Chimps, Gibbons, and Bonobos

An interesting essay by chess champion Garry Kasporov about human moral systems and their primate origins. He identifies three primate systems: chimps, gibbons, and bonobos. One can think of the three social institutions: jails, churches, and bars, nicely mapping onto the three primate systems. Jails are chimp morality, churches are gibbons morality, and bars are bonobo morality.

Any implemented human moral belief system [‘Moral Matrix’] has to imitate the relationships of great apes: common chimpanzee, gibbons or bonobo, combining them depending on the amount of available wealth. For example, a poor society mimics the morality of chimpanzee principles, the medium from gibbons and the wealthy ones from Bonobo.

To test a moral Matrix in the human mind is incredibly simple, in most cases one multiple choice question is enough:

Two men are having sex. Who are they?

1. fucking fags

2. unnatural perverts

3. loving humans.

If you choose answer one your head belongs to the chimps Matrix, the second to gibbons and the third to bonobo. So let’s study the behavioural patterns of different great apes and understand why it’s built this way.

Common Chimpanzee These primates are organized as a hierarchy of males, where high ranked males enforce their domination by having sex with lower ranked males homosexually. Simply speaking, two chimps would fight each other until the moment when one of them turns his back on the aggressor, allowing him to imitate or fulfil the sexual act. Sexual release calms down the ‘alpha’ male and binds former competitors into one gang. So the dominant role in the sexual act is a sign of higher social position and placement in society; it is defined by who is passive or active in the relationship. Because females can’t be active in the sexual act, they have the lowest rank in the group and are treated harshly by the males. All males, in different ages, play various roles in the society of apes, and the behaviour of widening its anus, adjusting for a higher-ranking chimp, is common between all males.

Chimps are the only apes that organize male gangs and can kill their own kind when trying to extend their territory. Let’s call this system hierarchical or ‘chimps’ model’ for short. The distribution system for chimps is not complicated – higher ranked males eat first and lower ranked youngsters and females pick up what is left. Another characteristic detail of such organization occurs between female and child – the mother releases the cub to independent existence as soon as it can support itself.

Gibbons are monogamous meaning one male ‘owns’ one female. Each pair holds and protects certain territory and the stronger the pair of Gibbons, the richer and larger area they control, defining their status among other apes. When children reach puberty parents push them away. Sex between male and female is a strict agreement to live together and it causes both genders to be jealous and aggressive towards possible competitors.

They hide their sex life from their cubs, trying to slow down sexual development. As any territorial animal, they mark living areas using faecal matter and urine; so the smell of a competitor’s excrement is highly irritable and unpleasant for them, and they defend the exclusivity of their sexual relationships with acts of aggression. The distribution system of gibbons is fair inside the family unit, where each participant receives its share of the food.

Bonobo has a popular matriarchy; a ranking system that is mostly concentrated around prominent females (not because they are stronger and more aggressive). Ranking between Bonobo is achieved by popularity of the member. These still mysterious creatures live in groups of 50-70 individuals, and have open sexual relationships (‘all with all’) including gay encounters. The gay interactions reduce competition between members of the group, and help to unite the flock. The structure is mostly defined by female relationships, where ranking is defined by popularity and personal connections to each member of the society. If common chimpanzees have based their hierarchy on violence and forceful sex, Bonobos use sex to alleviate tensions and to create a unique distribution system. When the apes divide food, they encourage sharing by providing sexual stimulus to the ‘richer’ member, and in this way, achieve equality!

6 thoughts on “Chimps, Gibbons, and Bonobos

  1. Bonobos live in an area where there’s little competition for resources so they can have that kind of matriarchal society. Chimps on the other hand do compete for resources so domination becomes much more important. Which leads to the truth that the current woman-dominated society is a byproduct of the wealth of an oil-based economy where there’s little competition over resources. Once the oil starts running out society will right itself and PC will disappear as an adaptive strategy.


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