Film review: “So Human, So Chimp”


Yesterday, while writing my last entry (Hopelessly Conformist), I looked for the “Ape Genius” video on PBS, so I could include the link in my post. At first, I found the wrong video. It was called “So Human, So Chimp”. After watching this movie (http://video.pbs.org/video/1383599160/), Brian O’Connor asked me about it.

Brian O’Connor: What did you think of “So Human, So Chimp”?

Future Historian: Well, first of all, a more appropriate title would have been “Like Chimp, Like Human”, except that I agree with Jared Diamond (author of The Third Chimpanzee) that we’re really just one of the three species of chimps on this planet: regular chimps, pygmy chimps (i.e. bonobos), and human chimps.

Movies like “Ape Genius” and “So Human, So Chimp” are extremely annoying in showing humans’ exaggerated opinions of themselves. Instead of using the contrast between humans and other primates as motivation to make fuller use of our mental abilities, the humans in these films are satisfied observing how much smarter we are.

BO: Stop talking in such vague and general terms.

FH: One idea that was repeated a few times near the end of the movie is that humans are clearly more collaborative than other apes because we create cities, governments, religions, bla bla bla.

BO: On what basis, does the film claim that apes are not as collaborative? They’re social animals, like us.

FH: I guess, the thinking is that some of the chimps try to attack humans, especially strangers who come near them. (The humans are protected by a transparent wall, so no one gets hurt.) The human reporter and the scientist remarked that they were collaborating in creating this film even though they had never met each other before, something the chimps would be unable to to do.

BO: And on what basis do you claim that humans are equally uncollaborative?

FH: That’s not hard to demonstrate. Just compare the sexual behavior of bonobos and humans. Humans are far more possessive and controlling, and exhibit an extreme unwillingness to share sexual partners.

BO: Why do you use a relatively minor aspect of life as a counterexample? What about the cities, governments, and religions we create?

FH: I don’t think it is minor at all. I think it’s a big part of the reason why 90% of GDP is useless. The worldwide obsession with GDP and jobs growth is better thought of as a symptom of us competing for sexual privileges.

BO: Hold it there one second. Are you saying that if humans were as sexually promiscuous as the bonobos, our economies would collapse?

FH: Absolutely. This is a very important driving force of the world economy. The true reasons people go to work is far different from what they imagine them to be.

Now regarding the cities, governments, and religions, no humans have ever purposely formed a group and decided to collaborate by saying “let’s create a city, government, or religion”. They are primarily things that emerge without a conscious decision. Besides, how many people do you know whom you would credit with a significant scientific or political achievement?

If humans were a collaborative species, then socialist and communist economies would have trumped free market capitalism, which needlessly pits us against each other.

BO: Was there anything else that stood out in the film?

FH: The film mentioned the adage “monkey see, monkey do”. Ironically, the experiments in both films show that it is characteristically human to mimic behaviors, whereas other apes are more likely to accomplish tasks in their own way.

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