Chimps and the gun controversy

chimp and gun

What do chimpanzees have to do with the current gun controversy? One could better ask, what do chimpanzees have to do with anger, especially male anger, which is the root of mass gun slaughter? Many people would not look kindly at being compared to the monkey family, but this is primate mammalian animal science, not creationism.

Male chimpanzees are invariably on the verge of exploding anger. They are violently aggressive. They raid other chimp groups, kidnap females, kill teenage males, pick up females and crash them to the ground and then jump on them. The object is not to kill, but to control. Chimp leaders expect and get subservience from male underlings who grunt in reverence to the dominant male.

How does this compare with the action of the American male? While only a few are aggressively violent, there are enough males slaughtering defenseless people, even as young a six years old, to warrant a closer look at the masculine personality and how it relates to the chimpanzee.

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America has been characterized as The Wild West. Barely 300 years ago, we invaded this continent, decimated the natives and claimed their territory as ours.

From the landing of the British on the Mayfower through the American Revolution and the Civil War, our country became our country through the power of the gun. Men defended their land-holdings, their livestock, their homes and families, and advanced ever westward with their guns.

But time has passed. We are now civilized, law-abiding citizens. Law rules our country, not vigilantism. We have invested our courts and our police with the power to protect us. Yet we cannot give up our guns. We hide behind a mis-interpretation of the Second Amendment which refers to “a well regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Are gun owners part of a “well-regulated Militia,” and did the Founding Fathers mean by “arms” anything other than muskets?

Back to the chimpanzees who share 98% of our DNA, and have the same blood types that we do. Chimpanzees, and another ape species known as bonobos, broke from the great apes known as gorillas about 11 million years ago. Subsequently, the bonobos then split from the chimpanzees about two million years ago. Chimpanzees habituated the land north of the Zaire River, and bonobos, south of that river, with no contact between the two species.

Bonobos were discovered only about 70 years ago and have been studied for about 25 years. What has been learned is that bonobos have one of the most peaceful social systems in the animal kingdom. They differ from chimpanzees physically only slightly in that they are a bit smaller and have pink lips, while chimpanzees have dark lips. But their social structures are directly opposite of each other.

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Quoting from my book, Shooters, “According to many anthropologists, including Richard Wrangham, reported to be one of the world’s leading authorities on primate behavior, and Dale Person with whom Wrangham co-authored the book, Demonic Males, Apes and the Origin of Human Violence, violence and other human behaviors go back to our prehuman past.  No other species besides chimpanzees and humans share … a unique combination of social characteristics: male bonding communities and male-driven lethal raiding.

Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 8.24.13 PM“Other primates such as gorillas and orangutans, also engage in raiding parties, but none fight with such lethality as chimpanzees. Other primates dominate and leave, kill and mutilate regardless of pleas for mercy. Only for these two species [chimpanzees and humans] is the loser’s death part of the plan.

“Of  four thousand mammal species and more than ten million other animal species, the only two which are known to live in societies where the male line is dominant, and which also has a system of male initiated territorial aggression are chimpanzees and humans. This territorial aggression is evident in human wars and battles, past and present such as between Palestinians and Israelis, the skirmishes in Bosnia, Macedonia, and the seizing of Europe by Hitler’s Germany.

“Male bonding, meaning the mutual support of each other even to the death against the declared enemy, such as in armies, is necessary for lethal raiding.  Among human males, untold millions have died in aggressive raiding parties, or wars. Among male chimpanzees, 30 percent die in raiding parties.

“Among animals in general, lethal raiding, battering and rape are rare exept for the chimpanzee … .

“Both chimpanzee and human male battering occur in instances where the female is known to the male for a long period of time, often for years. And though dominance and control are the goal, battering can happen on any pretext. If the female chimpanzees do not acknowledge male superiority by crouching and panting, they are battered and will be more subservient in the future.

Chimp, Ape House, Bonobo and Chimp

The major difference between the chimpanzee and the bonobo is that the latter have a society of female bonding. The jealousy and envy and need to be dominant, with pride in status the most important value in the chimpanzee society, are not characteristics of the bonobo. This peaceable species gives hope as an example that humans too can become less violent with female versus male bonding.

Female bonobos’ combined actions keep males from killing females, keep them from killing babies, keep them from fighting with younger males, and keep them from going on raiding parties. The dominant female bonobo is equal to the dominant male bonobo.

Recent painstaking scientific studies at Duke University by Jingzhi Tan and Brian Hare of the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology published in The New York Times and The National Geographic, reveal another aspect of the bonobo personality which includes the sharing of food with strangers. The bonobo will break down a barrier between the food and the stranger bonobo, even when there is no reward for the sharer except social interaction. He could eat all the food himself, but prefers to share it.

Two bonobos Jingzhi Tan

To summarize, our country would do well if American males could finally abandon the Wild West personality, acknowledge that the Second Amendment was left irresponsibly vague by the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the word, “arms.”

With a so-called “strict Constitutional interpretation” defining “arms” as muskets, gun owners could no longer hide behind the Second Amendment, which, as currently interpreted, implies that ownership of even automatic guns that kill many people in seconds are protected by this amendment.

Lastly, in light of what we learn about war-mongering chimpanzees, compared to the peaceful bonobos, it behooves women to increase their bonding skills to save our men from, among other things, raiding parties (wars) and the violence that too many males with their automatic guns inflict on society.

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About June Stephenson

June Stephenson is the author of 20 books about women’s issues, parental responsibility, the humanities, philosophy, comparative religion, music, architecture, parenting, sexual abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, incest, crime, women’s studies, aging, tyranny, family, marriage, and divorce. The accomplished author has a degree from Stanford in economics and a Ph.D. in psychology with 25 years of teaching experience in history and English. Stephenson’s well-researched and documented approach combined with an easy-to-read style, offers readers enrichment and enjoyment. She also is an award-winning artist with many red ribbons from juried art shows throughout California. Stephenson has two daughters and two granddaughters, and lives in Palm Desert, California, with her Labradoddle named Happy.

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