(It’s the same reason we do)
An article in Scientific American probes the question of “Why Chimpanzees Kill.” Kate Wong, who covers anthropology and animal behavior, writes:
Chimpanzees are mostly peaceable creatures, spending much of their time foraging for food and grooming each other. But occasionally they kill their own kind. Why they engage in these lethal bouts of aggression has been uncertain. One theory holds that killing is an evolved strategy for reducing competition for resources; another posits that human disturbance—including hunting and deforestation—has triggered the behavior.
Now a large study of killings in chimp communities across Africa has cast new light on the dark side of our closest living relatives.
Replace a few of the words and phrases, and you might come up with:
Humans are mostly peaceable creatures, spending much of their time working to be able to buy their homes, food and some entertainment. But occasionally they kill their own kind. Why they engage in these lethal bouts of aggression has been uncertain. One theory holds that killing is an evolved strategy for reducing competition for resources . . .
Now a large study of killings in human communities across the world has cast a new light on the dark side of this species.
The chimpanzee study reveals that most of the killings are done by groups of males, and that the victims tend to be infant and adult males outside their social group of the killers. Also that the more males in a community, the more killings.
Much the same could probably be said about humans. Indeed, Michael Wilson of the University of Minnesota, who led the study, comments:
“This tells us something about human evolution … Lethal aggression is related to power asymmetries where members of one group can kill others with low cost.”
The study also notes that bonobos are less aggressive than chimpanzees, perhaps because male bonobos don’t have the same surge in testosterone during adolescence as chimpanzees. In fact, no bonobos have ever been observed killing each other in the wild.
While the science and the work of the researchers is unimpeachable, there’s a sense in the Scientific American article that here we are, we humans, observing chimpanzees from our somewhat above-it-all perspective, examining why these lesser creatures engage in war and murder.
There’s barely a nation in the human world that’s not riddled with international war, civil war, gang war, every kind of war, killing and brutality.
Meanwhile, in our own society, there’s barely a nation in the entire human world that’s not riddled with war of one kind of another: international wars, civil wars, gang wars, every kind of war, killing and brutality.
Chimpanzees, of course, don’t pretend to each other that the wars they’re fighting are “good wars” – fought for ethical purposes, in which “we” are on the “good” side. That’s a uniquely human wrinkle on violence.
Occasionally, the truth seeps through – like in war correspondent Chris Hedges’ remarkable book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Hedges writes:
“The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation.”
For many – maybe most – people, war provides a purpose for living; it allows the individual to rise above regular life and feel like they’re participating in a noble cause that transcends the gray, everyday world, and that carries with it an element of immortality. Hedges quotes historian Will Durant as having “calculated that there have only been 29 years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere.”
When asked what chimpanzees are like, Jane Goodall frequently responds: “I used to think that they’re like us, only better. Then I realized that, no, they’re exactly like us.”
By comparison, though, you’d have to add that chimpanzees (and not just the bonobos), are remarkably peaceful by comparison. Perhaps you could say: “They’re exactly like us, but without the same level of self-deception.”