Chimps are flat out nasty, ugly beasts with little to redeem them. They are also pretty shortsighted and often downright stupid. It is downright frightening that these are our closest relatives in the animal world. What does that say about us!?
Chimpanzees are nastier than many people like to think. They kill monkeys and are pretty unpleasant to each other, too. Their sex lives would shock Queen Victoria, and their ethical universe, if they have such a thing, is much darker than our own. They live in groups, but the groups break and reform as their members quarrel. Terror makes their world go round. If two chimps need to pull a rope to get a tray of food, they will, but only if they are out of reach of one another. Otherwise, the dominant animal attacks its subordinate and neither of them gets anything. Anger and greed destroy the hope of reward.
And we humans are barely better, to each other or to our nearest mammalian relatives:
As men and women filled the world they killed off many of their kin. The Neanderthals were the first to go. Human habits have not changed since then. Now just a few remnants of our once extensive clan linger on. In a century or so we will be the only large primate (and almost the only large mammal) found outside farms or zoos. Almost all the apes will be extinct in the wild, some before they have been properly studied by science, and much of our biological heritage will be lost forever.
We are also foolish, great at destroying our patrimony but not so skilled at creating it where we need it most (after we ruined it):
Man has flayed his native planet for ten thousand years. Soil is hard to make but easy to destroy. A modern plough turns over hundreds of tons a day, far beyond the capacity of the most vigorous invertebrate. It digs down no more than a couple of feet, making a solid and impermeable layer at the depth of the blades. When heavy tractors roll across the surface their wheels compact loose earth into something like concrete, in which nothing will grow. Continued ploughing also breaks up the topmost layer and allows vast quantities to wash away. The farmers’ raw material is on the move, from hill to plain, from plain to river, and from land to sea.
The evidence is everywhere. My parents’ house overlooked the Dee Estuary (the Welsh rather than Scottish version). What was, a few centuries ago, a broad waterway has become a green field with a ditch in it, and the local council is much exercised about the rising sand that blows onto its roads. The reason lies in the fertile fields of Cheshire and North Wales. They have been ploughed again and again, and their goodness has disappeared downstream.
That’s just dumb. There’s got to be a better way to grow stuff.
All passages from The Darwin Archipelago by Steve Jones (2011).