Political Hay

Going Ape in Politics

Banana, anyone? A peace offering to Humorless Lefties who can't get beyond the conservatives-are-cavemen paradigm.

By 3.23.06

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Troglodyte. Antediluvian. Neanderthal. Caveman!

For years, liberals have thrown such epithets in the direction of conservatives, as when Teddy Kennedy of all people used the above "N" word on the Senate floor to describe Republican judicial nominees. The idea is that we're insufficiently modern. Uncivilized. Primitive, even. And, of course, brutal and unintelligent in a jut-jawed, knuckle-scraping way.

Well, fine. I'll take that as a compliment.

Last weekend I saw again (after a 12-year interim) a performance of a splendid, award-winning play, Defending the Caveman, which holds the record as Broadway's longest-running one-man play in history. It's a clever, indeed laugh-out-loud funny, examination of the differences between men and women -- differences that, original playwright/actor Rob Becker posits, grew directly out of habits learned somewhere back when Cro-Magnons first walked the Earth. Men hunt; women gather. Women cooperate; men negotiate. Men focus on one thing, one prey, at a time; women take in a broader expanse of visual data, and linger. And so on. Ooga-booga, ooga-booga. All of those sex roles, according to Becker, were signs of sophisticated evolution, helping the human race thrive and prosper.

In short, the caveman (and the cave woman) wasn't a hideous creature worthy of scorn, but a successfully adaptive lord of his environment. And it is those same cave-man genes and instincts that explain why middlebrow pursuits such as bowling and fishing (and filling the potato chip bowl for TV football games) aren't to be sneered at, but admired. (And why "Throw me another beer, jerkhead," is actually an expression of respectful and tender feelings. But maybe you'll have to see the play itself to understand that one.)

All of which is fine and dandy, but what does this have to do with defending conservative minds or morals? Where do cavemen fit in with right reason?

Well -- now leaving behind Rob Becker's play -- consider that before reaching the exalted state of cave men, pre-hominids presumably roamed the forests or savannas, eating as they went. It was the cavemen who brought a degree of specialization into their communities -- the cavemen who became fire-users, tool-makers, basket-weavers, and even artists. These developments were thoroughly modern. And my own admittedly amateur study of Cro-Magnon anthropology (remembered, years later, from a couple of classes, so don't hold me to this) shows that, considered objectively, what the cavemen first developed was modern, capitalist economics. They staked out territory. They bartered. They developed individual skills, put them to use, and traded goods of one sort for goods of another. And those goods weren't merely economic, but intellectual as well. Archeology indicates that the story-tellers (hooray for conservative writers!) and the cave artists were certainly people of stature. They traded their intellectual gifts in return for the meat of the hunters, the berries gathered by the, uh, gatherers, the grass baskets so carefully woven by those with manual dexterity.

And so on.

Is it too much to posit that the flowering of great civilizations is due to the ingenuity of the lowly cave dwellers of the pre-crustacean period? (Or is that post-crustacean? When I'm crabby, I always get my eras and epochs and xylums and phloems mixed up.) Cave-man commerce, art, narrative, perchance even poetry: Surely these are the bases of Burkean, Buckleyite triumphs. And it's also worth noting that the first time one caveman's rock intercepted another man's already airborne arrow, the Strategic Defense Initiative was born. Even in cave-man times, Mutually Assured Destruction was a tired and immoral liberal nostrum.

On the other hand, there were still other branches of hominids, ones still hanging on today, that took a different path. On the great moral questions, as it turns out, playwright Becker may have been more right than even he realized. For it now turns out that monogamous family life was almost surely an advance of the cave-man, too. As William Tucker explained in our March issue, and as Jane Goodall's studies have abundantly shown, the great apes, especially chimpanzees and extra-especially their cousins the bonobos, are extravagantly promiscuous. All sorts of ruttings go on all the time -- and yet no bonobo has ever advanced enough even to write the Kama Sutra, much less the works of Shakespeare.

Wrote Tucker: "Once established, however, monogamy proved to have enormous advantages. Our ancestors were smaller, weaker, and slower than almost evey other species with which they cohabited, Their only advantage was their ability to work together. Armed with only the social compact of monogamy, they were able to survive on the savannah, learn to scavenge and hunt, make tools, tame fire, and eventually migrate to almost every climate on earth. It is a remarkable outcome for such a small social adjustment."

It is conservatives, of course, who defend the ideals of monogamy. It was the lefties who promoted free love and all sorts of other tommyrot which reached fruition in the simian couplings of Bill Clinton in Little Rock hotel rooms and Oval Office ante-rooms, and (to believe the reports) of Ted Kennedy in all sorts of hideouts.

Then there's the fact that gorillas and chimps are almost entirely vegetarian -- another primarily Lefty fetish. But when chimps do hunt and eat meat, the Goodall studies all show, the one who makes the kill controls the feast while all the other chimps hang around begging for a handout. In this ritual of the unproductive waiting for scraps from the successful, surely we see the beginnings of the welfare state -- minus, of course, the chablis-and-brie set, otherwise known as "limousine liberals," because of course the prehominids never invented cars.

So the evidence is now in, and I'm feeling a whole lot better about things. It should be a point of pride for conservatives to be cavemen. The alternative is to be liberals, and they're the apes.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.