‘The happiest species on the planet’
“I sometimes try to imagine what would have happened if we’d known the bonobo first and chimpanzee only later or not at all. The discussion about human evolution might not evolve as much around violence, warfare, and male dominance, but rather around sexuality, empathy, caring, and cooperation. What a different intellectual landscape we would occupy!”
– Frans de Waal, ‘Our Inner Ape’ (1)
I’m reading the ‘controversial’ (yet highly recommendable) book Sex at Dawn: How We mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships by psychologist Christopher Ryan and psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá, in which they question the standard sexual narrative of the human species and differentiate between what, in evolutionary terms, separate human nature from human culture (2). “Forget what you’ve heard about human beings having descended from the apes. We are apes. (…) If we’re ‘above’ nature, it’s only in the sense that a shaky-legged surfer is ‘above’ the ocean. Even if we never slip (and we all do), our inner nature can pull us under at any moment.”(2) p. 1 “Remember, we are genetically equidistant from chimps and bonobos,” (2) p. 73.
Below you’ll find two clips with psychologist and primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her peaceful bonobo friends.
“Humans set themselves, as a species, apart from all other species of animals because we’ve constructed cities, we are dominating the world. But if you look at the DNA, you’ll find that we’re closely related, especially to Chimpanzees and Bonobos. The bonobos live only in the Congo and they are rare and endangered. Even though we’ve studied them since 1972, we are only beginning to understand the true social-sexual complexity and the politics of bonobos, and because their behaviour is so much like ours, but kind of like we would be if we were open-book and didn’t wear any clothes, and did what ever we felt like doing, it’s very important for us to understand Bonobos. We humans have placed a lot of very important human restrictions upon ourselves to build the kind of societies that we built, but inside we aren’t always comfortable with those restrictions, so it’s important to understand what bonobos are like, they’re probably our closest living relatives. The question is: what happened in terms of our evolutionary history and what happens in term of a single lifetime with regard to the development cognitive skills that enabled human society to exist as it does as apart from the kind of society that apes have in the wild (…)”
– Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (3)
(1) de Waal, Frans. Our Inner Ape, as quoted in: Ryan, Christopher and Cacilda jethá. 2011. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships. New York: Harper Perennial. First Harper Perennial Edition. [Original published 2010]. p75.
(2) Ryan, Christopher and Cacilda jethá. 2011. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships. New York: Harper Perennial. First Harper Perennial Edition. [Original published 2010].
(3) Youtube.com. TIME Channel. 2011-07.07.’Sue Savage-Rumbaugh: What Bonobos Can Teach Us’ Available from URL: https://youtu.be/MuzrdyY2q5A [Accessed 2016-05-13]
(4) Youtube.com. TED Channel. 2007-05-17. ‘Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: The gentle genius of bonobos’ Available from URL: https://youtu.be/a8nDJaH-fVE.[Accessed 2016-05-13].