Monday, June 18, 2007

Is Ape Hatred Self Hatred?

Kevin Beck asks an interesting question: What drives the fervor with which creationists deny our ancestry with the apes? "I ain't come from no monkey" is a common refrain, with varying degrees of grammaticality. Is there something about apes that revolts creationists more than other animals, or does it really boil down to disagreement with the Bible? I say the former.

It's familiarity breeding contempt. In apes, the average person sees the worst in themselves. They scratch, they make silly faces, and they fight with each other. In the case of chimps, they kill for sport. The Christians subconsciously recognize the traits some of us find fascinating in our ape cousins, and thereby bring human moral measurement to bear on the apes. And the apes, by really no surprise, measure poorly. To a scientist, the gorilla may appear noble, almost beautiful. But to a Christian who believes all on earth is here for his uses and dominion, he appears only a brute, cursed to be ever less than human.

Contrast this to the dog or horse. They are noted as noble and loyal, man's best friend and companion. We are able to project our own virtues onto them, and ignore their flaws precisely because they are so much more different from us than are the apes. We would never call our dog a thief for sneaking behind us and grabbing our sandwich, but we would say so about a chimp. A chimp throwing his shit at you is a nasty, impolite critter. Yet your dog, who greets his friends with a nose to the ass, is dismissed as "just being a dog".

Just think for a moment about how popular culture views apes. Calling someone a "gorilla", "chimp", or "orangutan" is almost never a compliment. Those terms tend to describe unintelligent, dirty, clumsy, or overly violent individuals. Whereas being a "workhorse" is quite virtuous. "Aping" something implies you are a simpleton. But being "dogged" means you have great tenacity. Is there even one sports team that chooses the noble ape as its mascot? I can't think of one. Even the lowly duck occupies that position of honor more than our closest relatives. I suspect that says much about how we see ourselves.

It is noteworthy how little, if at all, apes are mentioned in the Bible. One can be excused for wondering if its authors were aware of the existence of apes, and if not, how much more plausible that made the whole human/animal dicotomy they were pushing. It would be hard to claim uniqueness with your 97% identical cousin sitting next to you aping your every move. But if all you are surrounded by are sheep, dogs, and horses, it doesn't seem so far-fetched.


kemibe said...

"Is there even one sports team that chooses the noble ape as its mascot? I can't think of one. Even the lowly duck occupies that position of honor more than our closest relatives."

Good point. UC-Santa Cruz has the Banana Slugs, for Chrissakes. One of the Texas schools, I think, is the Armadillos. I think you've hit on something here.

Richard said...

Interesting thoughts. The close relationship between humans and fellow primates does seem to be one of the main creationist preoccupations. The close relationship between, say, pineapples and other bromeliads seems to not bother them too much.

I've also noticed that pictures of chimpanzees are frequently featured in articles or covers of books that discuss the evolution-creation debate. They could use any organism they like, they're all part of evolution!

I also remember a Christian in high school who said he beieved in most of evolution, just not human evolution (I'd be very tempted to ask him if he thinks Neanderthals came from that same creation event).