Monday, February 07, 2011
An excellent exploration of primatological findings on chimpanzees and bonobos to provide a greater understanding of human nature.
Among the many interesting facts, De Waal cogently presents his broader thesis: human nature involves compassion as much as aggression, but we have focused too much on the latter and not enough on the former. When describing war we say that people act like animals but when we are do something nice we say it is ‘humane.’ The improper emphasis (obviously complex in origin) might be partly because the bonobo was discovered relatively recently (compared to chimps), so despite having a similar to degree of genetic relatedness to humans as chimps and humans, we have usually only looked for comparisons to chimps. This being problematic because chimpanzees are more violent and hierarchical, while bonobos are egalitarian, matriarchal and hypersexual. Understandably, looking only to chimps may lead to unwise justifications for behaviour (as any naturalistic comparison might).
Although much was review, most of the details about bonobo communities (and the extent of their sexuality) was new.
A great book.