Like it or not, the distant ancestors of our species were simians — monkeys, apes, what-have-you. For better or worse, many of those traits remain with us today, no matter how much we’d like to disavow them, either by claiming we’re beyond that or denying it totally through a wholehearted espousal of some miraculous divine world-creation mere thousands of years ago.
If we’re so far beyond that ancestry, why are so many behaviors so simian-like? Why do we listen to the loudest and most vociferous chatterers, rather than the most thoughtful? Why, in general, do we follow the tallest males and select them as leaders? And when they’re close to the same height, why do we select the most persuasive, regardless of the facts? Think otherwise? Just look at the history of presidential campaigns since the founding of the United States.
Like all simians — except perhaps the bonobos — we form groups and ostracize those who don’t play by the rules, while attacking all outsiders who intrude. Some of us do treat sex the way the bonobos do — indiscriminately with anyone — but most follow the simian model of faithfulness when convenient or required, but with a large modicum of cheating or serial monogamy, if not both.
Human social dynamics follow many simian patterns, such as male gifts of delicacies, grooming, and food in order to obtain sexual favors. Or females playing up to dominant males for special privileges and status. American male teenagers, as well as those in many other human cultures, form often rowdy gangs, just like many simian pre-adults, who can only be brought into line by social pressure and adult authority.
We’ve taken tool using farther than have our simian relations, but the earliest tools were predominantly weapons, and we’ve certainly carried through on that line, and like our ancestors, who used trees and high places for refuge, so do we, except we build higher than any tree to create such refuges.
Then there’s our vaunted communications technology, which through emails, cellphones, PCs, internet, twitter, Facebook YouTube, MySpace, is predominantly used, not for conveying information, but for the electronic equivalent of social grooming and posturing. Even the majority of face-to-face conversation contains a minimum of information and a maximization of chattering and “grooming.” And as in most simian cultures, most of the time most people don’t listen because they’re too busy chattering or thinking about what they’re going to chatter.
Now… for a bunch of intelligent and sometimes educated apes, we haven’t done too badly… so far, but whether we survive anywhere close to as long as the dinosaurs did is going to require some transcendence of some of our simian characteristics. More chattering and posturing isn’t going to do much to solve energy problems, global warming, terrorism, and an overpopulation of one small planet — and that’s just for starters.