Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Book Review: Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal

This book didn’t start well for me. Near the beginning Frans disses The Selfish Gene, a book by the man of my dreams, Richard Dawkins. (In my dream Dawkins had me hide a dead lobster in my mouth so we could photocopy it as evidence of cruelty to invertebrates.) It seemed as though Frans de Waal hadn’t understood what Dwarkins was saying at all. But I’ll be charitable and put it down to misunderstanding. Frans is from the Netherlands and there is a lot of misunderstanding between the Dutch and English because the languages are so similar. Indeed, the two languages are exactly the same except for where they are different. It creates the illusion that Dutch and English speakers actually understand each other when frequently nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll give an example from my own experience of a Dutchman attempting to communicate with me:

“Yesterday I got up in the middle of the night. I made some sausage rolls. I made one, two, tree, four, five, sex. They were all the same length except some were longer than others. What? Why are laughing at me? You think I’m a stupid Dutchman, don’t you? You think I know fucking nothing. Well let me tell you, I know fuck all!”

I was very interested to read about the politics of apes, I wasn’t so interested in occasional asides into the politics of studying apes. After reading about how obsessed chimps are with status it’s almost impossible to not reflect on Frans’s apparent concern with it himself.

But it is good to read about Chimpanzee and Bonobo interaction. That is, interaction between chimps and other chimps and bonobos and other bonobos. I’m not sure exactly what happens when chimps and bonobos are put in the same enclosure and allowed to interact. Indeed I’m sure we could get a sitcom premise out of it with a talking chimp and a talking bonobo being forced to share an apartment and the hilarious hijinks that occur when their families come to visit. Not quite sure how American viewers will react to a typical bonobo orgy, but as long as we don’t show a nipple belonging to a member of the Jackson family I’m sure everything will be fine.

Interesting points in the book:

Bonobo sex acts last for about 14 seconds.
South American Capuchins have brain to body ratios equal to that of chimps and may be the most intelligent of monkeys.
Monkeys don’t comfort other monkeys, but apes comfort other apes.
If a bonobo kisses you, be prepared for tongue.

So in conclusion, a good read, but you might have to cut Frans de Waal some slack when he starts to get over concerned with status and starts acting like some sort of human.


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