[Viewpoint]Jungle politics

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[Viewpoint]Jungle politics

Conflict occurs when there is a confrontation between two characters with strong wills. It is a social phenomenon that has always existed in human society. Since the old days, various systems and apparatuses have been set up to resolve these conflicts.

One of the most traditional methods of conflict resolution is the use of force. However, mankind has also opted for talks, negotiation, rules and norms.

At present, various discords exist in the Korean society. The conflicts between conservatives and progressives, workers and employers, the South Korean government and the North Korean government and between the new generation and the old generation are different reflections of the present age.

But humans are not the only social beings on Earth. Conflicts exist even in the communities of wild animals.

These conflicts originate from more instinctive causes, the desire to take a larger and better share of the limited supply of food, territory and mates. But it is interesting to note how animals solve these primary conflicts.

In the case of chimpanzees in Africa, the large ape and its form of conflict resolution might be able to provide a clue for resolving discord in human society.

The chimpanzees, an ape species genetically closest to humans, are divided into two kinds. We are more familiar with the common chimpanzees, rather than the bonobo chimpanzees that are also called pygmy chimpanzees.

There are clear anatomical differences between the common chimpanzees and the bonobo chimpanzees in terms of the color of their face and lips. They also have different habitats, social structures and, importantly, methods of resolving conflicts.

When a problem arises, common chimpanzees resort to violence to resolve their conflicts just like hostile humans. They like to display their strength and do not forgive other chimps who have an eye on their food. Moreover, they do not tolerate any challenge to their authority.

The common chimps express their strength through a display of aggressive behavior, exhibiting their physical superiority, through violence on chimpanzees of lower rank or on females. The society of the common chimpanzees is strictly hierarchal, but the ranking system is always changeable. The hierarchy constantly changes as the chimpanzees ceaselessly challenge and fight each other.

In the end, conflicts are resolved through violence, and through violence, the strongest becomes the holder of the top rank. In other words, the common chimpanzees resolve their conflicts and maintain the order of their society through an eternal power struggle.

In contrast, the bonobo chimpanzees are less aggressive than the common chimpanzees. They spend a large part of their time combing and picking bugs out of one another’s fur as an expression of trust and intimacy. They seldom fight over territory or food with other groups of chimpanzee in the vicinity.

And the bonobo chimpanzees generally do not resolve their conflict through violence.

Of course, it does not mean that bonobo chimpanzees never get into a fight. In the rare occasion of a physical battle, the consequences are completely different from the common chimpanzees. After fighting, the two chimpanzees engage in an act that is similar to the human sexual acts. This behavioral pattern is also displayed between two males or two females.

As a result, the bonobo chimpanzee is sometimes considered an ape with highly sophisticated sexual behavior, but such acts are more than this. It is the distinctive behavioral language of bonobo chimpanzees and their unique way of resolving conflicts. They have developed a method of understanding others, making concessions and building trust without the use of violence through their characteristic behavioral language.

The two kinds of chimpanzees seem to represent the two sides of humans. Although perhaps it’s easier to acknowledge the hostile instinct of humans when you think about it.

But the hostility of humans is controlled by compulsory norms created by society and consequence based on logic, unlike chimpanzees.

Our communities and societies are maintained through basic rules, and it is a duty of the members of a society to abide by these rules.

I hope that those of us living in the Republic of Korea today can learn from the behavior of the bonobo chimpanzees who care for and love one another in order to foster peaceful coexistence.

*The writer is the director of the National Primate Research Center of the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jang Gyu-tae
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