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If Chimps Had Nukes

Entry 1955, on 2018-12-19 at 14:40:42 (Rating 3, Comments)

I often hear people criticising humans as the worst and most evil species on the planet. They might say that animals behave far better than humans do and, seemingly in direct contradiction, describe bad people as acting like animals.

It's easy to become frustrated with the self-centered, aggressive, narrow-minded, short term thinking we often see in many human activities, but is it really fair to say there is something inherently evil about humans and that the planet would be better off without us?

I don't think so, for two reasons. The first is fairly obvious: that is that for every malicious action we see it is possible to find one or more good actions to balance it. So one person might cut down a tree, but another might plant one. Or one might steal from someone, and another might donate to charity. Or one might build an ugly office block on a park, and another might build a beautiful architectural building on an old empty block.

I think humans have a lot to be ashamed of, such as violence between groups (with full warfare being the worst example), destruction of the environment (including global warming), and general lack of good planning and intelligent forward thinking. But there are equally things to be proud of, such as art, music, the great discoveries of science, and the numerous examples of goodwill and cooperation we see every day.

So any consideration of overall human merit should look at both our good and bad points.

The second reason is a bit less obvious. That is that humans are acting exactly as we would expect for any species in the same situation. It is often said that humans are the only species who engage in warfare, but this isn't true, because there are two groups of chimps in Africa who engage in behaviour which is warfare by any reasonable definition of the word. And there are plenty of species where murder, rape, and other abuse in many forms is observed. And if you look at the hunting techniques of many carnivores there is not a lot of mercy for the prey animal.

So I would say that, in comparison to many other species, humans are actually extremely thoughtful and considerate. Chimps in particular are really not nice, so we are not even the most violent primates, although you might say that bonobos are more peaceful than us (they are the "hippies" of the primate world: make love, not war!)

Yet clearly there is an issue with humans which doesn't apply to other species. If it isn't an evil nature, then what is it? I would say it is power. Humans have the power to do things which other species don't have, and that is what gives us the ability to do both bad and good things. If chimps had nukes I think the world would be a radioactive ruin by now!

One result of this power is the ability to survive and reproduce beyond normal limits, so another problem with humans is that there is just too many of us. Most people don't go out of their way to destroy the environment, but all living things affect the environment in some way. So it is only when a population becomes too large that the environmental consequences become obvious. If there were just a million humans there would be plenty of food, oil, and other resources to supply them with a luxurious life without degrading the environment. But 7 billion is a totally different story.

Yet any species will reproduce beyond a healthy level if it is given the chance. Again, humans have the power which other species don't, but there is no inherent defect in human nature which is responsible for these problems.

Finally, there is a third aspect of this which must be taken into account. That is that humans, like all species on Earth, are the result of billions of years of evolution. That not only affects us physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and behaviourally as well. If we hadn't evolved with a certain level of aggression it is unlikely that we would have survived as a species. This need for a survival strategy applies to all species, of course, although aggression has not been the end result for them all.

So a certain level of aggression is inevitable, and not only did it allow us to survive in the past but it also means that, when used positively, it allows progress in the future as well. For example, it will be that type of characteristic that some people will utilise to colonise other planets, which I think is possibly the most important thing we should aim for in the future.

Also, note that everything I said above doesn't just apply on an inter-species level, it applies at all other levels as well. So anyone who claims a particular nation, or culture, or other group is inherently more in touch with the environment or more peaceful than any others is probably wrong.

At least the differences are not likely to be very significant. Many indigenous groups, for example, did a certain amount of environmental damage, but it was only after colonisation that humans in the area had the power to really destroy the environment to a much greater degree. Again, it is power, not any innate characteristic which is primarily responsible for the outcomes.

So I say, give humanity a break. We really aren't that bad, even compared to those other species which many people like to naively imagine are so much better. We're not bad, we're powerful. Just imagine what the world would be like if chimps had nukes!

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