Kage Baker didn’t like most humans very much. But she didn’t like most animals, either.
The curious thing about her generalized dislike is that it led her to a wider recognition of sentience, emotions, intellect – humanity – than most people develop. Maybe it was being a science fiction writer, whose tendencies favour a more experimental view of what constitutes “people”. Maybe it was the Asperger’s, which really makes one work at defining human in the first place. Maybe it was just hyper-critical Kage, who never took a revealed truth for granted until she’d analyzed it herself.
She especially didn’t like primates – the larger ones, particularly; the more they looked like human beings, the less she could stand them. We always had to avoid the ape displays in zoos, unless it was for some of the tiny little guys that look like evolved cats – tamarins, marmosets. The clever hands were cute – the humanoid faces gave her the horrors. There is nothing so disturbing as something that looks almost human.
And, let’s face it, most of our relatives act like us. Which is not too attractive a set of behaviours.
Oddly enough, gorillas were pretty much acceptable – perhaps because they don’t look or act as much like us as chimps do. They are honestly a little alien. They have an innate slowness, thoughtfulness and steadiness that is not apparent in either chimpanzees or humans; maybe because they are basically herbivores. Maybe they just pursued some quieter intellectual pathway than anything the more hysterical members of the family – that would be us and chimps – bothered to explore. She was horrified at the plight and fate of gorillas, but not by the creatures themselves.
But Kage couldn’t stand chimpanzees. She thought they were downright horrible. Until she began to research them …
For a story called “Hanuman”, she decided to find out all she could about chimpanzee society. It’s a fool these days who denies they have societies, even culture; the information compiled over the last 30 years or so makes it very plain that there is a lot going on under those hairy foreheads. Kage encountered this information with very few preconceptions, due to her lack of previous interest. She studied intently; she pursued the articles on communication, ritual behaviour, tool-making, mental illness, child care … she finished with The Chimpanzees of Gombe, figuring that Dr. Goodall would be both the most scholarly and the least objective.
When she was done, she looked up and said, “Jesus, these are people.”
And that was how she wrote about them. Also how she spoke of them hereafter; how she regarded them. She continued to collect information, to study and learn about chimpanzees. She came to the conclusion that they were getting a rotten deal from us, that Homo sapiens was committing a dreadful sin in its treatment of Pan troglodytes and that someday we’d have a huge debt to pay off.
It wasn’t anthropomorphism – I think Kage had trouble anthropomorphising humans. But she had no difficulty at all in recognizing sentience when it bit her on the nose, as it were. She became convinced, as the goal posts kept moving all over the field with desperate scientists in pursuit, that there was a lot more to intelligence than the cut and dried definition of Man. Darwin commented that he felt the intelligence of non-humans was a difference not of kind, but of quality – that animals’ minds worked just like ours, but not with the wattage we exhibit.
Mr. Darwin has proven to be, in this as in so much else, essentially correct. Test after study after article has shown – in all animals, but especially in primates – that while we might be the only 8-cylinder mental engines, everyone else is still using the same model we are. We can even see how a tune-up might increase the power available to our closest relatives.
I was brought to recalling this by a spate of recent articles like this one:
And this one:
Also, by the fact that I have to re-read “Hanuman” today – which was the pivot point of Kage’s change of attitude. And the fact that a new Planet of the Apes movie is out. I have watched them all so far. I read the Boulle novel when I was 12, and have loved the ideas ever since. Kage finally read it too, when this new view of our cousins burst on her – it contributed to the weight of her final observation, horrified and astonished as it was. It’s how I’ve always felt, too:
“Jesus, these are people.”