Because they can arrogant nations confidently herald their exceptionalism. Not satisfied to speak of their strengths, they pursue the boast to its most positive boundary. Humans similarly, and with little hesitation or knowledge of other contenders. label ourselves uniquely gifted as “the tool-maker”, until some dastardly crow wows us with a “design and deployment” feat that leaves us gasping.
Kafka’s “A Report for an Academy” startles us because that ape in front of us is mouthing and clearly comprehending uncommon insights. But then, that ape is a figment of Kafka’s very active imagination. The Dutch primatologist Francis van der Waal, however, taunts us with tales of “What I Learned from Tickling Apes.” And while the ape who giggles cannot solve quadratic equations (it can’t, can it?), van der Waal certainly damages our sense of HOW exceptional we are.
(If by chance that link to van der Waal’s essay does not work, the essay will be in tomorrow’s New York Times.)