BREAKING: "But so did baboons," Harari says!


How many among us believe this?
We returned last night from several days of competitive Shopkins. We've gained a great deal over the years from the two youngsters, ages 12 and 6, with whom we lustily competed, and of course from their parents.

For today, we'll only invite you to take an early Harari Challenge. The passage in question bridges the first two pages of text in Professor Harari's widely-acclaimed best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The passage in question takes us back several million years. It goes exactly like this:
HARARI (pages 3-4): There were humans long before there was history. Animals much like modern humans first appeared about 2.5 million years ago. But for countless generations they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms with which they shared their habitats.

On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths chafing against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all. These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power—but so did chimpanzees, baboons and elephants. There was nothing special about them.
For ourselves, we would have skipped the "gendered" part about the "local beauty." That said, the challenge goes like this:

Do you believe what Harari says? He says those archaic humans loved and played and formed close friendships. But so did that era's baboons, he also says.

Do you believe that second claim, the part about the baboons? Can you see the world that way? Can you see that claim making sense?

At the start of the year, we said, "It's all anthropology now." With that in mind, can you see those ancient baboons being something like us? And as you watch cable news of an evening, can you flip that script around?

Can you possibly see that alleged resemblance running in the other direction? Can you even see the resemblance among those who vote the same way you do? Can you possibly see the less rational strain in those who traffic our own tribe's favored scripts?

Do you believe the part about the baboons? We'll call that an early "Harari Challenge." In the new year, we hope to go much further in this direction in this dangerous era of the Trumps, including the Trumps Over Here.

Eventually, we'll get to the work of the later You-Know-Who. Our question will be this:

Where have the logicians been? Have they been on holiday all these years? And are children dead all over the world because our logicians have done this?

Monday: Lemon's ask


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  2. So our tribal fracas is merely animal behavior that's been language-ified? This seems entirely plausible. Also: Do the (related) theories of somatic marker hypothesis and post hoc rationalization suggest all the barking on cable originates from animal emotions? Man may well be the rational animal, but it seems the rational is in service of the animal; evidence that it allows man to transcend the animal is scant.

    1. As soon as the baboons write Hamlet or Beethoven’s fifth symphony, maybe you’ll have a point.

  3. Gibberish.

    “Do you believe that second claim, the part about the baboons?”

    Harari postulates that ancient baboons behaved like modern day baboons. Duh.

    He also postulates that humans and baboons have some similarities. Another duh.

    What’s to “believe” about this? It’s plausible, one supposes.

    Then “Can you possibly see that alleged resemblance running in the other direction?”
    Yet another duh. If baboons are similar to humans, then humans are similar to baboons. That is the definition of similarity.

    Then “Can you even see the resemblance among those who vote the same way you do?”
    Huh? What does this mean? That I resemble other people who vote as I do? Or that the people who vote as I do resemble baboons?

    Then “Can you possibly see the less rational strain in those who traffic our own tribe's favored scripts?”

    Are “those who traffic” the same as “our tribe?” Are they the same as those who vote as I do? Is trafficking in a script a sign of a less rational being?

    Finally, who are the “Trumps Over Here?”
    Given that Trump is a politician, which of “our” politicians is “our” Trump? Are we talking about the media here perhaps? Who are “our Trumps” in the media? What makes them a Trump? Are they really equivalent to Trump?

    This is just Somerby’s usual criticism of the mainstream media and liberals dressed up in some kind of pretentious “anthropological” philosophizing. It doesn’t add any clarity to his 20 years of criticism. It doesn’t even really make sense. He wants us to consider that humans aren’t terribly rational. But what would more rational creatures do? Political differences would not disappear if humans were more rational. There would still be serious disagreements about policy, particularly as it affects future outcomes that are in question. Also, if “we” have “Trumps” on our side, that does not render “our” politics irrational or equally as wrong as Trump’s.

    After Somerby and his massive tribe of enlightened readers follow him out of irrational tribal politics and eschew the mainstream media, what then? Will he and they have all the right answers?

  4. OK, I'll bite.

    Baboons: I don't know much about baboons specifically, but I think we have all seen documentaries that describe social animals having a dominant alpha...a position of influence and power for which they competed. Young seem very much to play. Friendship? perhaps that depends on your definition of the word...but among social animals there seems to be some sort of preference for members of the same social group over the other. Love? Perhaps that requires some sort of lifetime (or at least long term) sexual pair-bonding, so perhaps we should look only at a limited set of species...swans?

    So...yes...I think I find Harari's claim plausible.

    And, yes, "like" is a reflexive relationship. If baboons are like us, then we are like baboons.

    Isn't interesting that we use the same word to mean "similar" and "have affection for"?

  5. When I was in high school the internet fed me partisan blogs and the "good" TV shows to watch. None of the highly partisan blogs were telling me any more than a typical cable news show about what I was really upset about, what was really going on in Iraq, so I started to looking at Noam Chomsky.

    Reading someone who criticizes your party, or your gender, etc. is hard to read at first. Every time he said the word "Bill Clinton" regarding his interventions in Haiti and Bosnia, my neck stiffened. It felt like he was taking cheap shots. Surely the US empire means well etc. If you read letters to Chomsky, they are not disagreeing with him on facts, this is most of the criticism he gets. Just, "how could you?"

    The reason why is tribal allegiance, either to the US leadership, or the general idea of US empire. When I read my Media Matters and others, they sometimes showed the cable media grift for what it was, raw fear pumped in constantly, mostly to the elderly. It felt like we had finally discovered what was wrong, we all had to come together and stop listening to Them, we're right, they're not. It's not the most irrational response to a channel like that.

    I still think Fox News is utter garbage. They literally went to court over their right to lie. But my analysis was very stilted. I didn't know that the people I put my faith into were at their root oriented toward helping my enemies rather than helping me. (Ralph Nader recently wrote a good article in the Intercept about this where he looks back to 1979).

    1. Yes, thanks 3:27. And to the general thread, there are as many gradations in "rational" as there are in "animal" or "tribal". The question always remains for what? To what end? Are we aiming higher or lower, ascending or descending? Hariri describes how humans evolved by building societies of shared imagination of invisible things. It matters what these things are.

  6. Thanks for the post, 3:27. Brought me back to another article by Peter Maas.

    Maas and Somerby are brothers in arms,if only tangentially.


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