaceful Bonobo or a Violent Chimpanzee?

This is the big question facing us humans at this juncture. The mindless violence that we see all around, especially the latest mind chilling massacre of 134 children in a school by terrorists in Pakistan, makes one wonder whether we have lost our capacity for kindness, cooperation and peaceful coexistence. The answers to this question comes from anthropologists and primatologist.

In a book titled, OUR INNER APE, Frans de Waal says that Bonobo, Chimpanzee and Humans – all three have the same common ancestor, which is an ape. We share more than 98% of our DNA with Apes. According to anthropologists this explains why we do what we do. Let us consider the characteristics of Bonobo and Chimpanzees. Bonobos are slightly more upright versions of Chimpanzees. They are more elegant and closer to humans in appearance. Studies show they are matriarchal where females are more dominant. Their lives are dominated by sex. Yet they are capable of kindness and cooperation. On the other hand, for Chimpanzees status is life. A chimpanzee has to know its status and behave accordingly. Status is decided by one’s might, aggression and sex.They also play power politics like us humans. They strive for power, enjoy sex and kill over territory. We, humans, may use cell phones, use computers, fly planes and even land on moon but it appears that our psychological make-up remains close to an ape!
Interestingly, there is the other side to the behaviour of chimpanzees. They also want affection,security and cooperation. Chimpanzees also value reciprocity just as we do. They were seen to share food specifically with those who had earlier supported them in their power struggle. And what about their sense of fairness? In an interesting experiment,Chimpanzees were trained to happily perform a certain task on being bribed with Cucumber slices. However, when they saw another group being fed on grapes for doing the same task, they became agitated, threw tantrums and went on strike. Doesn’t this parallel the behaviour of the trade unions in our industries?

If one were to look at human species without being prejudiced by scientific advances, one will see that except for our brain size (which is 3 times that of a Chimpanzee), there are no additional parts. Of course the bigger size of the brain accounts for our superior intellect. This also endows us with a potential for moral and spiritual growth. But, mind you, it’s only a potential.

A similar point was made by another anthropologist when he says:”Biologically, we’re still foraging Savannas while culturally we’re exploring the outer space”.

As Jared Diamond, a well-known professor of Geography from University of California, says, “Killing strangers was a way of life for our ancestors”. This, sure, is a direct consequence of our inherited trait from the apes.
Some anthropologists speculate that if there is no ‘Homo erectus’ species today, it is probably because we the ‘Homo sapiens’ massacred them all systematically a few million years ago. We don’t have to go too far into the past and speculate. Even as recently as a couple of centuries back thousands of native Indians, especially those belonging to California, were massacred by immigrant whites. Look at the startling statistics: By conservative estimates, the population of the United states prior to European contact was greater than 12 million. Four centuries after Columbus landed in 1492, the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand.

Does it mean there is no hope? No, we are also capable of kindness and cooperation like Bonobos and Chimpanzees. Besides, we’re the only species capable of spiritual enlightenment. But alas, religion and spirituality themselves divide us when it comes to practice of spirituality. There are as many schools of spirituality as there are cultures.

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well said sir!

    • thanks

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