We are not monkeys

In: Uncategorized

22 Oct 2006

Will Wilkinson, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, has written a useful critique of a central assumption of “pro-happiness” thinkers. An article in Policy, the journal of Australia’s Centre for Independent Studies, argues “against the politics of relative standing”. It takes on one of the key arguments put forward by the likes of John Cassidy, Richard Layard, Richard Wilkinson and Robert Frank.

Such thinkers often argue that human beings are caught in a futile battle for status between each other. Often they use studies of the battle for dominance between velvet monkeys or baboons to draw conclusions about human behaviour. But, as Wilkinson argues, humans are immensely more complicated than other primates:

“Real and profound differences are … glossed over by failing to acknowledge what is peculiar to humans. For one thing, we are uniquely cultural creatures, and this fundamentally transforms the zero-sum logic of the primate dominance hierarchy. Even universal human psychological traits are highly mediated by diverse human cultural formations. Like monkeys and chimps, we all eat. But some eat with fingers, some with forks, some with a waiter and muzak, some squatting in the bush over a bloody wild pig.”

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