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Mar 13 2006

The Bonobo Moratorium

OK, no more bonobos. I mean it. Why must everyone who is trying to prove some lefty hypothesis or other keep talking about bonobos? Bonobos, bonobos, bonobos. Suddenly celebrated after millennia of obscurity because of, what else, sex, bonobos are the new hippie chimps (which we needed once Jane Goodall’s coverup of P. troglodytes’ massacreein’ ways was finally exposed to an aghast chimp-lovin’ world). “Bonobos prove that patriarchy isn’t biologically predetermined!” is the cry. “They’re matriarchal! They’re homosexual! They settle disputes with sex!”

I’m all for proving some lefty hypothesis or other, and I’m all for bonobos, but let’s face it. They’re a whole nother species.

Establishing a precedent “in nature” to validate human sociopolitical ideology is goofy. I’m no bonobologist, but I’m going to go out on, and swing effortlessly from, a limb and posit that these apes, like all other non-human species, don’t even have ideology; they have instinct. Once you start applying human belief systems (all of which have, at their essence, some sort of philosophical narrative for mitigating the constant torment of knowing we’re gonna die, which torment no other critters appear to suffer) to instinctive non-human behavior, you’re just making shit up. It’s like when people think their dogs “love” them. You know what? That dog isn’t “smiling” at you. She just wants a Snausage.

I’m no humanologist, but I’m not entirely convinced that the bonobo’s acclaimed penchant for non-reproductive sex is anything humans should aspire to. Sex as a method of communication strikes me as highly inefficient, not to mention just the sort of thing that would constantly see the individual mired in some inconvenient gender role. Can you imagine having to pat a guy’s scrotum every time you accidentally bumped into him in the concession line at the roller derby? Bonobo females also trade sex for food. I don’t need to tell you what that reminds me of.

But I digress.

Once you start traipsing down that road, by which I mean the road toward using primate cultures to prove that certain handpicked human behaviors are “natural,” it soon becomes unpleasantly evident that the sexy peacenik bonobo is a fluke, and that practically every other vertebrate society you care to look at is an argument for the inevitability of the violent dominance/submission model. Which makes the whole enterprise bogus. I don’t know about you, but the only reason I get out of bed in the morning, besides the opportunity to eat a big fat omelette, is the tattered shred of hope that humans might be able to do something with our giant brains that transcends the primitive call of the wild.

Clinging to that tattered shred of hope what is commonly known as “insanity.”

Because you know what else? Bonobos, are, I’m given to understand, about to be extinct. Impending extinction would appear to make the argument for human emulation of the kinder, gentler primate a weak one, since their approach to social order, however adorable or seemingly Utopian, has contributed little to the viability of the species. Their vulva-rubbing ways are no match for the juggernaut of licentious greed-cum-anihilation that is the social order of H. sapiens. Patriarchy is killing the bonobos, just like it’s killing everything else that’s worth a damn.

71 comments

2 pings

  1. finnsmotel

    “Once you start traipsing down that road”

    Indeed.

    If we look to nature, we can find justification for a whole slew of behaviors that most humans would agree are unacceptable.

    Some animals eat their own young.

    There are days when I understand.

  2. Jezebella

    Amen. Buddha bless the bonobos, but we’ll never be bonobos, and thankfully, we’ll never be chimps either.

    That’s a pretty pinup of a primate up there.

  3. Violet Socks

    Wonderful post, Twisty. But…Jane Goodall’s coverup? It was actually she who discovered and exposed chimpanzee warfare and infanticide.

  4. Pony

    OT: did everyone remember to vote in the Koufax Awards?

    Took me half the night to figure out how and where.

  5. R

    I, too, doubt that the bonobos really have any kind of ideology, but they do have what anthropologists define as culture – that is, learned behaviors that are specific to each community, and clearly obtained from other bonobos, rather than resulting from instinct.

    But it’s still silly to point at them as a model for humans. We may have a bunch of genetic material in common, but we’re not exactly interchangeable.

  6. finnsmotel

    I accidentally happened upon a St. Patrick’s Day parade over the weekend and I’m reasonably sure I saw a Bonobo riding a Harley… it was too hairy to be a Shriner, that’s all I’m sayin…

  7. Cass

    I disagree about my dog not loving me. But its hard to know much else for sure about animal psychology, for obvious reasons. And lets remember that 99.9% of the time this kind of psuedo-reasoning is used to show the desirability and inevitably of the status-quo (dominance by men, by white people, by rich people, etc.).

  8. Branjor

    After the recent bonobo hullaballoo on this blog I looked up bonobos in the Wikipedia and found out a few interesting things. From the Wikipedia: “Females are much smaller than males but have a higher social status. Females maintain their social status by cooperating amongst themselves. No one male can dominate the group because the rest of the females band together to protect the social order.” This correlates very well with what Luckynkl said on the “Roe v. Wade for men” thread about how her own extended human family of women maintained their high social status in relationship to the males of the family by cooperating with each other while she was growing up. So maybe the bonobo is not so utterly irrelevant to the human species. Another interesting thing is that, while I would not want to exchange sex for food (or anything else), the most frequent kind of sex observed in the species is female-female (followed by male-female, then male-male). Also, while bonobos certainly are different from us, to reduce them and other animals to just a mass of “instincts” and nothing else is to buy 100% into the picture of animals the patriarchy promotes.

    Here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonobo

  9. deb

    Hell yeah, Twisty! You are so awesome.

    Can we call for more moratoriums? If so, I want to call for a moratorium on candle-light vigils, and on the protest chant that goes, “hey hey ho ho BLANKITY BLANK has got to go.” That has to be the most tired, grating, easily dismissable protest chant of all time.

  10. Kelley

    What??!!! Pets don’t really smile at their owners??? But, but, but what about all the long, meaningful discussions my cat and I had about how much we hate the partriarchy? I’ll grant you they were one-sided, but she was most attentive and meowed in all the right pauses!!!

    So, if no more bonobos, how about the mantis or the black widow? You know, she mates, then kills and/or eats the male? I’m just sayin’ :)

  11. BetaCandy

    that humans might be able to do something with our giant brains that transcends the primitive call of the wild.

    That’s just it. We’ve already made some conscious choices to transcend our natural instinct, such as the instinct to pound into the dirt people who annoy us. I actually think disrespect for the autonomy of a fellow human is learned behavior, not instinct.

    And I agree about the illusion that animals love you. I just include humans in that list of animals. All of what we call “love” is based on selfishness, but when it’s a mutual selfishness with respect and cooperation, where everyone’s getting what they want from the relationship, it works. That’s what pets are so damn good at.

  12. CafeSiren

    Serious request here: Can any scholar-type out there point me towards a good “classic” academic text that gives a nice, concise refutation of biological determinism, especially when it comes to gender roles? It would be nice to have something to assign to my women’s history class, which invariably has one yahoo that says “But monkeys do it! And it’s theoretically possible that cave-people did it! Therefore it must be natural!”

  13. Cass

    Every infant disrespects the autonomy of others, because they don’t exist except as appendages to his own ego. In the course of normal, healthy development he learns the limits to his ego, the existence of other egos, and eventually even perhaps his interconnection with them. Unfortunately normal, healthy development is not necessarily the norm…

  14. Delphyne

    “It was actually she who discovered and exposed chimpanzee warfare and infanticide.”

    More recent research has suggested that Goodall may have contributed to the discord amongst the chimps. Rather than just observing their behaviour, she and her colleagues inserted themselves right into their society by offering them food. This caused fighting and aggression amongst them which was then seen as their “natural” behaviour. Also, chimpanzees who live in areas where human biengs are encroaching on their habitat become aggressive and turn on one another whilst chimpanzees which have been discovered living in areas far away from humans live in much more harmonious societies.

  15. finnsmotel

    “that humans might be able to do something with our giant brains that transcends the primitive call of the wild.”

    What if the actions we think of as transcendant are actually just complex replies to the call of the wild? Or maybe just new and heretofore unforeseen natures as the species evolves (devolves)?

    Lately, I’m thinking that there is no wild and there is no civil. They’re the same thing… with the increased complexity giving off the aire of civility, but with the stink of ugly human instincts underneath.

    As cynical as it might sound, I’m wondering if people are civil to each other simply to guarantee their survival and/or to receive favor of some type within the herd. Rather than, say, some noble spirit guiding them toward transcendence… any form of belief in transcendence above the other animals is imagined as part of the ‘death awareness’ thing.

    “That’s just it. We’ve already made some conscious choices to transcend our natural instinct, such as the instinct to pound into the dirt people who annoy us. I actually think disrespect for the autonomy of a fellow human is learned behavior, not instinct.”

    It’s not necessarily transcendant to refrain from pounding people who annoy us. We are capable of a thought process that includes forecasting actions and consequences. Murder=jail.

    Laws were written to control this behavior… and yeah, they may have been sold to us in the name of fairness and yeah, that may occasionally be the result, but my cynical side doubts that was their original intent. Control was the intent.

    I’m not a knowledgeable enough anthropologist or psychologist to hazard an educated guess, but I do remember the heirarchy of needs. Once the needs are met, society would seemingly become less about survival and more about dominance… seems inherant for some reason.

    I blame the abundance of the Earth.

  16. The Happy Feminist

    My dog does so love me. He may want a snausage, but I can tell he ALSO loves me.

  17. Mandos

    Wow. I am in 85% agreement with Twisty!

    The one place I would disagree (actually, I’m not sure if there is a disagreement here) is that observation of animal societies may give us clues to how we got here. But not necessarily any moral precepts or inevitability-in-the-future arguments.

  18. Vibrating Liz

    CafeSiren, I don’t knoiw about a classic academic text but you might start by looking at Adapting Minds by David Buller. He has a decent biblography that may be helpful.

  19. Cass

    Also, just about anything by the moral philosopher Mary Midgely…

  20. Sophist

    Once you start traipsing down that road, by which I mean the road toward using primate cultures to prove that certain handpicked human behaviors are “natural,” it soon becomes unpleasantly evident that the sexy peacenik bonobo is a fluke, and that practically every other vertebrate society you care to look at is an argument for the inevitability of the violent dominance/submission model.

    Thank you. That was far more forcefully and concicesly put than I could manage.

    Nature may be instructive, but for us it holds no instructions. We’ll just have to figure that part out for ourselves.

  21. B. Dagger Lee

    Friends, Texicans, Twistyites, Lend me your eyes; she came to bury bonobos, not to praise them. Sincerely, BDL

  22. pslade

    The ‘animal love thing’ touches a nerve, I see.

    I chose to believe that animals love….how else can you explain pets traveling miles and miles to return to their owners? Did that particular owner just so happen to have ‘special’ snausages that no one else could provide?

    Hey, maybe animals are really picky about who they love? And so if you ain’t getting that ‘lovin’ feeling’ from your pet, well…maybe you just don’t rate in the eyes of your pet. Possibly you should consider some sort of self-improvement program that I am going to develop and thus become a zillionaire!

    I believe there is a bond between animal and woman. Just look at all of those buttons and magnets that say: “The more I know about men, the more I love my cat/dog.” And maybe that is what is important…that we love our animals….unconditionally….and not the other way around.

    I am leery of people who don’t love (OK, at least respect) animals.

  23. Burrow Klown

    Can we call for more moratoriums? If so, I want to call for a moratorium on candle-light vigils, and on the protest chant that goes, “hey hey ho ho BLANKITY BLANK has got to go.” That has to be the most tired, grating, easily dismissable protest chant of all time.

    That’s it? I say all of them have to go including: 3 word chant, the 8 word chant will never be defeated, I say something, you say something: something, something, something, something, Who’s streets? Our streets. Among others

  24. KMTBERRY

    Hi Twisty. I just wanted to write to you about something that MAYBE you said but it could have been Amanda; no matter WHO said it originally, I think it bears INCESSANT REPEATING: Anytime one reads the word “Family” as in “Family-friendly” of “Pro-family”, just substitute the word “Patriarchy”. Read: “Patriarchy-friendly” or “Pro-Patriarchy”. It just CLEARS THINGS UP SO WELL !!! It is a G*R*E*A*T TOOL !!!

  25. Cass

    I blame the patriarchy for the idea that animals are incapable of love. The theological (not scientific) view that animals are inanimate machines was originally an invention of Descartes, and it survives as the default “rational” position in this society despite completely defying all empirical evidence and common sense. Love-attachments, in fact, seem to be a need of most or all mammals… remember those famous rhesus monkeys and their wire mommas?

  26. Vibrating Liz

    Honestly, I have days when i just can’t even get myself up off the floor, I am so smitten by that B. Dagger Lee.

  27. Kat

    We’ve already made some conscious choices to transcend our natural instinct, such as the instinct to pound into the dirt people who annoy us.

    We don’t usually pound them into the dirt, but we do snap at them, make rude comments, and use threatening body language. Animals do this too, with growls, hissing, tail flicking, and so on. It doesn’t always end in a fight. In fact, fights are often the last resort because you can die, or be seriously wounded, and there aren’t any doctors in the wild. I don’t think we’re anywhere near as different and superior as we like to believe.

  28. Mandos

    Can you really ascribe love to something that can’t ask the question of how to define love?

  29. hedonistic

    My apologies for offering NOTHING to the conversation, this is just a test post! I was having logon problems from my other computer today. It seems I’m still logged in on this one; don’t know if that matters; bah!

  30. hedonistic

    whoop, problem now fixed, nevermind!

  31. thebewilderness

    Do they groom me because they want me to groom them back, or do they groom me because they think I’m dirty. Do I think they feel affection for me because I feel affection for them, or because I don’t know the difference between pleasure and affection. Don’t know, don’t care.

    Contempt, on the other hand, we learn early and express often. I think that if we used our large brain to discipline contempt out of our intraspecies interactions the patriarchy would disappear.

  32. E.

    I’ve always loved these crazy chimps, but I agree that we should let them be and not base our arguments for basic human rights on a society of decidedly non-human creatures, horny and pacifist though they may be.

  33. CafeSiren

    Thanks, Liz & Cass, for the bibliographic suggestions. This gives me a starting point, at least. There’s gotta be something “classic” out there by Gould, but he’s written so much that I didn’t know where to start.

  34. Chris Clarke

    I saw the title of this post in my feed reader and though I was gonna click over to a Ludlum novel.

    But it wasn’t. Hooray, Twisty. Also for the reminder that Ev Psych psuchs Even when it says shit we kinda like.

  35. jess

    CafeSiren,
    de-lurking because I can’t resist a request for references. I recommend:
    _Gender & Power_ by RW Connell, 1987.
    _Paradoxes of Gender_ by Judith Lorber 1994. (She also has a new book called _Breaking The Bowls_, which I haven’t read.)

    And Twisty, Right On as always.

  36. Hattie

    And the most dangerous animal is…man.

  37. Res Publica

    Also, just about anything by the moral philosopher Mary Midgely…

    I’m all late as usual, but Midgely’s “Evolution as a Religion” is particularly good, as it will give you a club to beat on all kinds of determinist stupidity, from old-fashioned social Darwinism to new-fangled evolutionary socio-bio-psycho-whatevertheycallit.

    Also, although it’s not really central to the book, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has a very interesting things to say about how the whole “nature v. nurture” debate is basically a trap for social progressives. Since that passage is somewhere in “The Epistemology of the Closet”, she’s (surprise!) writing specifically about the genetics/social-construction debate around homosexuality, but I think it’s an interesting point about biological determinism in general.

    I’ve never really understood the fascination with the fact that penguins have gay sex or lemmings are serially monogamous or whatever. I mean, really….monkeys toss their poo! Anyway, it seems to be me that the idea that nature can speak a “should” or an “ought” is a leftover from an age when it was universally believed that there was an Author of the creation, and that He was trying to get across a definite point of view. We show our theological undergarments by being unwilling to accept that we require no further justification for our social orders than “this is how we prefer things to be”. If we say “experience has taught us that a society in which people’s autonomy and dignity is respected leads to less humiliation and more happiness”, then what does it matter if monkeys do or don’t have man-on-man sex or beat their lady-monkeys or whatever? Why can’t we just do things the way we think best? What other justification would be enough?

    Twisty, may I take this opportunity to say that I love the new digs? I was inspired by you and by Pinko Punko to make the leap to WordPress and K2. I’m pretty pleased with how it’s shaping up over at the Republic, but my Submit button still just says “Submit”. Yours, on the other hand….beautiful!

  38. Ann Bartow

    Not related to the post at all but you should read this: http://pinkofeministhellcat.typepad.com/pinko_feminist_hellcat/2006/03/oc_rapist_three.html
    Warning: Very hard to read, though.

  39. Ron Sullivan

    I second Res Publica’s motion on that Midgely book. Good anodyne after lingering Teilhard de Chardin cramps.

    When I hear that “It’s natural; the chimps/gorillas/baboons do it” crap, I’m generally tempted to tell the perpetrator to go fuck a baboon. Or whatever.

    On the other paw, if you want to read good stuff about baboons and humans, with real-world parallels, find some of Robert Sapolsky’s stuff.

  40. Chris Clarke

    I’ve never really understood the fascination with the fact that penguins have gay sex or lemmings are serially monogamous or whatever. I mean, really….monkeys toss their poo!

    Whereas we have the Internet.

  41. Occasional Expositor

    Once you start applying human belief systems … to instinctive non-human behavior, you’re just making shit up.

    I was once at a taping of Kilroy (for non UK people, that was a “topical” talk show hosted by a guy now revealed to be a total loon – he was certainly a patriarchal bastard then) on the subject of rape. The creepy worm sitting beside me at one point leans over to me and shares the fact that male mallard ducks “rape” female mallard ducks. QED, in his mind, I guess.

  42. CafeSiren

    Thanks again for more refs, y’all! More ammo for the blaming arsenal.

  43. robin

    Violet Socks is so right about Jane Goodall – she doesn’t romanticize primates at all, and looks at the animal world with a very clear eye.
    Mandos – does a human toddler love his or her mother or father? I’d say yes, they have a very strong and deep emotional attachment to their loving caregivers (usually mothers or fathers) but probably don’t spend much of their day musing on the question of how to define love.

  44. Chris Clarke

    They do not sweat and whine about their condition, they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, they do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago.

  45. miscellanneous

    As long as we are getting rid of classes of justifications that people use to justify f-ing anything, no matter how contradictory, can we, like, toss the Bible out along with the bonobos? I’m pretty sure the Bible hasn’t been used on *this* blog as justification for anything (except for that “thou shalt not eat frisee” commandment) — but, still, like, maybe if the no-to-bonobo-justification line catches on…..

  46. mythago

    Really, the point of “Look at bonobos!” is merely to poke at people who try to justify the patriarchy by saying “Look at chimpanzees!”

  47. Galloise Blonde

    OMG Occasional Expositor, I can imagine that. At first I read it too fast and imagined the greasy one himself saying it, with his hand on your arm and his Concerned Look. (Although I’m wondering how easy it is to tell whether mallard sex is consensual; hey, maybe there’s a mallard safe word/quack).

    I don’t know whether I can mention this under the terms of the bonobo moratorium, but I read this recently and it was interesting. I like the idea of all aggressive males dying suddenly of TB.

  48. Occasional Expositor

    Galloise Blonde: “The Greasy One”. Heh.

    The link was fascinating and an clear rebuttal to the evolutionary biology fundamentalists.

    I like the idea of all aggressive males dying suddenly of TB.

    Have you read Sheri S Tepper’s _The Gate to Women’s Country_?

  49. Christopher

    Homo-bigots often use the following argument:

    “Homosexuality isn’t natural”

    If you hear this, it is then obviously directly on point to reference any animal species which have homosexual sex.

    As for myself, I use Bonobos as part of a rather complex assault on the Christian idea of sin.

    You know, I have to take issue, Twisty, with the idea that dogs don’t feel love in the same way we do. This is a very baffling idea to me, quite frankly. Dogs clearly show differing levels of happyness towards different human beings. They even seem to imprint on people to some degree, with the result that they will not necessarily find it easy to turn on a beloved abuser.

    Primates show similar traits, even mourning the dead.

    Incidentally, given mourning of the dead, it strikes me as rather presumptuous to assume that they don’t understand death or love on any level.

    Frankly, I’d like to go further then most people have; Not only is the idea that we opperate on some purely intellectual level, as opposed to all other animals, who posses nothing but instinct an outmoded idea derived from worthless belief systems, the very idea that instinct is low and vulgar and free will is high and transcendental is also outmoded.

    First of all, it strikes me as unlikely that altruism and love are purely forms of
    selfishness strike me as unlikely. For example, imagine that you could murder a person you dislike and be sure you wouldn’t be caught. Would you do it? Would everybody do it?

    It’s possible the answers to both questions are “yes”, but I rather doubt it.

    Second, this agonising over whether love is “pure” or really just a form of selfisness strikes me as rather misplaced. Who cares? Motives for actions matter only insofar as they affect other actions down the line. The difference between what is truly altruistic and what only appears to be such only matters if we believe there is some sort of omniscient judge.

  50. Mandos

    Mandos – does a human toddler love his or her mother or father? I’d say yes, they have a very strong and deep emotional attachment to their loving caregivers (usually mothers or fathers) but probably don’t spend much of their day musing on the question of how to define love.

    You know, I was just waiting for someone to bring up the issue of toddlers and infants, but the thing is, we expect toddlers to achieve the capacity for the reflection that is only produced via access to language, the capacity that to me gives the mental machine the characteristic that makes us human. I never expect to hear anything out of a dog that isn’t a bark or a growl or something.

    Now someone will bring up the matter of developmentally disabled people, and, well, we don’t always really know much about all forms of developmental disability, and there are many kinds.

  51. antelope

    A few of my friends have used sign language w/ their babies. I guess lots of parents are now doing this & finding that babies can communicate much better than their soft palates & lack of teeth might lead us to think – they’re just not so hot at articulation. Hell, they can even be taught to sign “thank you,” which blows me away. I think dogs & cats probably have a lot more going on than they articulate as well.

    Anyway – what I really came here to talk about was a super-specific ev-psych reference that I’ve been craving for years. Sometime in high school in the early or mid-80s, several of us in my circle of friends read a book by a female ev-psych author that ADMITTED it was purely speculative. Her point was that she could construct arguments about cave-people every bit as valid as the ones the boys throw out there, but come to radically different conclusions.

    Point #1 is the most obvious of all – man the hunter does NOT lead to survival of the group. Most calories & most nutritional variety comes from nuts, berries, roots & seeds that are gathered by women. This is still true for most gatherer-hunters today & there’s every reason to believe it was true in the past. In fact, it’s debatable how much men even hunted & how much they were just scavengers that managed to find a pretty fresh kill on a good day. Also, a hell of a lot of meat came from the whole tribe running a herd off a cliff, into a corral, into the ocean, stuff like that, with men women & children participating.

    Point #2 is what I really loved, though. She builds a totally credible case that early humans hung out at the shoreline & spent a lot of time in shallow water, where they were safe from both land & sea predators and had access to lots of shellfish & seaweed in addition to all the other good stuff women gather.

    The part that really stuck in my mind about this is that it also works as an explanation for why human female breasts are so unlike the breast of any other primate. First she cites a guy who honest-to-gob claims that rounded breasts were an evolutionary advantage because we did it doggie-style for millenia, and while the missionary position is a MUCH better way to watch out for predators (huh?), women needed breasts that were round and bouncy like buttocks in order to attract the men who, of course, were reluctant to change (Genetically reluctant? Or they watched their parents all the time & therefore wanted to do likewise?). The mind boggles.

    Anyway, the shoreline theory clears this up very elegantly. Human breasts float. It also ties in well enough w/ the locations of a lot of the major neanderthal sites and early human sites, etc., and the fact that newborns can swim. I’ve done archaeology at a 14,000 year old cave site, and like most sites from that era in Europe, the trash pile is made up almost entirely of shells and fish bones.

    To some of you citing this stuff at length is probably just as bad as talking about bonobos, but let me say again, she doesn’t insist that any of it is true, just that it’s every bit as good as the old caveman myth. She has the credentials to play the ev psych game, but doesn’t take it altogether seriously. And if I remember right it was really well written, too.

    Has anyone else seen this thing? Please??

  52. Sophist

    Motives for actions matter only insofar as they affect other actions down the line.

    I disagree. I would consider intent to be the only thing that matters, morally speaking.

    The difference between what is truly altruistic and what only appears to be such only matters if we believe there is some sort of omniscient judge.

    I also reject the idea that things that aren’t observed don’t count. That’s like saying that before Mt. Everest was discovered it wasn’t the tallest mountain.

  53. darkymac

    Hi antelope, you’re possibly thinking of Elaine Morgan and the Aquatic Ape Theory.
    Start at this page for names of her published stuff.
    And then maybe dip into the Wikipedia article on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis for more angles?
    I enjoy reading on the topic.
    And I love bobbing around in shallow water, whatever else is going on ;-)
    So relaxing.

  54. Cass

    “Can you really ascribe love to something that can’t ask the question of how to define love?”

    Can you ascribe physical pain to something that can’t ask the question of how to define physical pain? Hmmm…. I think I’d say, yes.

  55. Mandos

    Can you ascribe physical pain to something that can’t ask the question of how to define physical pain? Hmmm…. I think I’d say, yes.

    How do you know it’s really pain and not just the generated output of an automaton?

  56. Cass

    How do I know, when I throw a rock off a cliff, that its obeying the law of gravity? Perhaps the determining influence on its action is a magnet hidden inside which is being attracted to another magnet on the canyon floor. And as Hume would have said, the only reason we have to expect gravity to operate is that its always seemed to do so before. Does it strike you however, dear Mandos, that in many cases one explanation seems quite a bit more likely than another?

  57. Grace

    Chris Clarke, “not one is dissatisfied”? I think you’re idealizing a teeny bit. A lot of animals, particularly males of species where only a few dominant males get to mate, spent a lot of time dissatisfied. I would call being chronically hungry, or cold, or frightened of being eaten, dissatisfied as well.

  58. Twisty

    CafeSiren, Amy (who says the blog won’t let her register) suggests ” ‘Myths of Gender’ by Anne Fausto-Sterling. She’s brilliant and does an amazing critique of sociobiology, among other things.”

  59. Chris Clarke

    Grace, for what it’s worth I agree, but you may want to take it up with Walt Whitman.

    I figured if Mandos can try to turn this place into a freshman Philosophy class, I could counter with some Intro to American Lit Survey fodder.

  60. Vibrating Liz

    not one is demented with the mania of owning things

    Ha, ol’ Walt obviously never lived with two dogs and one squeaky toy.

  61. Twisty

    Yay American Lit! It’s some of my very favorite lit.

  62. robin

    Mandos – who cares what dogs or toddlers will be in some future state? In the moment, dogs feel deep emotional attachment as do toddlers. As they do pain. Predicating some present emotion on the future capabilities of any particular organism is just sophistry.
    I think you got a little pushed into the corner with Cass’s pain question. Your reply comes close to the fallback scenario of: maybe our entire perception of reality is just the laboratory experiment of some honkin’ ole huge researcher in a much much larger universe?
    Possible, but highly unlikely.
    Occam’s razor and all that.

  63. Janeen

    antelope–yes, Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan is the book you’re thinking of.

    I’m trying really hard not to make a Comp Lit joke, which in our University catalogue was abbreviated in the most delightful way.

  64. Joanna

    Cafe Siren, this is not an academic text, but Natalie Angier’s book Woman: An Intimate Geography, takes on the pseudo-ev-bio arguments quite well in a book aimed at the general public.

    Some books I’ve found that make provocative arguments about animals, feelings, communication etc, are by Vicky Hearne (Adam’s Task is one) and Temple Grandin (Animals in Translation).

    Janeen, my university also abbreviates Comp Lit as CLit in the catalogue.

  65. Pony

    Cafe Siren: I’m just reading these two now. Lighter than the previous posters’ cites I know. But.

    Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation:
    The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex
    by Olivia Judson
    http://www.drtatiana.com/author.shtml
    “You’ll learn that male and female orangutans masturbate with sex toys fashioned from leaves and twigs, that slugs are hermaphrodites with penises on their heads, and that females in more than 80 species eat their lovers before, during, or after sex.”

    Why We Love :
    The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
    Helen Fisher
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0805069135/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-6371726-6363808#re
    ader-page

    “…shows that all animals feel romantic attraction, that love at first sight comes out of nature…” etc.

  66. Ms Kate

    She uses Bonobo behavior like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination.

    (its originally an Andrew Lang quote about statistics, but this sort of problem infects the sciences most generally)

  67. antelope

    Thanks, Darkymac & Janeen. That was the book.

  68. AntipodeanKate

    I hate it when people raise the old thing about animals being automatons who don’t feel pain (was that Descartes?).

    The problem is that we all live inside our own heads: I don’t know that any of you are actually real thinking creatures — for all I know I am the only real thinking creature out there and the rest of you are just spectacularly convincing illusions generated by my own brain, or you’re all automatons yourselves, or I’m not really here, or I’m the dream the Red King has while he sleeps, etc etc.

    Same goes with animals. I don’t know what my dog thinks: I do know that when she is hurt she whimpers, when I come from home from work she wags her tail and dances around, and that sometimes she comes and sits at my feet and puts her head on my lap. Is it love or is it instinct? Does it matter? No. If I behaved to other creatures — human or animal — on the basis that I don’t know for sure that they’re thinking, feeling beings, I’d be a psychopath.

    The precautionary principle is one I’d prefer to use when regarding the state-of-being of other creatures.

    That said I do agree with Twisty: dogs don’t love us in a human way. Anthropomorphising animals — like in that March of the Penguins movie — is a stupid thing to do. But denying them any existence beyond that of sophisticated robots is similarly stupid.

  69. Christopher

    “I disagree. I would consider intent to be the only thing that matters, morally speaking.”

    I’m sorry, but this statement needs a lot more to support it. The Inquisition, the Holocaust, communist purges… These atrocities were all carried out by people who intended to save the world. This does not mean they were moral.

    In fact, your definition wouuld seperate morality entirely from human actions. Because under your definition both the Nazis and the people that charged them with war crimes are both equally moral.

    Because of this, your system of morality can’t be used to determine whether we should be on the side of the Nazis or their enemies. It is thus

    “I also reject the idea that things that aren’t observed don’t count. That’s like saying that before Mt. Everest was discovered it wasn’t the tallest mountain.”

    first of all, I’m not talking about all facts, I’m talking about facts that matter. Second, when I talk about observation, I include indirect observation. If we can’t observe it, it can’t have an effect on us, and thus it can’t possible matter.

  70. Ms Kate

    first of all, I’m not talking about all facts, I’m talking about facts that matter. Second, when I talk about observation, I include indirect observation. If we can’t observe it, it can’t have an effect on us, and thus it can’t possible matter.

    LOGICAL FALLACY ALERT. What you don’t know can’t hurt you? Rigggggtttt. I can tell you as a near-ScD, that’s bad science too.

    It was a while before minute amounts of DDT could be measured in the body fluids of humans and other animals … it couldn’t be observed. But the ability TO observe that DDT came about as a result of the loss of nearly all predatory bird species on the continent!

    Oh, but it couldn’t be DDT because we couldn’t know it was DDT …

    I’m sorry, but that sort of thinking is what keeps the nuclear industry ready, willing, and able to supress or prevent any and all observation of the effects of low level radiation emissions. If we don’t know about it, it can’t be hurting us, right?

  71. Jonathan

    That our species has failed to advance intellectually to the point that we turn to animals for “guidance” before continuing to mistreat them or make them go extinct.

    That, when faced with some deluded Patriarchal conformist clinging to monkey role-models, the only rhetorical option available to me is to counter with my own monkey?

    For this, IBTP! And whatever deluded, anti-intellectual, “nature-approved” fantasies it rode in on!

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