Human Paleopsychology

Human Paleopolitics: the  Inner Esau and the “Inner Ape”
Kent G. Bailey

Bill Cloud’s fascinating and insightful column on the Esau within stimulated my thinking both theoretically and spiritually.  He believes that we Americans easily take on the disreputable attributes of the hairy, self-indulgent, impulsive, win-at-all-costs, and profane Biblical Esau.  This is a profound insight and more true than we want to admit. 
Bill says there’s an ancient spirit at work in our land and we humans are ever ready to jettison our sacred principles to achieve a victory.  Moreover, he asserts that we have two natures existing within us that are perpetually at odds with each other.  One is an “evil inclination” that demands to have its way and the other is one that strives to serve God.
I am very sympathetic to his Biblical approach, but would like to add some additional insights from the field of human paleopsychology.  This approach emphasizes the study of how ancient survival and reproductive impulsions affect human social, moral, and political behavior.  I believe  we human beings must take these ancient imperatives into account if we are to truly understand our behavior and place in nature.
A central feature of my approach is the concept of phylogenetic regression.  This refers to the human tendency to revert back to archaic human and even “animal” modes of emotion and behavior-  especially under conditions of stress or provocation.  For example, just about any kind of threat can set off the ancient fight-or-flight mechanism, and sometimes a mere eye roll can set off a deadly encounter.  The processes of such regression were in full force in the recent road rage incident that led to the tragic death of professional football star Will Smith.
Regression to the inner chimpanzee is one of the most interesting and theoretically intriguing variations.  Given that human beings share over 98% of their DNA with chimpanzees, we should not be surprised that “we go there” behaviorally and psychologically with considerable regularity. 
In my view, this simple fact is one of the most important and most overlooked scientific findings of the twentieth and current century.    If even true in the slightest, how could a finding of such psychological import be basically ignored by the social sciences?  Most, if not all, social scientists are aware of the vast DNA overlap between humans and chimps, but they seem to ignore or deny the equally vast theoretical import of these findings.
Put bluntly, there is considerable apeness in our humanness and to ignore this glaring fact is to greatly handicap our understanding about who we are as a species and as individual human beings.  I believe that a great amount of “inexplicable” and uncivilized human silliness, mayhem, and senseless violence can be attributed- at least, in part- to a regression to or re-activation of the mischievous and amoral “inner chimp.”
In order to fully understand human psychology, we need to know as much as possible about chimpanzee psychology.  There is a vast literature on higher apes and how they relate to the “human ape.” For a well-received and fascinating semi-popular approach to the chimp-human overlap, see Frans de Waal's Our inner ape: A leading primatologist explains why are who we are.
According to primatologist  Jared Diamond, there is not just one chimpanzee but three; the common chimp Pan troglodyte, the smaller bonobos or Pan paniscus, and finally, the human chimp, Homo sapiens.  The genetic overlap between the common and bonobos forms is around 99.5 percent, and between humans and both other chimps is around 98.5 percent. 
Thus, both chimps are only slightly more related to each other than they are to human beings.  In fact, humans and chimps are more closely related than are chimps to the other apes like the gorilla!  The deep kinship of the three “chimpanzees” is both undeniable and a very large piece of the paleopsychology of the human species.
 Politically liberal academic primatologists, such as de Waal in the Inner Chimpanzee, strain mightily to make the sexy, matriarchal, hyper-feminine, and more gentle and peaceful bonobos the “ideal” progenitor of human beings.  For decades they have struggled with the idea that we might be, in essence, a little too much like the less physically attractive, hyper-masculine, rank-conscious, angry, and often violent common chimpanzee.  Certainly, the “make love not war” bonobos would fit much more nicely into the modern Edens where academic types dwell- the college campus.
A paleoconservative like myself sees things quite differently.  I believe there are vestiges of both subspecies coloring human emotions and behavior, but common sense and the bloody history of our species reveals a much greater kinship with the violent and mercurial common chimpanzee.  In fact, one could argue that the numerical rarity of bonobos and their confinement to a small, river-protected geographic region in the Democratic Republic of Congo relegates them to a dead end species rather than the progenitors of humanity.
So we see that Bill Cloud’s hairy Esau might be a little hairier and more primitive than he thought! I would argue that both Esau and Jacob had their own inner chimpanzees- as do all human beings.  Esau was just quite a bit more intimate with his primate incubus and he regressed there with greater regularity.
Now reflect a minute on the current presidential race.  Space does not allow analysis here, but how much spitting, shoving, slapping, and swinging does it take to realize that “regression to the inner chimpanzee” is the defining theme of the race?  The candidates are tired and stressed, their followers often angry and full of resentment, and everyone’s inner chimp is having a grand old time.  
Just how much of each candidate’s behavior is distinctly human and how much springs from the tribal jingoism, the rank-consciousness, the threatening bluff and display behavior, the political alliances and manipulations, and the win-at-all-costs impulsions of our primate cousins?  Without some consideration of the “paleopolitics” of the current political sphere, we will always fall short of a full understanding of “older” and more fundamental drivers of the process.
Study these pages and become a paleopsychologist!
Kent G. Bailey