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Tuesday, March 8, 2011
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I came across another article about bonobos today; bonobos are a chimp-like African monkey that are growing in popularity amidst their human cousins, because they are so peaceable and hippy-like. When bonobo tribes have conflicts, they often settle them by having an orgy. They also share and hug a lot, and not surprisingly, women are mostly in charge. They seem so happy and well-adjusted, like we humans could supposedly be if only we’d get over our greed and violence and masculine hubris regarding our souped-up brains.

Well, the bonobo world does sound nice. But this article briefly mentions something that probably explains why bonobos are the way they are, and we are not. Quote:

Bonobos’ generous nature likely evolved because they live in an area of the Congo where food is plentiful. They never had to compete with gorillas or kill for a meal like common chimps do.

OK, so the bonobos found a place where everything balanced out for them. Unfortunately, the human species did not. Our big brains made us clever, restless and fecund, and so our rapidly-expanding species set out to inhabit almost the entire land mass of the planet.

Even before we did this, though, we became keenly aware of shortages and uncertainties, leading to all sorts of uncharitable behavior and awful things (like war).

Many of my generation (the Baby Boomers) dreamed of a bonobo-like world when we were young. But reality and time have overtaken us. Humans just weren’t meant to stumble across paradise. If we are ever are to find a stable and sustainable equilibrium with our environment, it’s going to need to be through our own blood, sweat and tears. And brain-power.

So don’t hold your breath.

PS — Yes, I was lamely attempting to be witty by reference to David Brooks’ book, Bobos In Paradise. If you want to seriously learn about bonobo world, though, the guy to consult is Robert M. Sapolsky.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:26 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Hate to disagree with you again….
    But I did not really see any documentation in the article about the reason that bonobos tend to be peaceful is that they do not have to compete for food. Seems it was more the scientists’ idea of what might be the reason for the difference between the groups.

    I have followed Jane Goodall’s work with chimps from the beginning, Diane Fossey’s work with gorillas, and even seen this work with bonobos some time ago. I never really found any indication that the “dark side” (as the article indicates) of chimps has to do with competing for food.

    Even this article indicates (as did Goodall and Fossey) that any “dark side” had more to do with the fact that the chimps and the gorillas were generally a masculine-led as opposed to the bonobos who are generally more female-led. Maybe the whole thing has to do with who “holds the power” in the groups. But then again, one can hardly say that all males are “war-like.”

    Then again, maybe the answer to the why of the difference is more of a mystery along the lines of why some people (male and female) tend to be altruistic and others not. Nobody has answered that question as far as I know, and maybe the answer lies in the “mystery” of life rather than in any scientific study that attempts to reduce everything to facts. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 10, 2011 @ 7:18 am

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