The Stupidest Ape, or why Stephen Harper can’t learn.

Posted on July 28, 2008

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Primatologists often study ape behaviour in order to help understand human behaviour. The human genetic line only separated from the ape genetic line something like seven million years ago, which in the time scale of evolution is hardly long ago at all. In reflection of this recent parting of ways, chimpanzees and bonobos share something like 97% of their DNA with humans. Therefore we can expect apes to be a lot like humans, which in fact they are.

One of the characteristics that apes share with humans is culture. It has been shown than apes transmit learned knowledge and acquired behaviours within their communities, and that the cultural knowledge existing in particular ape communities is also distinct to those communities—that is, ape culture varies from community to community in the same way as human culture varies from country to country. You would expect such variations to exist when knowledge is produced locally and disseminated by culture and not genetics.

But not all apes in a given community are equal in their ability to learn new and useful cultural practices. Some apes are slower and dumber than others in this respect—which is where Prime Minister Stephen Harper comes in.

One group of scientists had the fortune to observe primate cultural transmission in action. The scientists, in order to get close to an ape community they wanted to study, had started leaving food for the community dumped in the sand near a particular stream. The apes quickly learned to come down to that sandy spot to find the food. But somewhere along the way a particular female started taking the food over to the stream and washing it before eating. This removed sand from the food, a practical improvement over eating sand which was advantageous enough to be eventually adopted by the entire ape community–almost. The idea moved from ape to ape through the community by means of observation and imitation, with the only holdouts in the end coming from one particular ape demographic—the alpha males. The alpha males exhibited a preference to continue eating sand rather than accept an innovation deriving from less important members of their community.

Stephen Harper, lead ape in the Dominion of Canada, shows every sign of the same kind of cultural backwardness. He fought the notion of climate change with every stubbornly irrational bone in his body, and he continues to lead the western world in stupidity in regard to that issue along with his fellow bonehead George “Dubya” Bush, lead ape of the USA. Both of these men are also law and order kind of guys, showing therefore an affinity with the alpha males among various social primate species, who also govern with force and muscle. Both would rather use force than sense, as shown by the allegiance of both of them to the war on drugs despite that idea’s spectacular and ongoing failure. People like Stephen Harper would rather eat sand than change their ways.

Unfortunately Stephen Harper is more dangerous to his community than a sand-eating alpha ape. No ape can force his whole community to eat sand along with him. Stephen Harper can.

He can shut down InSite, (or try) ensuring that addicts die before they can find a cure. He can fashion more draconian laws to ensure more Canadians spend more time in prison, learning every day to be more violent and dangerous to the Canadian public when they inevitably get released. He can involve Canadians in wars. He can consolidate the power of the other alpha apes of Canadian industry and commerce (as through copyright legislation, for instance.) He can, and will, and does, make the rest of us eat sand too.

And being the kind of thuggish alpha ape that he is, he is apparently incapable of learning better.  In Canada, alas, prime minister equals primate, and sand is on the menu for all of us.