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The lesson of the killer chimps

2010 June 22
by Paul Vallely

Gangs of chimpanzees send stealth patrols out of their own territory into that of neighbouring chimps to kill them and take their land and food, new research from Uganda reports

Juxtapose the ability of chimps to care tenderly for their own kin with their evident capability ruthlessly to pull an alien infant from its mother’s breast and tear it to shreds and you might be tempted to see a reflection of the dark and light sides of the human psyche. The complexity of the chimp, and the base primitivism of which homo sapiens is all too capable, might suggest the gap between the species is smaller than was for centuries supposed.

The changes in consciousness brought about by the animal rights movement have been important. But they should not obscure the chasm between animals which live for the moment and humans who – from the domestication of fire, the invention of the wheel, the creation of the city, the observations of science, the analysis of philosophy and the self-consciousness of history have climbed upon the shoulders of our predecessors in the way no animal can. The false consciousness created by our voguish social Darwinism should be resisted. Many animals chase others from their territory, even if chimps are cleverer than robins or squirrels. Humans can be immeasurably worse, and a lot better too.

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