Live Science recently reported on a story that may shed light on human evolutionary behavior. While my conclusions are speculative, they make sense, given the circumstances. Titled “Albino chimp baby murdered by its elders days after rare sighting,” the story by Nicoletta Lanese describes how an albino chimp caused a fear reaction among its community shortly after it was born. A few days later it was killed by the chimps. Scientists must be careful not to attribute human motive to such attacks, and so they note that this particular community has a tendency toward infanticide, but that doesn’t explain the initial fear reaction. An individual who was “different” appeared and the response was one of deadly violence. We’re far from understanding human motivations, let alone those of animals, but it’s difficult not to see this as typical human behavior.
Just because a behavior has evolved doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. We evolved out of our need for tree dwelling in order to open new potential habitats—an experiment that proved wildly successful. Can we not evolve out of fear of those who are different? That seems to be the idea behind recent diversity and inclusion initiatives. There are those who still resist them, but examine their beliefs and you’ll soon find fear of those who differ. This atavistic tendency is remarkably close to the chimp behavior in killing an albino. If we are to remain civilized, we must name such fear for what it is and grow beyond it. Conservatism is often based in fear. Fear of change is natural enough, but had our ancestors given in to it we’d still be in the trees.
We need to admit that the lives of those different matter. How long will we allow difference be a reason to fear other human beings? The story on Live Science is difficult to read. The chimp behavior is so typically human that we can feel sympathy for the murdered infant and his mother. Fear, if left unattended, can bring us to this. The antidote is education. The more we learn the better we can cope with fear, which is, after all, a natural and necessary response to an evolved world. Our fear of being prey has caused us to drive extinct most of our natural predators. The world is hardly a better place for it. Might not weighing fears and thinking through reasonable solutions be a better coping technique? Fear can revert a human back into an animal state. Or it can drive us toward improvement.