‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 5  The Origin of Humans’ Moral Instinctive Self or Soul

Chapter 5:13 Milwaukee County Zoo’s fabulous group of bonobos


Jeremy Griffith and Professor Harry Prosen in front of the Bonobo exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo, February 2014.

The author (left) and Professor Harry Prosen at the Milwaukee County Zoo bonobo exhibit



In February 2014 I had the incredible good fortune to spend a day with one of the largest and most socially authentic captive breeding groups of bonobos in the world at the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin in the USA. Visiting the bonobos in their native habitat in the heart of the Congo basin is almost impossible because of the region’s remoteness and impenetrable jungle, as well as the horrific civil war and economic collapse that is ravaging the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And even those who do manage to travel to where the bonobos are found only very occasionally get to glimpse them. So being able to spend hours right beside such a large group of these animals who are living virtually as we humans once did during our original pre-conscious, pre-human-condition-afflicted, innocent, loving, harmonious, cooperative state was so wonderful and precious it was almost beyond description. And since those who work with such a group on a regular basis surely know more about the lives of bonobos than anyone else, how lucky was I to be accompanied on my visit by one of those people, and someone who I strongly believe must be the most gifted and accomplished psychiatrist in the world todayProfessor Harry Prosen, who provided the Introduction to this book. Harry arranged my visit to the Zoo, whose staff most generously, and for the first time ever, brought almost the whole group into the display area for us to see (including all the females and infants)a group that numbered 16 of their 23 bonobos, which, incidentally, is a significant portion of the world’s captive population of only some 250 bonobos (in 2014).


A lifetime of successfully treating humans led Harry to identify what he refers to as ‘an empathy deficit’which is an acceptable but, in truth, evasive, denial-complying, mechanistic scientific term for ‘lack of love during upbringing’as being the main cause of humans’ psychological problems. Indeed, Harry has spent a lifetime studying the effects of empathy/​love, and the lack thereof, in not only humans but other species, including bonobos, who he has recognised as the most empathetic/​loving of all non-human species. Three examples illustrate just how honest Harry is able to be about the need for empathy/​love/​unconditional selflessness in the lives of highly social mammals and how psychologically devastating the effects are of not receiving itand thus how truly effective a psychiatrist he is. In the first example, Harry was asked to assist, via a video link, a girl in a mental institution who was completely uncommunicative, virtually mute. After Harry talked to her she finally mumbled the word ‘Mary’, to which Harry intuitively replied, ‘Mary Magdalene?’ When the girl seemed to respond, Harry added, ‘Wasn’t she a prostitute?’, which reached into the girl’s core psychosis and from there she was able to open up and heal. In another example, Harry was asked to help in a situation at a zoo where an elephant had died, leaving both its elephant companion and human keeper catatonic with grief. Harry intuitively moved the catatonic keeper in front of the catatonic elephant, which prompted the elephant to put its trunk on the shoulder of the keeper, and that sharing of feeling, of empathy, of compassion, between the two freed them both from their catatonic states. And in a case that was reported around the world, the Milwaukee County Zoo sought Harry’s assistance with an adult bonobo named Brian, whose ‘infancy had diverged from the normal pattern for bonobos in which mother and baby are in constant contact’ (Jo Sandin, Bonobos: Encounters in Empathy, 2007, p.48 of 109). Harry ascertained that Brian’s extremely distressed behaviour, including induced vomiting and self-mutilation, ‘rose from desperate, but futile, attempts to calm himself in the midst of extreme anxiety’, and ‘prescribed surrounding Brian with a world that was absolutely predictable’a calming ‘therapeutic environment’ (ibid) that finally allowed Brian’s healing to begin. Little wonder Harry is psychiatric consultant to the Bonobo Species Preservation Society. And little wonder he was so enthralled when, in 2004, he read my love-indoctrination explanation for humans’ and bonobos’ moral nature in a copy of the Human Condition Documentary Proposal (<www.humancondition.com/doco>) that we had sent to scientists around the world, especially those working with bonobos. Harry was so impressed by the proposal, in which I outlined all the explanations of the human condition, of Integrative Meaning and of the nurturing origins of our moral nature and conscious mind that are presented in this book, that he wrote to us saying, ‘The Proposal is never out of my brief case. I read it over and over and it is I think one of the most astonishing and outstanding things of our time. It is a gift and I hope you don’t give an inch to your detractors’ (WTM records, 17 Jun. 2005).


In fact, Harry became so supportive of my work and so concerned about the attacks that were being made on it that, as he described in his Introduction to this book, he came to Australia in 2007 to give evidence in support of my work in a defamation trial. He has certainly become a precious friend on this most difficult of tasks of delivering understanding of the human condition to the world. Indeed, Harry’s love and support for my work makes me wish I had been able to share these explanations with the anthropologist Ashley Montagu (1905-1999) because they too would have made complete sense of all that he was so honestly able to recognise about the importance of love in human lifeas demonstrated by his amazingly truthful paper, ‘A Scientist Looks at Love’, which will be referred to in par. 493. Yes, since Harry has often said, ‘All the great theories that I have encountered in my lifetime of studying psychiatry can be accounted for under your explanations of human origins and behavior’, I’m sure the very rare honesty of Montagu’s thinking would have meant that he would have also become a very valuable ally in trying to deliver these liberating but at the same time confronting explanations to the world.


This issue of the confronting nature of my explanations of the origin and nature of human behaviour, and resulting extreme resistance to it that led to the vicious attacks upon it and the then biggest defamation case in Australia’s history, became all too apparent to Harry when he tried valiantly to have my nurturing explanation that so fully accounts for human and bonobo moral behaviour referred to in Jo Sandin’s 2007 book about the bonobos at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Bonobos: Encounters in Empathy (which was quoted from above), which had been commissioned by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. In chapter 5 of her book Sandin did manage to include oblique references to the love-indoctrination explanation, such as ‘there is evidence from the work of evolutionary biologists to suggest that it was the distant ancestors of bonobos that brought empathy into the evolutionary process’ and ‘certain life experiences are necessary for a bonobo to develop into an empathetic and wise adult’, and ‘the nurturing care Lody received (and remembered) constituted a key element in the bonobo’s maturing into an empathetic and wise male’ (p.52), but despite all the respect Harry has at the Zoo for being such an effective psychiatric consultant for all their social animals, and despite wanting to, she was unable to include the following comment that Harry asked be added at the end of chapter 5 of her book: ‘In summary, to the fascinating and indeed fundamental question for biologists of how the extraordinary empathy and even altruism we are observing amongst bonobos developed, our observations point to nurturing, maternalism and associated matriarchy as key influences. Certainly our observations do appear to be confirming of the nurturing explanation for empathy and true altruism that was first put forward by the American philosopher John Fiske in 1874 [Fiske’s work will be described in ch. 6:3] and, more recently, by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith in his various books, in particular in Part 2 of his 2004 Human Condition Documentary Proposal. My work was mentioned in the concluding chapter of Sandin’s book, but the key reference to ‘the nurturing explanation for empathy and altruism’ wasn’t included. I have to emphasise that failure to acknowledge the nurturing explanation for humans’ and bonobos’ moral nature is consistent with the practice of human-condition-avoiding, denial-complying mechanistic science the world over. The next chapter in this book (6) will describe at length the immense resistance to the nurturing explanation, as well as the mountain of nurturing-avoiding, dishonest explanations for the moral nature of humans and bonobos that have been put forward in its place. For example, it will be mentioned there how in 2005 I submitted an abstract of a paper titled ‘Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins’ for presentation at the International Primatological Society’s (IPS) 2006 Congress in Uganda (the submission and subsequent correspondence can be viewed at <www.humancondition.com/ips-2006-congress>), only to be rejected on the grounds that ‘Both reviewers felt this abstract presents no data nor a testable hypothesis’. Despite arguing that my nurturing, love-indoctrination explanation for humans’ moral instincts ‘contains a great deal of supportive evidence in the form of many summaries of data-supported studies of bonobos and other primates by leading primatologists’, and ‘is an entirely testable, validatable hypothesis, as the evidence just described about bonobos shows’, and submitting this protest to the President and 38 members of the IPS Congress Committee, the rejection was upheld! Humans have certainly not wanted to face the truth of the importance of nurturing in their lives; again, they ‘would rather admit to being an axe murderer than being a bad father or mother’!


Jeremy Griffith with the curator's of primates and small mammals at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Trish Khan and Dr Jan Rafert, and Professor Harry Prosen

The author (left) with Trish Khan, Dr Jan Rafert and Professor Harry Prosen



To return, however, to my visit to the wonderfully cared-for bonobos at the Milwaukee County Zoo, which, next to a visit Annie and I made to the Tiva River in Africa, which I describe in par. 835, is the highlight of my life. Having thought and written about bonobos for so long it was an incredibly exciting moment for me to finally meet themand what I saw exceeded my expectations about their cooperative, integrative and intelligent nature. The Zoo’s curator of primates and small mammals, Dr Jan Rafert, and primate area supervisor, Trish Khan, were unaware of the nurturing, love-indoctrination explanation for bonobos’ moral behaviour, suggesting that bonobos’ secure, food rich environment was what allowed for selection for cooperation, with Rafert saying these ecological conditions allowed bonobos to ‘not only take care of their own family but take care of each other’; and Khan suggesting that ‘there is just no competition to produce offspring because [female bonobos] are copulating throughout their entire cycle…​that’s the big theory, isn’t it’. These suggestions are, in effect, aspects of the Social Ecological Model that is discussed and dismantled in chapter 6:8. Rafert and Khan did, however, confirm to me all the bonobo behaviours that I have already described: their cooperative care for each other; their nurturing love; their sensitivity; how at being reunited after years of separation they are, as Rafert described it, ‘beside themselves with glee’; how, according to Khan, ‘their intelligent, understanding, ingenious minds so tests the wits of the keepers that the keepers are often exhausted by the end of the day’; their constant vocal communication, including specific vocalisations for the different keepers; their tendency towards bipedalism; their use of sex to create and cement bonds and relieve tension; their robust sense of humour and laughter; the strong, forceful personalities of the group’s dominant females; the lifelong bond between mother and son; the absence of the territorial wars that occur between groups of chimpanzees (because bonobos tolerate other groups of bonobosthey are, in essence, all one large group, a Specie Individual); and, above all for me, the confirmation of their moral sense, their constant maintenance of social order. For example, Rafert emphasised that when young males within bonobo society begin to become competitive and aggressive like adolescent males of other species ‘The group will tolerate it for only so long before everyone comes down on it very forcefully’ to prevent such behaviour developing. Yes, as was stated about Kanzi’s situation, ‘bonobos like to know if everyone is…​following the [social] rules’ that achieve and maintain integration.


With all other highly social species that I have observed, such as meerkats, I have had the feeling that their groups are still more a collection of individuals, but that wasn’t the case with the bonobos. With them it was as though they were all part of one organism, all deeply aware of and in tune with each other. While there were outbursts of anxiety and occasional tensions and even fights amongst thembecause bonobos haven’t as yet completed the love-indoctrination process that enables the fully cooperative, utterly harmonious, completely integrated state to developthere was a high degree of harmony in the group; to such an extent, in fact, that there was an overall togetherness, a real peacefulness and tranquility, a unity, a security, an each-knew-all-about-and-trusted-and-supported-and-loved-everyone-else-feeling between them. It was like they took each other for granted, just as we take our arms or legs or ears for granted because they are simply part of our whole being. It was like they all felt they belonged and were part of something bigger; it wasn’t like they had to trust that this was the case, it was that they knew it was the case. As is very apparent in some of the marvellous footage WTM Founding Member James Press took of the bonobos for inclusion in Harry’s video introduction to this book that appears on this book’s website (see <www.humancondition.com/prosen-intro>), when one of them looked at you with the extraordinary awareness and thoughtfulness that their facial expression exhibits, it was as though that individual was fully connected by an invisible cable or link to all the other members of their group behind them and around them; that at that moment they were the looking-out-at-the-world component of the whole group. Yes, they all moved about together like one big roly-poly organism that would suddenly materialise in front of you, and then, just as suddenly, vanish all together into another corner of their enclosure. I derived a deep, calming, reassuring, and even happy, life-as-it-should-be, feeling from being with them, which was quite amazing. To use some of the extraordinarily honest words from Sir Laurens van der Post that were included in par. 186, I felt part of a time when ‘All on earth and in the universe were still members and family of the early race seeking comfort and warmth through the long, cold night before the dawning of individual consciousness in a togetherness which still gnaws like an unappeasable homesickness at the base of the human heart.’


It is just such a tragedy that the phenomenal integration and emerging conscious awareness that exists amongst bonobos has not been able to be admitted. There was no signage on their enclosure indicating their incredible cooperative, loving, nurturing nature and amazing presence of mind. They were just another variety of animal for the public to see. No one was told that what you are seeing here is a species living on the threshold of the completely integrated, heavenly, Garden-of-Eden state of ‘togetherness’ we humans once lived in. What was on display was one of the most amazing and special sights that can be seen on planet Earth, yet no one was being made aware of it. In fact, as I discuss in chapter 6, I think the nurturing, integrative, near-conscious nature of bonobos is so confronting that there is a very real inclination to try to dismiss them as nothing special, emphasise that they do have fights, etc, etcand even block them out of our awareness, which has occurred to the extent that they have been described as ‘the forgotten ape’ (Frans de Waal & Frans Lanting, Bonobos: The Forgotten Ape, 1997).


As I said, those who work on a regular basis with this large, socially authentic group of bonobos at the Milwaukee County Zoo surely know as much or even more about bonobo life than anyone else in the world, and since Sandin’s book Bonobos: Encounters in Empathy wonderfully documents the lives and interactions over many years of this large group of bonobos (as supplied by their keepers at the Milwaukee County Zoo and Harry) it has to be one of the most informative books on bonobo behaviour. Available through Amazon, this book evidences all the interactions and behaviours of bonobos that have been mentioned in this chapter. It contains, for example, references to bonobos’ ‘Natural nurturing patterns [that]…​has yielded mother-reared youngsters as socially robust as they are physically healthy’ (p.43), and recounts how ‘Bonobo babies born at the Milwaukee County Zoo immediately cling to their mothers. They are carried constantly. Infants fostered here are greeted with enthusiasm and cuddled by males and females’ (p.66). I should mention that it also describes ‘individuals whose life history [of missing out on nurtured love] has left them deficient in bonobo social graces…​so-called problem bonobos’ (p.26), and how the group enforces ‘the community’s code of conduct’ (p.28) on such ‘rule-breaking’ individuals (p.29), which is all extremely confronting for the human race today where almost everyone’s ‘life history [of not being adequately nurtured in their infancy and childhood] has left them deficient’, ‘problem’ humans. As will be described at length in chapter 6, it is little wonder there has been resistance to acknowledgment of the importance of nurturing in the lives of both bonobos and humans.


The following paragraph, from Sandin’s book, in particular reveals the whole love-indoctrination process at work: ‘We see Maringa, for almost two decades the undisputed empress of the group, in full diva mode, throwing tantrums and slyly peeking to note their effect. We glimpse the intricate etiquette that orders relationships among group members. We witness the matriarch and her “sisters” in power administering swift and painful rebukes in response to infractions of the colony’s behavior code. We view Maringa’s own slide from power. Here we observe the philosopher-king Lody, long the dominant male, ruling by empathy and wisdom, wielding power but always within the context of a matriarchal society. We watch younger males challenge his pre-eminence as he acknowledges his gradual physical decline. We experience tender moments between mothers and children, mischievous testing of the patience of tribal elders and compassionate interventions on behalf of weaker bonobos’ (p.60). The ‘behavior code’ among bonobos is a code that is dedicated to maintaining cooperative order, integration. While bonobos have not yet completed the love-indoctrination process, the ‘code of conduct’ or ‘rules’ or ‘intricate etiquette’ represents the final stages of the behavioural management needed to develop the fully integrated, all-loving and all-sensitive state that became instinctive in our distant human forebears.


With regard to the ‘compassionate interventions on behalf of weaker bonobos’, this is but one of many illustrations from the book: ‘Dr. Prosen has been particularly impressed by the attention given Brian by Lody, the group’s dominant male. When Brian seemed too panicky to move, Lody often would take his hand and walk him into a different area such as the playroom or the outdoor yard. It was in Lody’s company that Brian first sat down and ate with a group, a “very big deal for him,” recorded in animal-management notes August 30, 1999. Regularly, Lody would postpone his own meals to sit with and comfort Brian when the younger bonobo was having difficulties…In Lody, Dr. Prosen said, the presence of weakness seems to activate his own compassionate strength’ (pp.49-50). Also, ‘Harry Prosen…and keeper Barbara Bell credit Lody’s wise leadership with the high level of emotional health of Milwaukee’s bonobos and points to numerous instances of empathetic behaviour’ (p.14), and ‘His [Lody’s] days of mourning after the death of Kidogo constitute one of the most poignant chapters of the community’s life’ (p.14).


I know that all of nature is under dire threat from humans’ now horrifically psychologically upset state, but to lose bonoboswho are categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species, as a species ‘facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild’is an unbearable prospect. The very latest reports indicate that the bushmeat trade (where wild animals including bonobos are killed for meat) has now penetrated into even the most remote areas of the Congo basin where the bonobos live. Now that the human condition has been explained and we can at last admit that the bonobos are living in this delicate nursery state of nurturing love and, as a result, are highly sensitive, loving and aware, killing them off is a terrible, terrible case of ‘the massacre of the innocents’. It is truly unbearable to think aboutnot to mention what we lose in terms of the astonishing and irreplaceable evidence they provide of our origins. So please God, let these ameliorating, peace-bringing understandings of our human lives get out to the world as soon as possible. (I should reiterate here that when I talk of God, I am not invoking an abstract, metaphysical, supernatural being, I am referring to the all-pervading integrative power in our world.)


This concern for bonobos in their home in the Congo raises another aspect of the absolutely wonderful work that is being carried out by those associated with Milwaukee County Zoo. Dr Gay Reinartz, the director of the Bonobo & Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI) for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and coordinator of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has since 1997 been travelling at least twice a year to the remote and dangerous Congo, even during its horrific civil war, to help protect the bonobos. What started out as a research project to discover what habitats they prefer and whether Salonga National Park, which forms the heart of the bonobos’ range, harbours a self-sustaining bonobo population, has evolved into a multi-faceted conservation program that is ‘the center of what is now an international effort to protect bonobos in the heart of their natural home’ (Bonobos: Encounters in Empathy, p.75). In 2011, the BCBI program received the international conservation award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the highest recognition for an international conservation program.


So, bonobos provide an extraordinary insight into what life for our human ancestors was like, graphically illustrating the loving, cooperative, nurturing environment our ape ancestors must have been blessed with to complete the love-indoctrination process and develop the unconditionally selfless moral instincts we have within us. The fossil evidence indicates these ideal ‘nursery’ conditions occurred somewhere in Africa, just exactly where is not yet clear, but, as we intuitively recognise, Africa was ‘the cradle of mankind’.