The Apes Do It So It’s Fine For Us Fallacy

I'm doing five to ten for apeslaughter.
I’m doing five to ten for apeslaughter.
< I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 22 December 2013.

People are happy to discover any argument which supports a position they favor. So pleased are they to find any corroboration (however weak) that the argument is embraced even if it is fallacious. This series (Genetic, Hypocrisy) examines fallacies beloved by today’s dominant culture.

Caution: because an argument for a conclusion has been shown fallacious, this does not prove that all arguments for that conclusion are fallacious, merely that the argument in question should be abandoned. But also keep in mind that if the fallacious argument was all the conclusion had going for it, yet you still hold that it is true, your sole justification is your desire, a dangerous situation.

An argument for legalizing prostitution:

Whether it is legal or not, there is seemingly no place in the world where it doesn’t exist. Indeed, it’s even been found to exist among primates who have been taught how to use money. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

This is easily seen to be fallacious in a parallel argument.

It is the case that chimpanzees and apes, which is to say primates, like men, from time to time kill fellow conspecifics, usually while in sour moods or in disputes over money or other resources. The practice has long been observed and in many places; indeed, there is seemingly no place in the world where these animals (chimps, apes, men) are found where these killings do not exist. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

Arguments pointing to the behavior of non-human animals are often used to justify human actions. Sexual promiscuity is the most common: for example, the (so we are told) ever-randy bonobo has had much drool—sorry, ink—spilt recommending its amorous activities for the masses. From which we learn there are many lonely academics.

From the Friends of the Bonobo society here is an example of the Apes-Do-It fallacy. The argument is only implicit here, but to give them a pass on that account would be like forgiving a television comedian his political asininities as long as he ducks behind his status. “I’m only a comedian!” Besides, there are plenty of places where arguments similar to this are explicit.

But when you get to know bonobos, you’ll see they couldn’t be more different. Like humans, chimpanzees have war. The males are in charge, and they can occasionally be very violent. Sometimes they even kill each other.

Bonobos do not kill each other. The females are in charge of the group and they seem to keep everyone’s temper under control with sexual activity. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you’re male or female — if you’re a bonobo, sex plays a big part in living together peacefully.

The text acknowledges that humans and chimps are a murderous bunch, a well known truth. But the implicit argument that if female humans were “in charge” as female bonobos (seemingly) are, then human males, sated with sex doled out at regular intervals would cease knocking each other on the head is clearly silly.

Would there be a government bureaucracy devoted to this new welfare? The authors have also forgotten sexual dimorphism (perhaps female humans are meeker because their mates are so much larger and stronger?), procreation (who takes care of the inevitable issue promiscuity brings?), and—the worst sin—the Andrea “All Sex Is Rape” Dworkins of the world (who can imagine a feminist supporting this program?).

Strangely, we rarely hear calls to emulate dung beetles or blow files.


  1. DAV

    Strangely, we rarely hear calls to emulate dung beetles or blow files.

    Not specifically but there was this in 1927 (or thereabouts), Diga Diga Do:

    Birds do it; Bees do it; Even educated fleas do it

    Equally fallacious I presume.

  2. DAV

    Sorry wrong song, oddly that is the beginning of Birds Do It, Bees Do It sung by Ella Fitzgerald, et al.

  3. Correction: In Intercourse Dworkin made what is in distillation that “All heterosexual sex is rape.”

    [Substituting elliptical, tendentious, loaded-terms such as “coercive”, “Patriarchy”, “degrading”, “submission”, “inferiority”, “penetrative”, blah-blah-blah, et alii, in the actual text. Snopes declares calling a “soil-displacement implement” a “spade” a foul. Apparently reams and reams of discourse meaning the same as the blunt five-word phrase when parsed does not signify equivalence. This humble reader disagrees.]

    On another subject entirely from public posturing by media outlets and I’m-offended-by-your-religious-speech advocacy groups, I would ask for prayers for the family of Claire Davis, who died yesterday in Colorado.



  4. Briggs


    Equally fallacious, yes. But in this case the conclusion (from that song) is true.

  5. andyd

    Weak, even by your standards.

  6. andyd

    It’s like you weren’t even trying.

  7. Briggs


    But I notice your attempt at a riposte typical (content free, etc.).

  8. HowardW

    I agree 100%. The logical conclusion of that attitude would be a combination Babylonian/Randian nightmare.

  9. Rich

    “Observe the lilies of the field. They toil not neither do they spin but Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these”.
    So, if it’s OK for the lilies then it’s OK for us. And we share 50% of our genetic material with lilies. So there.

  10. @ Rich — Minor quibble, Dr. Steven Jones was light-heartedly jesting when he quipped during an Australian talk show that “Humans share 50% of their DNA with a banana” in a discussion germane to ours that attempted, by shared-gene analysis, to link human behavior to that apes.

    At least, that was his email explanation to me and that he should have used more care to indicate that the percentage was not serious.


  11. For some reason we also never hear calls to emulate gorillas … the archetypical patriarchal society.

  12. Rich

    JJB: Funny thing though, in a BBC program I recall (but can’t reference) he said “daffodil” so he,s said it more than once. I’d be interested to know what the percentage is since it clearly can’t be zero.
    Not that it needs an exact percentage to make the argument.

  13. Rich —

    The common ancestry/conserved DNA between primates and plants extend **far** in our mutual pasts.

    The lesson that Dr. Jones is highlighting with those comparisons is that it is sheer folly to ascribe or promote behavioral trends in humans with that of other non-human primates on the basis of DNA percentages.


  14. Micha Elyi

    “Strangely, we rarely hear calls to emulate…” the female bonobo practice of sexing nearly every male who approaches her. I conclude that human females swooning with bonobo-worship don’t really want to pay the price bonobo female headship requires.

  15. Howard

    Let’s distinguish several different arguments that are muddled up here.

    1. “Bonobo societies are female dominated, and bonobos have easy access to sex. Therefore if human societies were female dominated, humans would likewise have easy access to sex.”

    2. “Bonobos have easier access to sex than chimps, and bonobo societies have less violence than chip societies. Therefore easy access to sex reduces violence in any society, including human societies.”

    3. “The moral imperative for reducing violence vastly outweighs the moral imperatives of traditional sexual ethics, and bonobos show how we can reduce violence by abandoning traditional sexual ethics. Therefore we must imitate bonobos.”

  16. Ye Olde Statistician

    Jersey may have it right! Late Moderns tend to confuse love with a feeling rather than with an act of will and therefore inevitably view love as something which benefits themselves, reducing the Other to a “sex object.”

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