Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Fellow Monkeys

Fellow Monkeys

Not realising that today is also a public holiday, I had planned to run some errands and was disappointed to find the banks and offices closed. It often takes me a few days to get adjusted back to life in KL again. I am more comfortable leading a nomadic existence: my productivity shoots up, my thoughts become sharper and my senses keener whenever I'm on the road. Staying put in one place for some reason makes me feel lazy. I think I'll need to travel out of the country at least once a month to keep myself constantly on my toes.

There's a strange thrill in being alone and anonymous in a foreign country. It is quite fun watching and observing people and their behaviour. You see strangers going about their daily activities and you wonder what kind of lives do they lead? Who are their loved ones? What are their thoughts and passions? I imagine myself a zoologist on a field trip, carefully making examinations on the local fauna.

One of the most hilarious popular science books I've read is The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris, first published in the sixties. Desmond Morris is a zoologist by training and in his famous book, he attempts to look at the human species like how a dispassionate zoologist would in encountering an unknown species. He writes:
There are 193 living species of monkeys and apes. One hundred and ninety-two of them are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens...He is proud that he has the biggest brain of all the primates, but attempts to conceal the fact that he also has the biggest penis, preferring to accord this honour falsely to the mighty gorilla.
Our behaviour as "civilised" human beings are still in many ways governed by our ancient genes. Many of the social behaviour we exhibit are also found among primates. Even the term "Alpha Male", which was originally used to denote a dominant male in an animal social hierarchy has come into popular everyday use.

It is commonly observed that primates indulge in pseudo-sexual mounting of males by males to express dominance of one over the other. Fortunately we are more refined: we achieve the same desired effect using the 'F' word, or sometimes with the middle finger.

Our closest primate cousin is the chimpanzee. Outwardly, there seems to be a vast difference between us and chimpanzees but tests have shown that our genes are almost identical--98.76% to be exact. Being called a monkey is not such a big insult after all. As Desmond Morris so eloquently demonstrated in his book, we can actually learn a lot more about ourselves by observing the behaviour of our cousin monkeys.

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