Apes and fair play

23 Sep

It seems from recent reports in the newspapers that apes, and chimps in particular. have the same inate sense of fair play that was previously thought unique to humans.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130114153418.htm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/evolution/11107636/Man-and-apes-have-a-fair-amount-in-common.html

This is, in fact, an old story, dating back to 2009, when an article appeared in Nature. It seems to be a good piece of research and worthy of comment. The tests used are commonly used to demonstrate this behavioural trait in children. When two individuals have to share a task to gain a reward the initiator still distributes the reward fairly.

Now for the elephant in the room.  If such behaviour is the normal state for humans, why do we allow a small number of individuals to exploit others, taking almost everything and paying starvation wages? More than that, such individuals are praised as examples of successful capitalism.

In hunter-gatherer societies there is little distinction in wealth between the members of the group. The real distinctions only come in with the start of permanent farming communities. It is only at this point that we get kings and wars.

Currently the gap between rich and poor is growing almost exponentially. Even in Britain, a wealthy country, the rich are getting richer and the working classes have wage increases below the rate of inflation and increasing living costs. In effect, they are getting poorer. Fewer and fewer people now have a larger share of the pie.

This is not a healthy state of affairs. The happiest societies are not the richest, they are those where the gap between the richest and poorest is closest. To continue on this course is to invite discontent, which could lead to social tensions and possibly violence.

Maybe we have something to learn from chimps and children.

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