In The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris provides an alternative explanation of the causative factors underlying various human behavior patterns and societal and cultural activities.
He develops his theme around such human activities as feeding, grooming, sleeping, fighting, mating and care of the young. He compares human traits and behaviors with those exhibited by animals, mainly the primates, in like activities. His point is that understanding the evolutionary source of many behaviors can throw new light on understanding the complex nature of the human species. Morris begins by examining the evolution of the mammals, from the earliest insectivores to the latest carnivores, detailing the survival characteristics which led to the success of some species over others.
He provides great detail on the development of the nearly naked carnivorous ‘hunting ape’ from the fruit eating primate group. He presents a thorough discussion of sexual behavior, stressing the similarities between human ‘rituals’ and primate behaviors. Tracing the three characteristic sexual phases of pair formation, pre-copulatory activity, and copulation, the evolutionary process which lies at the root of modern human sexual behavior is clearly laid out. Similarly, he examines human child-rearing, and provides interesting insights into non-verbal communication and body language between mother and child.
The role of exploratory behavior in the basic survival patterns of feeding, fighting, and mating, as well as its importance to an individual’s social adjustment, is detailed. Morris analyzes thoroughly our human aggressive urges, as always providing examples of animal behaviors which serve as an objective base upon which to understand why we act as we do. In addition to territorial and social dominance aggressive behaviors, he describes the actual mechanics of aggression, both physiologically and behaviorally. Both displacement activity and appeasement activity are explored in detail.
He concludes by examining human feeding and comfort behaviors and mankind’s relationships with animals. Throughout the book he stresses that as a species, man is a simple biological phenomenon subject to all the basic laws of animal behavior. He feels that it is important to the survival of the human species to understand itself and the limitations implicit in being a ‘naked ape’. Morris admits that he perhaps over-stresses the biological/zoological slant of his thesis, but even so his concepts are capably and logically developed. I found it easy and fascinating to recognize myself (and others) in almost every behavioral situation he describes.
One very important point to keep in mind about Morris’ book is that he is exploring ‘normal’ social behavior, not abnormal behavior. He has taken almost every aspect of man’s everyday life and shown, acceptably and believably in my opinion, that in many cases human behavior can be understood in terms of our evolutionary roots.