Comparing bonobos to humans, the former may be more empathetic than us


Crows are keen observers with remarkable cognitive abilities, even Pallas’s absent busts for poetic view. They console others of their flock defeated in fights and assess the knowledge of other birds, giving deference to those who are more intelligent in group decision-making. Lions can count roars and compare the size of competing prides in territorial disputes. Rats show acts of empathy and kindness. Killer whales, elephants and giraffes mourn their dead and many animal species, especially primates, protest against injustice. Horses, anecdotally known for evaluating good and bad people they encounter, may possess nuanced abilities to read the emotional states of people and other equines. This attribute may explain the legendary achievements of Clever Hans and Beautiful Jim Key even more impressively than disputed cipher abilities. Fellow ethologist Frans de Waal, author and expert on primate behavior, comparing bonobos to humans, thinks the former may be more empathetic than we are. Supporting his conclusion, in more than decades of behavioral research, bonobos’ brain areas sensitive to the distress of others are larger than ours. In addition, brain pathways to defuse aggression are more developed in bonobos than in humans. No surprise there.

For centuries, destruction of the natural world, acts of cruelty, and so-called “dominance” over other animals from which callousness stemmed were considered acceptable. Responsible was a depraved synergy of religious dogma, capitalism, and moral and scientific naivete. Science historian and philosopher Carolyn Merchant also stresses the importance of a misogynistic and exploitative declaration of war against non-human life proposed by Francis Bacon. In it, nature and all life forms were stripped of any intrinsic value, objectified only for technological control, extermination, or human use. It was only after incomprehensible suffering, today rivaled by industrial farming, that the progress of biological sciences gradually reaffirmed the evidence that animals other than humans were sentient. First, Jeremy Bentham did “can they suffer?” a benchmark in animal rights and moral philosophy, allowing science and common sense to dispel the Cartesian lies supported by Western religions. In the false dichotomy between saved and soulless, even vivisections were excusable to some because nonhuman animals, according to Descartes, were seen as emotionless “machines” incapable of pain, despite howling in agony. In the middle of the 20e century, 100 years after Darwin The origin of species, as the influences of the Church began to wane, the breadth and depth of non-human animal intelligence and emotion became clear and indisputable. All the detrimental obstacles to moral equivalence were gone, except one: self-consciousness.

Self-awareness does not develop in humans until about the age of two. Yet for decades, anthropocentric biases have used this distinction as its last breath to deny the inclusion of other animals in moral circles. Now even that stalemate has been erased. mirror trials reflect that not only mammals, but also corvids (crows, jays, magpies, etc.) and other birds are capable of self-awareness. It is likely that many non-avian and non-mammalian species with dense neurons in their brains are also capable of self-awareness, regardless of encephalization quotients. It is therefore not surprising that play, and the fun and enrichment that comes with it, is widespread in the animal kingdom, even among intelligent invertebrates such as octopuses and cuttlefish, which exhibit remarkable personalities. Tool use and the cultural exchange of information are also common, as evidenced by other toy-loving animals. Beluga whales, for example, will join together to blow rings of bubbles for mutual enjoyment, and cats, of course, will kick and chase just about anything they can crush. Animal behaviorists and others trained in the biological sciences definitely know, after centuries of Genesis-promoted misinformation, that many other non-human animal species have complex emotions very much in common with our own. As Frans de Waal notes, this is a very significant achievement because it extends moral relevance to a wide swath of the biological community. As sentient beings, non-human animals must be included in the same moral circle to which we belong and benefit from mandatory and equivalent protections accordingly. It is therefore the great irony of our time that, while biological knowledge continues to expand this adherence, political illogicality and societal hostilities strive to restrict it, at least insofar as it extends to other humans.

In his thought-provoking book American Psychosis: A Landmark Investigation into How the Republican Party Went Mad journalist David Corn reviews the cultural evolution of the GOP, tracing its historical roots to current political crises from which damaging conspiracy cults have been spawned or resurrected. Corn comes to the conclusion that the GOP has not only exploited but actively encouraged far-right extremism for nearly a century. Not exclusively, but certainly more than any other American political trend, the Republican far right has not only accepted, but promoted anti-scientific distortions of facts, bigotry, paranoia, conspiracy theories and, as has recently been spelled out, anti-establishment contempt for burgeoning institutions of bigotry.

We all know the days of Joseph McCarthy’s Red-baiting and how they hijacked the careers of Anne Revere, Dalton Trumbo, and other prominent contributors to American arts and sciences. Although many suffered much worse, this modus operandi is still in vogue today. Today’s demagogues shoot anyone who supports social safety nets or talks about mitigating the damage of concentrated wealth. They parrot the wild reputation that plagued Eugene Debs and forced the talents of Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson overseas. His oft-repeated talking points can be heard on right-wing radio, flattering extremists; play to all ears detrimental. Its currency to buy votes is spent like a debit card. Ronald Reagan used his denunciation of gay and transgender groups, accusing them of undermining Christianity. Cha Ching! Both Bush longed for the Christian Coalition. Neither showed the integrity to expose Pat Robertson’s anti-Semitic hoax that global economic cabals, made up of bankers, senior government officials and the Rothschilds, were attempting collectivist takeovers. Cha Ching! John Boehner and other Republicans have tacitly backed tea supporters, who have accused Barack Obama of being a Muslim communist. Part of this false narrative was the claim that Medicare-for-All and other single-payer health systems would impose “death signs.” Cha Ching! In the 2020 election, Trump attacked Joe Biden for his league with antifa and (contradiction noted) Marxist radicals and fascists, the latter much more like the Trump supporters and political enablers who orchestrated the assaults on Capitol Hill. The right still incites xenophobes and fanatics about our border violations, the CRT and the so-called Great Replacement Theory, even accusing some Democrats of pedophilia. Cha Ching! Cha Ching! Cha Ching!

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