Livingston was a keen-eyed naturalist with a great voice and mesmerising delivery who offered startling, sometimes original, thoughts and a much-needed perspective (called by some ‘deep ecology‘). He may have been an inspiring teacher, producer, father, and husband; he wrote inspiringly, at times poetically, but he was not able to stop humanity’s domination of nature. Not single-handedly, anyway. Not during his lifetime. We are the rogue primate. Or are we? Is accepting the ‘rogue primate’ label just pessimistic futility, or as Wade Davis said, an indulgence?
Before I started I had some questions, such as: Are we just animals with big brains? Was Livingston hopeful? Having read the book, do I have some answers? Livingston proposed that humans are not just animals with big brains, for we also have a prosthetic device (his ‘truly original idea’)–domestication–to replace our amputated connection to wild nature. Yet in spite of this amputation, Livingston believed that we still can access our wildness. Our prosthetic device is transmitted by our culture, which evolves faster but more fragilely than genetic transmission. Livingston pointed out that Darwin’s culture was competitive, and his theory of natural selection, for all its brilliance, is thoroughly competitive. Since Darwin’s time, that culture has evolved. Ours, while still overwhelmingly competitive, is beginning to value cooperation. Maybe Darwin missed that, or maybe he couldn’t state it. Future posts will explore cooperation and updated interpretations of Darwin’s theory. Livingston was pessimistic about the near future but in the long run was more optimistic and hopeful. Though forever bound to our prosthesis, he wrote, we can choose to make those chains of bondage joyful. Forging those links takes time. One can consider Rogue Primate such a joyous link, a step towards eventual optimism.