I first heard this phrase listening to Tim Minchin’s wonderfully irreverent song “Confessions”. I presume he came up with it.
The song, “Confessions”, is Mr Minchin’s tribute to human mammary glands, at the end of which he states, if I may be allowed to quote:
“From the first little suck of colostrum/To the grope of the nurse in the old people’s hostel/We’re just fucking monkeys in shoes.”
He was, of course, referring to our (albeit laudable) fascination with boobs. But his phrase holds true for other aspects of human existence as well. We are just animals. Always have been, always will be.
Some Animal Instincts we have are as follows:
Animal Instinct 1) The Herd Instinct. We love crowds. Most of us prefer to follow, not lead. Whether it be in fashion, opinion, religious belief, politics, whatever…we would rather follow so that we don’t have to think for ourselves. Leaders are also usually only leaders for a short time. Someone else thinks they can do a better job. Think of two bucks vying for the position for alpha male in the herd.
Animal Instinct 2) The Mating Instinct. This is of incredible importance to us. People are giving birth to other people at an enormous rate. I know parents who didn’t even want children, but they had them due to Animal Instinct 1 above – there was peer and/or family pressure to produce them. I’m not talking about the desire for a partner here. While some scientists would disagree, Love is largely a human affectation, or at least a mammalian one. I mean the desire to reproduce. It is a necessary one, but humans seem to exceed natural population trends. We have children even when we can’t afford to, or can’t actually feed them.
Animal Instinct 3) The Eating Instinct . This is a bit like the Mating Instinct. Here we have people eating large quatities, more than they actually need. Animals tend to be opportunistic eaters – they don’t know where the next meal is coming from, or when, so they take the opportunity to fill up whenever they can. Some people do this too. And often we can’t blame them – there are many people in the world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Animal Instinct 4). The Survival Instinct. This one has its basis in the other Instincts. We survive by eating, staying in herds and mating. But behind these is the basic need to stay alive long enough to pass on our genes.
I’m not criticising the fact that we are animals. Animals are great. If it wasn’t for animals, we wouldn’t be here. But just because we humans are self-aware does not mean we should forget our ancestry. We do so at our peril. It is good that we are animals.
A lot of human behaviour is explainable by remembering our animal instincts. Tim Minchin’s metaphor is right: we may wear shoes (sometimes most dysfunctional ones – high heels for instance) but we are still monkeys.* We can achieve whatever we put our minds to; we can do good and we can do tremendous evil. The future of the world is in the hands of a bunch of monkeys. We would do well to remember that next time some remarkably stupid piece of reality blindsides us.
*Yes, I know we were never monkeys in an evolutionary sense. Monkeys and people evolved from a common ancestor. But the metaphor still works. No correspondence on this point will be entered into.