I pause here to evidence our conversation about insecurity and fear. What are the varying levels of primal fear? How does fear look as it evolves?
For our conversation, I will break primates into three general categories. These categories do not come close to representing primates as a whole but offer good evidence of my argument. If we divide primates into monkeys, lesser apes, and great apes, we will be addressing functions that exist primarily in the great apes. As homosapiens are great apes, this will be most applicable to our conversation.
In group one of our discussion, I will discuss the primal mechanisms of chimpanzees. Humans are 98.77% identical to chimpanzees. We are 99% equivalent to bonobos. I will consider bonobos group two. Ironically enough, we are also 99% equal to the third group, other humans. While I am doing an evolved comparative, there is no evidence that we evolved from chimpanzees or even neanderthals. Humans are a species within the same genus as neanderthals. Homosapiens, the human species, migrated from Africa to the northern regions where neanderthals lived. Humans killed all other species similar to themselves, creating a purely unique species.
However, we are still primates, along with what we might call our cousins, the chimpanzees, and bonobos. Where we differ is mostly recognized by the way we use our vocal cords. However, there is much more to us than just an ability to speak. Today, I want to begin our discussion of human capability by helping you classify the different levels of fear and maybe even where you fall on the scale.
I’ll begin the discussion with chimpanzees, the species of our three that are least like humans. Chimpanzees are patriarchal, living within a hierarchy that places value in an individual’s position within the tribe. They have better memories than most species in their genetic family. It makes sense that they would. We’ve discussed the survival mechanisms that make memory vital, but have we connected the dots of what that memory does to our identity?
If survival is memorization, we must remember that memorization does not happen at a conscious level. While a great deal of incoming information comes through our prefrontal cortex, calling it memory is an act of subconscious storage. If we don’t store data as memory, we can’t recall it later. We would need to hold continual conscious awareness of it to use it. Memory is an efficient use of memory, except when it comes to tribal position. When we store the definition of value and our assumed role in the tribe, we make ourselves vulnerable to repeating it.
When a chimpanzee’s position is threatened, they become violent, aggressive, and even cannibalistic. We can compare this to immature human behavior. While only a small percentage of humans would resort to true cannibalistic behavior, many of us can become socially cannibalistic, attempting to eat each other alive with our words or actions. While males and females are equally aggressive, physical harm during aggression is more commonly a masculine trait. Females tend to be more socially aggressive. Whether we react with aggression or not, it is genetically human.
We all begin our lives defined by our position in our family tribe. If you think of all the aspects you have in your life as social positions, it’s easy to see why our worst behavior comes when we perceive threats to those positions. What role do you play in your family? Are you the responsible one or the rebel? Are you the one who takes care of everyone, or the spoiled one that always gets their way? Are you forgotten and abandoned or loved and nurtured? We all have a base definition of who we are, carved into our psyche.
Now think of the larger tribes. What are your definitions at work, church, or social communities? Who are you in your relationships, with your children, or with the world? Social cohesion is crucial to all primates. As we discussed earlier, primates seldom survive alone. It is possible, but it is not base to our nature. Pause for a moment and think about all the positions you hold in your life. How much of who you are do you define from those positions?
Now, who are you when your position is threatened, when someone you love dies, or a coworker takes your promotion at work? Who are you when something threatens your children? How much of your behavior resembles a chimpanzee? If you or someone you know is aggressive or reactive, it isn’t a reason to judge. 98.77% of your DNA is equivalent to a chimpanzee. This exploration is an opportunity to understand how inherent this behavior can be and that other options are now available.
Now that we’ve established the base nature of some primates let’s move onto bonobos and the sexual revolution. Think of bonobos as peaceful versions of chimpanzees. They have the same survival rules, but they impart less social hierarchy and are not violent. They are also matriarchal. All of this is relevant. However, the particular feature I would like to consider with the bonobo is that they use sex to solve problems. Why is that important? Because sex within a primate species must include rather than confront neighboring tribes. A chimpanzee’s nature is to go to war, where a bonobo wants to connect or even cling to others.
Bonobos have a more extensive vocabulary than chimpanzees and can create sentences, suggesting they have less reactivity in their amygdala. The way they learn could also suggest they continue to learn through the activation of language neurons. During early development, children learn while observing their mother. This is true of all primates. However, the more complex processing used by the bonobo could suggest more prefrontal cortex activity.
If we now relate the bonobo to our own lives, we can see a division between how some primates behave as opposed to others. On the one hand, there is the reactive, sometimes aggressive, isolating primal reaction of chimpanzees. On the other, the socially clinging, team-building, intimate reaction of the bonobo. Our subject’s vision represents both reactions. Whether we observe Amber or Linda, the primal responses to fear are apparent, but they look very different as survival mechanisms kick in.
As a species, we see this difference as an evolution. During the sexual revolution, we went from warring, aggressive, abusive, separatism to free love and the desire for social harmony. However, we are still triggered. We are primal, and sexual connection became an addiction. It’s not our fault. It’s just an immature response to an evolved thought. We took the idea of connection and turned it into survival as any primate would do. We use sex, drugs, shopping, or other addictive behaviors to satiate our fears.
I would like to use the idea of sexual behavior as an example of the difference between the chimpanzee’s mindset, the bonobo’s, and what might be possible for humans. When a bonobo engages in sexual behavior to “solve its problems,” it seeks resolution through connection. While sexual promiscuity is not a fully evolved behavior, the desire for connection stands in sharp contrast to the more aggressive concept of dominance we might see in a chimpanzee mindset. I’m not saying all chimpanzees are using sex for domination, but the aggressive sides of sexual behavior are acts of violence, not connection. One is an evolution of the other. Base animal instincts are reactive, where more evolved behavior is to find commonality and connect with others.
So, what might be possible for humans when it comes to evolving the thought of connecting as something more than sexuality? It will be several books before our subject discovers the answer to that question, but we might see this as another opportunity in this story. Our subject’s environment growing up was similar to that of chimpanzees, where the woman she follows aligns more with bonobos. However subtle, it is an evolution.
I’m going to pause the discussion here, only examining two of the three primal mechanisms. With my next entry, we will talk about humans and how we represent a possibility unimagined in other primates.