Animals’ Success at Community and Going Beyond Patriarchy

Human and chimpanzee efforts at community share much in common when males rule.  Says Safina, “Chimpanzees and humans are the only two ape species stuck dealing with familiar males as dangerous.” 

David Attenborough narrates this exclusive preview from the first episode of Dynasties: meet David, the alpha chimpanzee whose leadership is under threat from younger contenders. Uploaded to YouTube by BBC Earth.

Indeed, Safina calls this situation bizarre. He stresses that chimps and humans are “simply bizarre” among group-living animals because we don’t create a safe space

… but a stressful, tension-bound, politically encumbered social world for themselves to inhabit.  …This behavior package exists only in chimpanzees and humans.

Is this something to be proud of?  Is it possible that healthy religion or practicing spirituality is meant to move us beyond this dead end?  Furthermore, notes, Safina, “chimps may hold clues to the genesis of human irrationality, group hysteria, and political strongmen.”

Wouldn’t that be something—clues and medicine to move human history beyond irrationality, group hysteria, political strong men, and the rest?

“German carnival: Putin, Trump, Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jin Ping and Boris Johnson in clowns costumes inspired by Stephen Kings IT.” Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr.

Maybe it is time to resurrect the notion of “original sin” and to suggest that the chimp in us is what is meant by “original sin.”  That we are born into a male-dominated world (we call it patriarchy) which holds a tendency toward dominance and aggression and making war and chaos and hostility rather than peace.  Such attitudes and values and actions both feed patriarchy and nurture it.  Maybe we are more chimpanzee than human until and unless we let go of the patriarchal and allow more leadership for the feminine–like bonobos do—we are irredeemable as a species. 

Like Julian of Norwich does, as she deconstructs a patriarchal deity for the sake of a “motherly” God who puts compassion and service ahead of hierarchy and ladder climbing.

“Each pod of orcas is able to survive thanks mainly to one member, its most knowledgeable hunter: the grandmother. These matriarchs can live 80 years or more and their expertise can mean the difference between life and death for their families.” Narrated by Darren Croft; uploaded to YouTube by TED-Ed.

Safina stresses that other apes and elephants, wolves, orcas, sperm whales, lemurs, hyenas demonstrate (unlike chimps and humans) that “it isn’t necessary to be so nasty to those you know, those in your own community.  Being nice, being supportive—that can work.”

Among these other animal communities, “status comes with maturity; no violence is involved, and no elder gets deposed.   Individuals ascend to leadership with the wisdom of age, because their knowledge is valuable.”  The role of elders is important in these groups and the contribution of healthy eldership is to bring wisdom—it is not about status and power, but wisdom. 

Most societies that succeed at building peaceful communities such species happen to live, as do bonobos, in female-led groups, according to Safina. 

“My mother and her protectress.” Retirement Home, St.Johann, Italy. Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash.

Their societies emphasize social support.  In various species (including humans) females surpass males in offering consolation after something upsetting happens.

Chimps and humans seem to have chosen violence more often than cooperation, status more than wisdom.  Can we change?  Is this religion’s primary task?  Is this the gift of women awakening in our time–to displace patriarchal values and philosophy with a sense of cooperation and caring? Is this at the heart of Jesus’ teaching?  And that of Buddha, Isaiah, Mohammad, Black Elk, Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich and other mystics?  A call to compassion in preference to competition?

See Carl Safina, Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty and Achieve Peace, pp. 240f.

See Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion; and Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond

See also Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faith Traditions, pp. 377- 403.

Banner Image: Old matriarch elephant leads her family from a waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia, June 2016. Photo by Keith Carver on Flickr.

Can you see humanity learning from both the mistakes of our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, and the successes of other animal species that put co-operation ahead of competition?  How will this happen?

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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2 thoughts on “Animals’ Success at Community and Going Beyond Patriarchy”

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    This is where our spirituality links with science- neuroscience that is. I find my growth and development is aided by coaching and therapy that helps me lessen my grip on the reptilian brain and build more access to the neocortex as well as the mammalian brain. While I only understand this metaphorically, I’m also practicing every day to expand my conscious daily choices.

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