What makes us human? We used to think it was tool making. Then we discovered from the pioneering work of Jane Goodall that chimps use straws to extract tasty ants from holes. A deluge of similar intensive work with animals reveals that crows have even ‘built’ compound tools out of parts. Studies of animals show us they have feelings, innate intelligence, giving rise to a powerful animal rights movement and many people switching off meat altogether. Most experiments involving torturing animals have come to an abrupt halt, much like how slavery was ended (I know, still lots of quasi-slavery). So there is some advance in our morality and ethics.
The 20th century saw both the destruction of ‘primitive’ human societies, but also their intensive study by the new science of anthropology. The same explosion in research on animals revealed many startling and exciting … not just ‘facts’ but relations. During that dazzling and horrifying century, we learned that the world is made up of relations, not things. Heidegger’s dasein embeds us in the world. We are nothing, if not relations to those around us, animate and inanimate. Almost daily, there are new revelations about nature and humans, even as we destroy both.
Sex, lies and videotape
The search for what makes us human continues, but we are honing the process. We know that our closest relatives are chimpanzees. Studies of their social groupings have brought us much closer to the holy grail of humanness. What's the key? Sex, of course. Chimp society notably revolves around sex, with low key wars on occasion (about sex and territory). There is an implicit social contract, a system of law and order. Murder is rare and involves political intrigue and revolution, which is as complex and fluid as in human societies.
The brain of social creatures is far larger proportionately, with humans and dolphins at the top. The size was not driven by demands of the mechanical world, but the social world. Social intelligence. Who’s who, superior. Yes, we have hierarchy built in. Insects do this with chemical messages. It is a constant (social) evolutionary race between the ability to BS and the ability to detect BS. Plus scheming. To get to the top/ ahead and try to stay as long as the lies convince your followers.
Civilization is built on deception, lies, violence, rooted in the great simian inversion: sex for pleasure, not pleasure for sex. For the wolf, sex is mostly for the alpha male once a year. Most wolf males are celibate. For humans, sex is a narcotic, a drug. Celibates are losers. Most humans can control their alcohol consumption (if not, it's either death or total degradation), but not sex. Everyone is addicted unless you consciously refuse. And now other addictions are multiplying, even legalizing hard drugs. Everything goes.
We think intelligence/ rationality vs instinct/ sex/ pleasure. But pleasure in sex is based on deception, and is how we arrive at the birth of reason. Our scientific/ artistic intelligence is a by-product of social intelligence, with sex centre stage. Our civilization is built on lies and deceit.
Nikkie picked up a rock to threaten alpha male Luit, who was having sex. 'Malice aforethought' (intent) animates his dealings with others. Luit stopped his seduction, came and sniffed at the rock and walked away. Defused the challenge. If Nikkie threw the rock and killed Luit, then it's murder. i.e., our western legal system is based on chimp ethics, and he either usurps power himself or is killed by another pretender.
In The philosopher and the world: Lessons from the wild on love, death and happiness (2009), Mark Rowlands' pet wolf Brenin almost killed a pit bull in a fight. That would be mere dogslaughter and warrant a metaphorical rap on the knuckles. All's fair in love and war. All concerned would quickly forget.
Kant: Two things never cease to fill me with wonder: the starry skies above me and the moral law within me. Intelligence and right/ wrong. But Kant fails to note that we moral humans are also simians, the only species that kills their own willfully, sometimes in the millions. And our right/ wrong formally becomes an ugly, rigid system of grounds, evidence, justification, warrants: only a truly nasty animal needs these concepts.
More vicious => more insensitive to conciliation => need ‘justice’ to protect victims. Best comes from worst. Sounds like the notorious 'invisible hand', or maybe just Hegel-Marx dialectical negation. Look at Biden now, willfully killing thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, and trying to starve Russia, all in the name of 'justice'.
Rowlands defines this defining human trait, moral evil, simply as bad things done by bad people. His example -- father-mother-daughter incest with mother’s collusion. So here's a victim (abused mother) who is also evil. The bad persons here are from a/ failure in responsibility/ duty, and b/ from not subjecting one’s beliefs to scrutiny (as you do to other’s beliefs).
Evil is quotidian. Banal. Eichmann had no empathy, never considered his beliefs from the other's point of view. Which puts him down with David Icke's reptilian humanoids. Much like the psychologists who torture animals and are unwilling to examine their own beliefs. Kant famously equated ought with can. I would go a step further: Ought not => can’t. We can stop being torturers. We can be moral beings despite our handicap as humans.
Rawls' theory of justice, an updated golden rule, emphasizes an anonymous you should imagine a society where you would be happy no matter what position you had. So no slavery and exploitation. Which of course don’t exist in the animal world, except at the highest evolutionary niche, humans. We no longer approve of taking away all rights from some, leaving them at our mercy. So, a slight step forward in our ethical wilderness.
Rowlands argues this isn’t good enough. It should extend to all sentient life. It’s a bit like a philosopher’s version of reincarnation. You could be a dog, helpless in a human controlled world, so you wouldn’t allow scientific experiments involved torturing and killing dogs to meet some scientific needs. In fact, you wouldn’t breed dogs, sheep whatever, just to eat them. They are helpless and need protection in a world where we hold total power. So logically we should all be vegan. (Try and convince a dog.)
What about dogs vs wolves?
Mark Rowlands wrote Philosopher and the world after living with his pet wolf for a decade. Brenin (Welsh for king) was a demanding pet, to say the least. He was much smarter than a dog, self-reliant. The wolf sees the world as mechanical, problem-solving. Brenin figured out how to open the door by pressing and turning the handle. A dog can’t do that. It lives in a magical world ruled by god-dog-owner.
For dogs we are info-processing device, part of dog’s extended mind. They have lost mechanical logic, self reliance, just as we have lost our memory capacity. We are part of their extended mind, externalized. So Rowlands had to get his wolf used to the magical dog world. To teach him a simple version of English. 4 commands: go on, stay, here, out.
Our relationship with dogs shows another unique human trait: we manufacture helplessness in others to better dominate them. Not just attack enemies to subdue, or find the weak links in the herd of caribou, but we put others in cages, behind fences, fiddle with genetics to produce weak freaks. And of course, we do this to each other too. So dogs are bred to be weak, infantilized. (as are we). Stick chasing the equivalent of spectator sports. brenin was not interested in stick chasing. He liked to hunt, fight.
Do I hear a scream for ‘social justice’ for the weak? It should be deafening by now. We engineer the possibility of our own evil, subdue the world to exploit it. Then cover it with lies. Dante puts hypocrites deep in hell (the 8th circle). He did not need anthropology or our sophisticated animal studies to know what motivated humans and to see the evil all around.
Simians have reached the top of the heap in terms of brain size, life-as-orgy. And human simians the very top through complex language. What a result! The orgy part, feelings, is ephemeral, nonreal, all in our heads, there’s no palace, pyramid built during the orgy. On the contrary, the orgy-makers usually find kicks in destruction, violence.
So a future civilization, if there is one, will see the destruction of our world and be mystified as to why this happened. Sex abetted by lies, scheming, erupting as violent wars of monumental proportions, in waves, until the world became uninhabitable. Life-as-orgy abetted by language is our ticket. Civilization is for unpleasant animals, the ape elite.
Wolf ethics takeaways
*Brenin fought pit bull Rugger when he was a pup, and was pinned to the ground. His reaction? To squeal like a puppy? No. A growl, asserting himself even in the face of death. 'I am nothing more than a cub and, at any time, the pit bull of life can snap my neck like a twig.' All I have is the will that I won’t back down, no matter what.
*Brenin was Indifferent to others except Rowlands and self-surroundings. Aware and focused.
*Happy? During sex? Or the hunt? Rabbit chasing was mostly unsuccessful, but the state of mind focused, anticipating, struggling, using all forces, inner and outer, doing what comes naturally. Sex: take it then leave it. Back to the hunt.
*Responsibility as necessary bridge, instilled by Mark, from strict wolf life of tribal loyalty to human society where justice trumps that tribalism.
*Three types of love: Philia (family, pack), eros (sex), agape (impersonal love of god and humanity). Philia trumps sex in the pack. (No need for agape for a wolf.) In simians, eros is moderated by philia and agape (family and state). For all, it is love (both pleasant and unpleasant), not feelings, that make the world go round.
*Be on the look out for philia (tribe) taking precedent over agape (society). We humans need agape to temper the tribal. Israel is the classic case of a former victim becoming aggressor in the name of tribal loyalty, ignoring the willful violation of Palestinian rights. This can only end in tragedy.
*Chase 'rabbits', not feelings. Strive to be a good wolf. Embrace the eternal recurrence (Brenin: give me the same croissant every day forever!) vs simian dissatisfaction, always wanting new, more in future, wallowing in the past, never living, being, in the present now.
*The moments when we are happiest involve both pleasant and unpleasant. Struggling to nab a rabbit, wrestling with ideas to make sense of the world, are hard work but more rewarding than the ephemeral joy of sex. Happiness is a way of being, not just a feeling. It's the chase, the hunt, whether or not the rabbit is caught. You know that the rabbit will be caught sometime, at the right moment. Same with thoughts.
*Better not to focus on happiness. Real happiness is in that daily croissant. Proust prefers yesterday's madeleine, but it amounts to the same. Cherish those highest moments scattered arrows of time through your life. They stay the same, unchanging, immutable. The structure is the real, not the contingencies.
We are more ape than wolf, but we have the mental gifts to be more wolf, to fine tune our ape nature, to relearn what it means to be-in-the-world. Ape thinking is soulless cost/ benefit analysis. Quantify and calculate. Abasement and low price. Crass worthless things. Real value cannot be quantified or traded. 'Sometimes you do right though the heavens fall. Let the wolf speak in us, silence the incessant chattering of the ape.'