Are you a chimpanzee or a bonobo?

This interesting article points out that the hominid branch of the evolutionary tree has split several times. The earliest side-shoot led to orangutans (bless their hearts!) and a slightly later one led to gorillas. A short time after this, a third split gave rise eventually to humans, while the final division (so far) separated the other bloodline into bonobos and chimpanzees. To put it another way, bonobos and chimps are more closely related to each other than either of them is to humans, but all three of us share an older common ancestor.

Chimpanzee (Click for photo source)

The article then goes on to ask what this common ancestor was like. Was it more Pan-like (chimp/bonobo) or more Homo-like (human)?

In answer to the question, the author points out that there are actually large differences in social behavior between chimps and bonobos, despite them having a recent common ancestor. Furthermore, she suggests, we humans show both types of behavior, so perhaps the common ancestor of all three species showed this variety too. Perhaps humans retained the more generalized or variable social structure of our common ancestor, while chimps and bonobos represent specializations.

But this intriguing speculation about the distant past rather glosses over something important about our modern selves, I think. Humans are not some kind of vague mush of chimp and bonobo features. Individual people and individual cultures have a marked tendency to gravitate towards one camp or the other, and they tend to show a good deal of antipathy towards the opposing camp. Collectively, we show characteristics of both species, but individually we tend to be either chimpanzee-like or bonobo-like, as I hope to explain.

Presumably chimpanzees live in an environment in which adopting only one particular mode of life has proved perfectly stable and useful, while bonobos occupy a different niche and went the other way. Meanwhile, the environment the human line found itself in might have fallen into one of two categories: 1) neither the chimp nor bonobo extremes were ideal, and some kind of less polarized social structure worked best, as it may have done for the common ancestor; 2) the environment kept changing, so our gene pool retained the capacity for both options because it paid to be able to adopt whichever mode best suited the times. At different periods, the proportions of “chimp” and “bonobo” phenotypes would have fluctuated, perhaps through epigenetic means.

But here’s the thing: these two lifestyles are mutually incompatible. You can’t have a dominance hierarchy that is flat; you can’t have a patriarchy that is also a matriarchy; you can’t have an alpha male if everyone is going around having sex all the time. But humans seem to have inherited a choice, and it seems to me that the fight for which choice is best is still very much being fought. What I’m wondering is whether this is the very fight that is today being fought at the ballot box and the altar…

Let’s compare Pan troglodyte and Pan paniscus a little to see what I mean. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll just quote from the article:

“If we start with modern chimps and bonobos, they manifest some striking behavioral differences. 1) Chimp societies are characterized by strong male dominance hierarchies, whereas bonobo societies have strong female dominance hierarchies. 2) Chimp males have been documented to engage in warfare with neighboring troops and kill troop members, whereas such behavior has not been observed in bonobos. 3) Chimp males are known to engage in infanticide, again a behavior unreported in bonobos. 4) Chimps engage in sex only when females are in estrus (“heat”), at which times males make great efforts to monopolize females and hence guarantee paternity. By contrast, bonobos engage in sex often (ten times per day has been reported) and throughout the estrus cycle, and seem quite disinterested in keeping track of paternity. 5) Homosexual sex has not been observed with chimps, whereas it occurs frequently between female and often between male bonobos.”

Mention of infanticide was what first caught my eye, because I’d just read this disturbing article about how men in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) not-infrequently waterboard their babies (yes, really) in order to instill in them a fear and respect for authority. Another sentence also caught my eye: “it’s unlikely that FLDS leaders such as her ex-husband (who is now a bishop) would follow [such new laws], much less extend legal rights to women or stop the practice of abandoning boys who are surplus in a community where the older, powerful men arrange the marriages and take multiple wives.”

Polygamy? Aggressive male dominance hierarchies? Alpha males? So what is the FLDS church, then, if not a bunch of chimpanzees? I don’t know about infanticide, specifically, only the waterboarding, but it’s not uncommon in other masculine monotheisms such as fundamentalist Islam.

The FLDS is admittedly a pretty freaky organization, but the chimpanzee qualities clearly extend to all the monotheistic religions to some degree, and the more fundamentalist they are, the more this is true. Aggressive in-group/out-group antipathy is fundamental to all, whether it be the ancient Tribes of Israel, modern Islamic or Christian antisemitism, or the Saved versus the Damned. An aggressive dominance hierarchy is a fundamental aspect of these religions too: The Judeo-Christian-Muslim god is unquestionably the alpha-male of all alpha-males, and Right-wing Christianity in the US is very much about doing what you’re told. Take this video, for instance – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually argue for a dictatorship before, but the more you think about it, the more obvious it becomes that this rather extreme video is only saying out loud something that is implicit in fundamentalist monotheistic religions today.

What about homophobia? And what about the repressive puritanical attitude towards sex generally? Fundamentalist Christianity is very much a patriarchal dominance hierarchy with aggressive and sexually repressive features. It is exactly what an alien anthropologist would expect if we were closely related to chimpanzees.

Bonobo (Click for photo source)

And yet we’re also closely related to bonobos. These are the hippies of the primate world: laid back, “make love not war” creatures who opt for a flatter, or at least less aggressive, hierarchy. Their matriarchal societies seem to have more in common with our older, polytheistic or animistic religions, filled as these are with goddesses and a virtual supernatural soap-opera of social interactions. Bonobos, I might point out, are also the hominids with the most upright gait and sophisticated tool use, if not also the most language ability. If you were to meet one of our ancient Homo ancestors, he or she would probably look more like a bonobo than a chimpanzee. Bonobos are the hippie intellectuals of the forest. This doesn’t make them better than chimpanzees – each is best adapted to a certain environment, but when we humans try to describe our species, we tend to do so in a way that emphasizes our bonobo characteristics over our chimpanzee ones. Although, to be fair, perhaps that’s simply because it’s the bonobos amongst us that tend to write the history books!

Human hippie intellectuals tend to be political liberals. Is this mere coincidence? Perhaps not. Perhaps the political Left and Right are modern-day equivalents of the dichotomy that pushed chimpanzees and bonobos into separate niches?

The terms Left and Right originated in the French Revolution. On the right of the president sat the supporters of the king – those in favor of a very strong (male or honorary-male) dominance hierarchy. These were people who preferred the old feudal system, in which all men are not equal. They thought that social capital should be unevenly distributed, so that kings and dukes held most of the wealth. They were the ones “loyal to religion.” Today, they fear God, they fear the government and they would like others to fear them. These are the people who most support aggression as a means to solve problems (e.g. by preventing gun control, supporting high military spending and condoning wars). Their lack of empathic, egalitarian tendencies makes them oppose social care programs such as healthcare. They tend to be sexually repressive, homophobic and often somewhat misogynistic. They are concerned about in-group/out-group (e.g. the Birthers, who believe against all the evidence that Obama is not American). (Oh, and who is it that is most scared that we evolved from apes? Few people know much about bonobos but everyone knows about chimpanzees, so I’m not surprised the Far Right are uncomfortable about their past; they perhaps recognize themselves in it.)

If chimpanzees ever develop really complex social organizations, this is what they will be like. Remember Planet of the Apes?

Of course, such a simplistic characterization has its difficulties. For instance, an ardent Republican might accuse the Left of chimpanzee-like infanticide, given their respective stances on abortion. But perhaps even this has its explanation. The anti-abortion lobby is driven more by emotion than reason. Witness a billboard I saw in Florida recently that said “at 18 days after conception a baby’s heart is already beating”, which it then misleadingly illustrated with a picture of a six month-old foetus, not a tiny fish-like embryo as it should have been. What difference does it make that its heart is working (rather than, say, its kidneys)? It’s a meaningless observation designed to appeal to our basic instincts, and who is it that cares most about kin? Who is programmed to appeal to the alpha-male (i.e. God) to decide what’s right? Who has the least to gain from female choice?  Hint: it’s not our inner bonobo.

Similarly it’s not simply a matter of Left and Right, because the extreme Left is just as totalitarian and “daddy knows best” as the extreme right. It’s more like the extreme right versus the center (which in the US is generally called the Left).

And why are leftists progressives and the Right conservative? Aside from a possibly greater tendency for bonobos to use tools I don’t know of anything in principle that would make one social system more progressive than the other. Presumably it’s an historical accident: we’ve just been through a couple of thousand years during which the chimpanzee model dominated, thanks in large part to Christianity and Islam. An earlier Age of the Bonobo may or may not have existed in the evolutionarily recent past (the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, say), but from the perspective of our era it seems quite new, not really gathering momentum until the 1960’s. So we would expect it to represent the progressive stance, and to make the chimpanzees amongst us feel under threat and act more conservatively.

Either way, it seems possible to me that the bonobo and chimpanzee lifestyles might offer hints about the deep, primitive impetuses that drive us humans. Mere logic sure as hell doesn’t. It might explain why our political system has two quite persistent ideologies. It may have something to say about the emotional and instinctive factors that underly the current desperate attempts of the religious right to regain their hold, and why right-wing politics and fundamentalist Christianity go together at all (despite much of the message of the New Testament). It may tell us what really lies underneath the present startling and troubling attempts in US politics to reinstate an oligarchy, if not a theocracy. It may explain why some people are willing to lie and deceive in order to get what they want, because cognitive dissonance is less painful than suppressing our primitive urges (which we don’t consciously understand). It may even explain why it’s virtually impossible for liberals and conservatives to understand each other at the most fundamental level. Perhaps all of this is because some of us are chimpanzees and some of us are bonobos; perhaps we are born or raised with fundamentally different assumptions.

You may have guessed that I’m biased towards the Bonobo Way of life. Perhaps the Day of the Chimpanzee is now an anachronism – an inappropriate adaptation to our new niche. I hope so. Perhaps, with luck, it will soon be over.

<fade up Imagine, by John Lennon>

Postscript: Aha! I just found this, which looks really promising: Our Inner Ape, by Frans de Waal. It seems that somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about may have explored this topic already. I guess I could have saved myself an afternoon’s work! I’ll read it and report back.


About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

45 Responses to Are you a chimpanzee or a bonobo?

  1. Victoria says:

    This is a very interesting stream of thought. It seems to me that part of the reason that the Chimpanzee-types have flourished so much in the past (and still do in a big way) is part of their very nature: dominance. While being overdomineering can be a negative thing, in order to replace those Chimpanzee-types with Bonobo-types (in terms of social influence), some must have a delicate mix. Someone with the Bonobo intentions, but the aggressiveness of the Chimpanzee. Either that, or a very large number of Bonobo-type, enough that it takes all the clout out of the Chimpanzee-type.

    It is interesting to imagine what our society would be like with only one type. Perhaps that mix is part of why we’ve adapted to so much?

    I definitely see where you are coming from. Perhaps, underneath it all, we are not so far from apes as we would like to believe.

  2. Norm says:

    Excellent post, Steve. Your Bonobo-Chimpanzee comparisons are wonderfully original, and point out many things I had not thought about before. Might I suggest that this essay would make a terrific chapter in your next book!

  3. stevegrand says:

    Thanks Norm. Thanks Victoria.

    I think you may be right that the bonobo worldview is only going to take hold if bonobos with the bite of chimpanzees make it happen. When it comes to religion, maybe that’s Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – perfectly sweet people with teeth like rottweilers!

  4. Victoria says:

    In regards to Christopher Hitchens, I couldn’t agree more.

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  6. Dranorter says:

    Why favor the Bonobo-type until we know why each was successful in their own environment? (Well, I guess every Bonobo-type has a perfectly good excuse for forwarding their own view – that is, thinking it’s the correct one. But that doesn’t get us anywhere.) Matriarchal societies may be more peaceful, but they’re sexist just like patriarchal ones. And there may be other subtle problems with bonobo society that researchers (maybe liberal researchers) don’t notice. It makes more sense to me to choose which individual traits we want our society to have on a rational basis, and that may well mean understanding what it is that makes chimpanzees and bonobos different, but creating a different type of society than either.

    Now as far as liberal scientists go, I think over a century ago there was more patriarchal tendency in the scientific elite, and the difference between humans and apes was described more in terms of having a “society” (ie a hierarchy) or being “civilized”. I can’t find much evidence for this, but here is one google n-gram graph,intelligent+ape&year_start=1790&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3 Most of the ways of phrasing things, “civilized” went out of style for describing non-human things around 1880, but I don’t tend to find terms describing intelligence, speech, or tool use replacing it in a straightforward way.

    I look forward to your report on Our Inner Ape!

    • stevegrand says:

      > It makes more sense to me to choose which individual traits we want our society to have on a rational basis

      Yes, I agree, but what I’m asserting is that we currently DON’T. We’re nowhere near as rational as we like to think. And there may be an anthropological reason for the dichotomy in attitudes that underlies so much of human nature. If we understand that better, we’ll know why people behave as they do, because they sure as hell aren’t acting rationally. If society was rational we’d figure out between us how to optimize our social and political structure and converge on that, but what we have instead is two strongly opposing views – two fundamentally distinct psychologies, which at the extreme are incompatible. Hence political strife.

      The history of “civilized” you mention is interesting. One thing to note would be that bonobos weren’t even known about until 1929, and then only from a skull, so most of our concepts of “ape-like” behavior come solely from our experience of chimps (known for hundreds of years). It’s only recently that bonobos (hitherto lumped in as “pygmy chimpanzees”) have been heavily studied at all and the huge differences in lifestyle recognized.

      Btw, they’re matriarchal and that is sexist too, as you say, but one of the consequences is that it’s a much flatter structure, fundamentally founded on empathy and healing, rather than domination and conflict. We could do with a bit more of that, I think! Dominance hierarchies only work well in small groups and we don’t live like that any more.

      I agree that scientists have had a predominantly patriarchal, TD viewpoint and still do to some extent, which I think is partly why so many of them find emergence so conceptually hard to deal with. Complexity Theory and the Internet are changing all that.

      I’ve started the book, although I’m SUPPOSED to be working…

  7. Alon says:

    Thanks for writing this. I read the whole thing, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

    (Everything below this is meant to be taken light-heartedly, but I am slightly serious:)

    Although, I still like to pretend that we’re more closely related to the orangutans. I’m sure you remember telling us about that article, however long ago, that finally allowed such a hypothesis to sound less improbable. I specifically recall your (humorous) bias toward their ginger-colored hair.

    In the future, I predict that our ancestors’ fossils will be equally found spread out through many parts of Asia. We’ll find out that the DNA of modern-day orangutans drifted too quickly away from our (closer) common ancestor’s DNA, in the opposite direction over time for whatever forest-adapting reason. Our orange arboreal relatives will finally be treated with the respect they deserve.
    Is all this too much to ask? Say it ain’t so.

    • stevegrand says:

      Let’s hope the poor devils last long enough for us to get over our bigotry! I see there’s an informed call for dolphins to be counted as “non-human persons” at the moment, so maybe it won’t be too late for our hairy cousins. Fingers crossed!

  8. spleeness says:

    I had the same musings myself after recently reading an article about chips vs. bonobos. I didn’t know about the LDS practices of waterboarding — gasp! Going to check out that article now. Really enjoyed what you had to say here. I’d prefer life in a bonobo society myself.

  9. Chris says:

    Interesting idea, comparing human society and chimp/bonobo, I have a suspicion which mode we take depends on the relative abundance of resources as well, that is if there is either a huge surplus or a huge lack of resource, it favours a chimp approach, if their nothing to lose or everything to win. But a more average amount of resource favours a more co-operative strategy.
    A similar parallel can be found in history I read recently the history of 14th wells, which was a very stable society and a fairly inclusive one at that, and I suspect it was stable because it neither had too much or too little. So you couldn’t have multiple competing guilds, just not enough folk or work to go round, you couldn’t have huge fights as then no-one would have resources. Shows up in the courts system their (at that time every town/city/borough, had its own court) even when a dispute over say poaching a rivals apprentice brewed up their was the realisation that there was not enough spare to throw someone out permanently so a system of fines and cooling off worked, indeed any resolved dispute was marked with PAX, (peace). It also forced the system to be fairly inclusive as there was not enough spare to allow anyone to be left out. They key I suppose being that everyone had something to loose, so were un-inclined to gamble.
    On a side note I think any hippie types trying to start commune retreats could benefit from reading it, as a model of a stable fairly leaderless society it worked very well.
    For the modern world, I wonder if our coming age of scarcity will bring out our inner bonobo, we face a time not of a critical lack of resource, or of abundance but of shortage, if history says anything I suppose it is that the loss of power could be an advantage looking at Europe we’ve all started co-operating much better now none of us matter all that much as nations. Probably not most almost all historical predictions are wrong 🙂

    • stevegrand says:

      That’s interesting! Perhaps that resource difference is partly why chimps and bonobos became separate species in the first place? They live on different sides of the Zaire River, and I read something that suggested the south side of the river lost all its gorillas due to a temporary climate change, and thereafter the southern “chimps” could eat foods that previously were eaten by gorillas, while the northern ones still had to compete. These southern “chimps” went on to become the egalitarian bonobos. So you must be right that resource levels are important.

      Of course, in C14th Wells, the peaceful townsfolk and the chimpanzees were also separated by a moat! As I understand it, there was a huge separation of church and town in those days, and the mediaeval church was definitely a dominance hierarchy. Maybe having the chimps safely stowed away in the Bishop’s Palace allowed the bonobos to get on with life unmolested!

      I hope you’re right that the modern world favors bonobo types. What’s happening in America right now, do you think? The chimpanzee Republicans are very much in evidence right now – lying and cheating, aggressive, competitive, power-seeking, un-empathic, status-oriented, etc. Is that just the dying breath of an out-of-time system? I hope so. I think it might be, as long as we don’t let the religious Right take over and throw us back into a dark age.

  10. Lachesis says:


    I remember from my studies (I had ethology lesson) a story about a group of baboons wich changes totally its behaviour after the accidental death of all adult males (they ate meat contamited with tuberculosis). The old females take the power and change all the society structure. If the scientists have not been aware of the male’s deaths, maybe they never notice the change.

    Maybe it could be a similar story for the other ape ? Are we sure to have enough follow ape’s group to say that theses behaviour are instinctive ?

    (excuses my syntax faults, please)

    • stevegrand says:

      That’s a good question, but yes, I think so. For one thing the bonobo groups that have been studied still have plenty of males – in fact they have the normal 1:1 male:female ratio, while I think chimpanzee groups have fewer males, (it seems chimpanzees may actually kill off excess male infants and eat them!). But it’s interesting that such a switch can occur in baboons.

  11. Hi Steve

    Thank you for a very interesting post. I’ve noticed when reading books about the evolution of human culture, such as Tattersall’s Becoming Human and Steven Mithen’s excellent The prehistory of the mind, that the superstars of chimp research include both Bonobo: Pan Paniscus (like Kanzi) and the common chimp Pan Troglodytes (Washoe). But I don’t recall reading any substantive discussion about the implication of the very different cultures of Paniscus and Troglodytes to human cultural evolution.

    I think its entirely possible that early hominid groups might well have fallen into both cultural types, and while groups remained relatively physically isolated the stark diversity would be maintained (as in modern Pan and Trog chimps), but with hominid population growth and migrations there would be mixing and a clash of these cultures resulting in a modern mix of both cultural traits – as you rightly observe – although (sadly) with an overwhelming dominance of troglodyte culture.

    Best wishes

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Alan! Thanks for that. The book that this thought has led me to (Our Inner Ape – De Waal) makes plenty of anecdotal connections between Pan and Homo behaviors, but so far he doesn’t seem to connect this with what I’m suggesting about left/right-wing politics, nor with your very interesting thought that these cultures might have been isolated much of the time, with occasional clashes. That might be the only way to make sense of the mutual incompatibility of so many aspects. Perhaps such a clash can be seen between the early farmers and nomads? And between monotheists and polytheists? Roman Catholicism perhaps retains an echo of bonobo matriarchy in the Mariolatry that’s never quite been wiped out by the hierarchical, dominating, male chimp-god (and come to that, the modern Western conception of Jesus is very different from that of the Judaic God). And then there’s the possibility that different prehistoric ‘races’ (I can’t bring myself to consider Neanderthals a distinct species – not without saying the same about, say, pygmies and scandinavians!) took different strategies. Chimps and bonobos remain separated by a big river; maybe if the Zaire river were to dry up, chimps would wage war on bonobos. Interesting!

      “Trogs” – hah! I think I’ll call the rabid right-wingers in the US trogs from now on!

  12. yogi-one says:

    Yes, this is a fascinating new area of exploration. What we need is some more hard-science type studies whereas now we have a lot of soft-science type theorizing and speculation.

    Someone with the proper training and experience needs to set up proper controls and research how to structure the studies. Off hand, it occurs to me that control groups of chimps and bonobos might be presented with certain problems, then their problem-solving strategies recorded for later analysis and interpretation. Then two groups of humans have to be presented with the same (or of not possible, closely analogous) problems to see how they solve them.

    You would also have to figure out how to select for “chimp-humans” and “bonobo-humans”.

    The potential for devastating mistakes is high. You would have to guard against things like the study being organized only by people prejuduced one way or the other for the bonobos or chimps. The criteria for assigning either category to a person would be another sticking point. For example, does supporting a war mean , in all cases, that you have a “chimp”? Does any act of violence define someone as a “chimp”? Is sexual promiscuity always due to being a bonobo (probably not)? What about the case of matriarchies that practice warfare (i.e. – “Amazon” women) – are they chimps or bonobos?

    It gets nuanced and complicated real fast, but unless some solid hard science is done, it will always just be armchair speculation, no matter how appealing it may seem for people writing social commentary.

    • stevegrand says:

      Yes, hard science would be nice, although, as I understand it, it’s really difficult to do in primatology. In the wild, just locating and identifying the animals and working out their social groupings is hard enough and takes years of painstaking observation, let alone trying to do controlled blind trials. In the zoo everything’s so messed up that it’s hard to draw fair conclusions from behavior. But that’s not my problem, thank goodness. In the meantime I don’t think there’s anything wrong with armchair speculation as long as it’s reasoned – Einstein was an armchair speculator. We speculators have to dream up hypotheses for the experimentalists to test 😉

  13. Bindy says:

    I am not nearly well read enough to be able to elucidate the point but there has been much written of the almost inevitably dichotomous nature of the workings out of social life that relates to what you are tossing up. Am I correct that Hegel had things to say that would add to the discussion?

    I know in my own sense making, the conclusion often rests in accepting that almost any set of relations is best understood through the tension that operates, and frequently gives dynamism to action , between two irreconcilable ‘sides’ . It’s the old coke/pepsi dichotomy…. it may be reductionist but frequently offers the most elegant explanation!…

    But alas, I am primarily a wife and mother in a patriarchial society and time to read and think in realms which would allow me a more studied contribution eludes me …

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Bindy! Thanks.

      > time to read and think in realms which would allow me a more studied contribution eludes me …

      But you can cite Hegel, which is more than I can! 🙂

      There’s certainly a tension and dynamism, but I’d love to see a dialectic! The thing that baffles me and leads me to write posts like this is not so much that such dichotomies are inevitable (I’m sure you’re right about that) but what is it specifically that characterizes and causes this particular dichotomy? Maybe that’s just the empirical realist in me speaking, but I’m baffled by the almost universal association of certain factors amongst the Far Right: Authoritarianism, literalist Christianity, paranoia (if not paranoid delusions) and conspiracy theories, misogyny, anti-abortion, etc., etc. It’s all of a pattern and I can see logical connections between most parts of it, but I don’t understand the central weltanschaaung. What’s the fundamental piece of reasoning or belief from which all these things flow and seem so rational to such people? Maybe Hegel can help – I’ll look!

  14. Nicholas Lee says:

    Dear Steve,
    On the topic of comparing chimpanzees, bonobos and humans I would like to bring the following scientific experiment to your attention.

    I think this beautifully explains pretty much everything you need to know about humans and their behaviour. Chimps and bonobos are the smart logical ones that work things out scientifically. Humans just copy actions and believe whatever they are told; regardless of whether it is good, bad or illogical idea.

    This apparently aberrant human tendency has evolved and flourished due to their ancient predilection for living in large troupes of hominids. Regrettably the strategy of just copying actions and believing rather than thinking for one self is actually more successful in organising very large tribal groups.
    As a result it is humans who have taken over the planet. The more unthinking and obedient the group, the more successful and powerful it becomes. (Islam, Christianity, Communism and Nazis spring to mind as historically powerful “copy but don’t think” groups)
    Evolution does not select for rational thought if that is not a group survival trait. Evolution is not benign, it does not plan, and it is supremely indifferent.

    I belong to Mensa, the high IQ society, and I can assure you that they will never take over the world because everyone in the society thinks for themselves so independently that organising them all to a single cause would be as impossible as herding cats.

    I would add a personal pet hypothesis that in a small percentage of each generation of normally wilfully ignorant and obedient humans, a minor gene mutation creates an individual with a slight tendency towards more rational independent thought. These people become scientist and engineers. As engineers are in the minority, their views are not listened to by the majority that prefer not to be rational. Frequently scientists (like Richard Dawkins) will get very frustrated that the general populous are not persuaded by their beautifully reasoned rational debates about subjects like evolution; these scientists are completely missing the point that the humans they are talking to have been selected by evolutionary pressure to not think rationally.
    Engineers are particularly bad for humanity because due to their greater capacity for understanding the physical world they become coerced into creating devices that provide their masters with unspeakable power over the environment and their fellow humans.

    Distressingly I think Douglas Adams neatly summed up the human species by saying “You’re a load of useless, bloody loonies!”

    Nicholas Lee

  15. Joy says:

    Cain mixed with a full beast ape (now nonexistent). The product mixed with each other, producing gorillas. Cain mixed again with the gorillas, producing chimpanzees. He mixed again with the chimpanzees producing bonobos. Me mixed with them, producing black people. Others from the lineage of Seth joined in the fun, producing other dark-skinned races. Eventually, hybridizing took place and many of them are not able to produce with each other. This is called DEvolution, the opposite of evolution.

  16. Freya says:

    Unfortunately, I think we are much more like the Chimp. Male aggression and patriarchy all in one. With females simpering fools to their males. Look at all the violence that is done, almost all of it is done by human males, just like its almost all done by Chimp males. We are not like Bonobos at all unfortunately.

    • sam says:

      hey, you see the bad side, guess what, without these protection of the males, you’ll be raped all the time. Violence is an animal trait, and we are animals…deal with it

  17. Dalene says:

    Asking questions are in fact pleasant thing if you are not understanding something completely, but this piece of writing offers pleasant understanding

  18. Daniel says:

    I have asked the same question, regarding the apparent duality of humankind––_Demons_or_Demagogues%3F/&PHPSESSID=a0676c3dd50fac4b740115498c146545 I have suspected this difference came from neanderthal vs cro-magnon, however, perhaps those different types of humans came from the different types of chimpanzees.

  19. nzchicago says:

    I have often wondered about this myself. I also wonder if some people – the solitary types – perhaps have a bit of orang-utan?

  20. sam says:

    I’d rather be at war constantly than having a female rule…let alone matriarchy

  21. justin says:

    Wanted to add this… Chimps have been noted to have larger amygdalas while bonobos have larger anterior cingulate circuits. This corresponds to the anatomical brain differences researchers have found in conservatives and liberals too. The amygdala, by the way, is the part of the brain used for threat assessment. The anterior cignulate circuit modulates attention and has been found to increase in density in those who practice meditation. Food for thought…

  22. Dan says:

    Humans branched from the common ancestor of these two species much earlier than they branched from one another, with distinctly different evolutionary pressures. We’re compassionate, and enjoy sex with structured mating rituals. We’re also driven to fight and dominate. These are traits you can find throughout the animal kingdom. The only way to study humans is to study humans. Look at the history of humanity, average it all together, and you’re left with a set of average human traits. In other words, we are what we’ve been, not what our cousins became.

  23. Tim says:

    Hi Steve,

    I came across your article, which I thoroughly enjoyed, when I asked Google whether a chimp has ever been placed in a bonobo group or vice versa. I don’t suppose you know the answer to this question and, if so, what the result was; i.e. did they maintain the behaviour of their own species or were they transformed by the species in which they found themselves.

    I am not sure how ethical such an experiment would be but it would certainly be interesting.

    • stevegrand says:

      I’ve a feeling it has been done, and that the outcome was the chimp adopted the bonobo ways after learning that its normal behavior wasn’t acceptable to the group. But I may be mis-remembering the outcome and/or the species. It might even have been monkeys, for all I know. I’d have read it in Frans de Waal’s ‘Our Inner Ape’, which I bought not long after writing this post, if that’s any help.

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