Although Frans de Waal’s Our Inner Ape was published half a decade ago, the monograph remains terribly relevant. I gave some primary impressions of the book last week, but one section has remained firmly in my head and has mingled with all the harsh rhetoric in the news about health care reform in the United States. Asking the question of whether Homo sapiens are still evolving biologically, de Waal withholds his final opinion on the matter, but he points out that statistics indicate Americans are falling behind much of the rest of the developed world in terms of general health. This he ascribes to the competition inherent in a free market economy that favors the best health care only to the wealthy while the average citizen is offered substandard options. The numbers bear him out on this – he notes that on the standards utilized to measure general health, the United States is not even in the top 25 industrial nations.
With the conviction of a true prophet, de Waal notes that privatization of health care has led to a precarious imbalance in medical care in the United States, where the top 1 percent of citizens has more income to spend than the bottom 40 percent combined. This, he believes, is because we have lost sight of the altruism inherent in apedom. Although the great apes are endangered (ironically, by their overly greedy genetic cousins) their societies show no such disparity. An ape family will assist a weakened or feeble member and give it extra care to ensure that it is offered a life as comfortable as possible. They do not discard the fragile and “expendable” members. Republicans, however, wave placards trying to shout down basic health coverage for the poor.
Does biological evolution continue among the human species? Have we stopped natural selection’s eternally ticking clock? Only time will tell. It does seem, however, that the very Bible pounded by the Religious Right (health care reform’s greatest opponent) would argue that the apes got it right. We should care for the poor, disadvantaged, and underrepresented. While the Tea Party belles are busy trying to rewrite history with America founded as a Christian nation they daintily wipe their mouths on the pages of the very book they treasure so deeply and claim as their authentic heritage.