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Frans de Waal (primatologist) – You’re such a social animal

Love, grief, and moral disgust aren't unique to humans. Like chimps, humans sometimes struggle for dominance, but our first impulse is trust and connection. Frans de Waal has spent decades showing that most of what we believe about animals, humans, and the differences between us is wrong.
Key Takeaways
  • The lifelong gratitude of a chimp de Waal taught to bottle-feed and adopt an orphan
  • Trump's alpha male display during the 2016 debates
  • How B.F. Skinner screwed up behavioral science for half a century

When I was a kid, there used to be a TV commercial for this series of animal videos you could order that were basically nothing but killing and sex. The tagline was “Find out why we call them . . . ANIMALS”!

“Wait a minute . . .” I used to think: “That’s not why we call them animals. Also, we’re animals too, aren’t we? What exactly are you trying to say?”

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That video series was a cynical cash grab, but it’s not too far removed from how science has approached animal research, with some very recent exceptions. Generosity? Empathy? Happiness? Reconciliation? These rich emotions and prosocial behaviors were for humans. The animal kingdom was about dominance, survival, and the right to reproduce. Hey, it was a jungle out there.

My guest today, primatologist Frans de Waal, has spent decades gathering field and laboratory evidence that the line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is very blurry indeed, and that emotions are the deep connective tissue across species. His wonderful new book MAMA’S LAST HUG will help you find out why they call us…ANIMALS.

Surprise conversation starters in this episode:

David Wallace-Wells on climate change


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