Ape researcher: Moral code merely “controlling system”

 In “Going ape: Ultraviolence and our primate cousins,” New Scientist’s News Editor, Rowan Hooper, reviewing a book on ape violence, riffs,

Josephine Head, also of the Max Planck Institute, describes how she tracked a trail of blood from where chimps had been vocalising loudly the night before, and made a horrible discovery: the spread-eagled body of an adult male chimp, his face battered and bruised, throat torn open and intestines dragged out. "I feel as though I am looking at a person who has been murdered in a savage attack," she writes. As she takes this in, the band of chimps return to the corpse, and the biologists retreat to watch.

Afterwards, Head's team finds the dead male's penis and testicles some 30 metres away – ripped off, she speculates, as part of an emasculation ritual. The incident was so human in so many ways that she wonders: "Is our 'moral code' nothing more than a controlling system that humans have invented to keep some order in society?" The answer is surely yes. (6 June 2011)

Shout-in responses: How about, the answer is surely: No. A sense of justice – sharp or dull – is a human trait, and codes exist to, well, codify it.

On the other hand: This guy could be right. Naw.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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