Glenn Garvin TV Reviews

How Human Are Monkeys?

Sunday night's National Geographic documentary shows warfare, lying.

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Courtesy of Nat Geo Wild

Whatever else you may take away from this episode of Destination Wild, the phrase "more fun than a barrel of monkeys" will be officially dead to you. Turns out they get high blood pressure and ulcers. They nag each other about child care. They go to war and have high murder rates. They've even developed grammar, which strongly implies the existence of petty monkey pedants and even monkey editors. In short, the capacity of monkeys for self-inflicted misery is nearly equal to our own, give or take Taylor Swift.

Indeed, this is the whole point of Clever Monkeys. Monkeys and humans share as much as 93 percent of their DNA. "We've always known there was part of them in us, and part of us in them," says narrator David Attenborough, a veteran nature documentarian. "What makes us human may not be uniquely human after all."

Thus Clever Monkeys is a sort of family snapshot album. The show continent-hops from Asia to Africa to South and Central America looking for monkeys engaging in human behaviors that range from amusing to depressing and never comes up empty. There are scenes of monkeys affectionately petting dogs, playing chicken with trains, and smashing mirrors in a rage at their reflections. (Monkey bad-hair days are not to be taken lightly.)

Monkeys in urban areas, much like their human counterparts, often go gangsta, tormenting street vendors and looting unattended homes. There's even a clip of some Indian macaques going totally bonkers after breaking into a large barrel of white powder. It's hard to believe it was cocaine, unless the average Indian village has a much higher per-capita GDP than we've been led to believe, but the idea of monkey narco-traffickers is not entirely far-fetched. In another scene, monkeys who discover a copse of plants with antibiotic properties roll around lasciviously, rubbing the leaves on one another.

Some monkey species intermarry, sort of; pygmy marmosets and tamarins share child-care duties, with the females sticking out their tongues when they want to the males to take over while they head out for ladies' night. (I'd guess they avoid clubs with a heavy clientele of howler monkeys, for whom sticking out the tongue is a mating call.)

More commonly, though, monkey species war on one another, and this is where all the cuteness abruptly drains from Clever Monkeys. Monkeys may not have been clever–or stupid–enough to invent napalm or cruise missiles, but their screams of pain and terror as they sink fangs into one another are as blood-curdling as anything you'll see on the evening news from Syria or Iraq. The aftermath of their combat is also hauntingly human, as they comfort and soothe the wounded, and tenderly groom the dead one last time.

Some of the behavior in Clever Monkeys may be instinctual, but some is clearly learned. Africa's Diana monkeys not only decode the danger calls of neighboring species (they have different sounds for different threats like leopards or snakes) but use grammar, changing the order of sounds to alter a message.

Clever Monkeys' film crews even came across a Costa Rican species in which some brigands cry wolf–well, snake–to drive their companions into the trees, then loot their stuff. "Lying," observes Attenborough, "may be as old as language itself." This a good place to note that Clever Monkeys, engrossing as it may be, isn't actually a new production, as the Nat Geo Wild network pitches it, but a retitled 2008 episode of the BBC series Natural World. Doubtless the network's publicity department was led astray by those mendacious monkeys.

Destination Wild: Clever Monkeys. Nat Geo Wild. Sunday, July 26, 9 p.m. EDT.

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  1. What no comments? Shouldn’t somebody be flinging poo?

      1. “mendacious monkeys” sounds like an EXCELLENT name for a garage band, to me!

    1. These monkies are communists

  2. “What makes us human may not be uniquely human after all.”

    Well then, it wouldn’t qualify as that which makes human now, would it?

    1. It’s possible (and often true) that something that makes a human a human is the same thing that makes a monkey a monkey. “What we do and do not share with our primate cousins makes us human.”

    2. Recognize that the question of what makes us human is a different question than what makes us unique.

  3. But, do they have roadz?

    1. If they do, they didn’t build them.

  4. I bet there are monkeys in Somalia!

  5. Seriously though I will believe monkeys, chimps etc are like humans when they build a wheel, or a tool (don’t count using sticks, I mean create something out of raw materials), or a hospital. They have many of the same foibles as humans. But many of us try to rise above animal instincts. Monkeys, chimps, elephants, dogs etc don’t.

    1. A hospital? How delightfully arbitrary you stooge!

    2. “But many of us pretend to be above animal instincts. Monkeys, chimps, elephants, dogs etc don’t seem to.”
      FTFY

    3. Most people don’t build tools.

  6. I think the title ought to be, “How Monkey Are Humans?”

  7. The day that the atheists convince enough of the planet that we’re meat and nothing more is going to be interesting…

    1. It depends on how you read into the findings. Findings like this are polarizing. They cause some to reduce humans to (what they perceive as “mere”) animals, and they cause others to rise animals to the respect they normally attribute to humans. “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”.- Jane Goodall. Humans and animals are both “more than just meat.” “Meat” is one of the most astounding inventions of the universe and consciousness uses it in quite remarkable ways. What it comes down to is breaking down the arbitrary exclusivity contrived in the minds of many humans and spreading the inclusive of importance to more (and ideally all) of existence. We don’t know enough about the origin of the universe or the role of life and consciousness to reduce human or animal life to “meat and nothing more.” We know that life evolves and that species’ are related and part of the same system. Other than that, to conceive of it as meaningful or holy or meaningless or “merely meat” is purely a matter of opinion.

    2. It depends on how you read into the findings. Findings like this are polarizing. They cause some to reduce humans to (what they perceive as “mere”) animals, and they cause others to rise animals to the respect they normally attribute to humans. “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”.- Jane Goodall. Humans and animals are both “more than just meat.” “Meat” is one of the most astounding inventions of the universe and consciousness uses it in quite remarkable ways. What it comes down to is breaking down the arbitrary exclusivity contrived in the minds of many humans and spreading inclusive importance to more (and ideally all) of existence. We don’t know enough about the origin of the universe or the role of life and consciousness to reduce human or animal life to “meat and nothing more.” We know that life evolves and that species’ are related and part of the same system. Other than that, to conceive of it as meaningful or holy or meaningless or “merely meat” is purely a matter of opinion. In fact, religious people can easily argue that the similarities between animals and humans and the connectivity of all life is proof of their God.

  8. Dogs and cats do a lot of this.

  9. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.Wage-Report.com

  10. A question for Reason to ponder: How human are Barbie dolls? Feminists insist on emphasizing the differences, but in reality the similarities are UNCANNY!

    The generic name of the logical fallacy is the Specious Analogy. I call this particular variation of it the Dancing Bear Fallacy.

    1. Humans and Barbie dolls share 97% of their genetic codes in common, as I understand, from years and years worth of trying to pick up chicks in bars….

    2. A monkey is far more similar to human a than a piece of plastic. Nobody thinks a barbie is actually similar to a human in any meaningful way.

  11. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

    1. You ought to recruit some monkeys to click on that link.

  12. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

    People say this?

  13. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

  14. Why can’t you do it?
    Why can’t you set your monkey free?
    Always giving into it
    Do you love your monkey or do you love me?

    Why can’t you do it?
    Why do I have to share my baby with a monkey?
    (Monkey, monkey, monkey, yeah, y-yeah)

  15. The classic in this area is the book “Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes” by Frans de Waal, which has also been distributed in Congress.

  16. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

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