By David Anderson
$592,527 to be exact. It is unknown what the balance of the $600,000 grant was used for but it at first seems a bit pricey to use this – or any – amount of taxpayer money to study why chimps throw poop.
“William Hopkins, at Agnes Scott College, and researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (associated with Emory University) used a portion of the $600,000 from the National Institutes of Health in 2011 to assist their study of throwing behavior in chimpanzees.”
Senator Tom Coburn, Oklahoma, publishes the annual catalogue “Wastebook – A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending.”
Literally ‘wasteful’ is entry number 91 in the 2011 version.
Being pelted with poop in the primate portion of the public zoo is not, evidently, unusual.
Presumably not baseball scouts looking for hard-throwing right-handers, researchers discovered – while dodging and ducking poop pitched high and tight – that while some chimps were content to remain chumps-on-their-rumps, others were more unrelenting in targeting the clipboards, white smocks, and whatever else adorned the quizzical scientists.
So preoccupied with the opportunity to plaster passersby, some chimpanzees were even observed to stockpile poop in the patient anticipation of pelting the unsuspecting public.
Reminds of my brother and me. We would hide in the bushes outside the men’s restroom at the ocean-side public park and, as the poor fellow stepped away down the path back toward his tent, we’d let ‘em have it, emptying our squirt guns and then running like crazy down our pre-planned route of escape.
And that was before super-soakers.
So it’s an inherited trait. And to think I could have saved us taxpayers – or profited from this poop-pelting study myself – six-hundred thousand pesos.
Fascinated and – unfortunate for the less nimble – fixated, the scientists followed up their frock-cleaning observations of the feces and food flinging behavior featured by some of the chimps with MRI’s of their brains – those of the chimps – and found that the monkeys who were thrown into a frenzy by folks sauntering by – responding by throwing food and feces – were in fact smarter, or at least possessed better communication skills than their fellow creatures who just sat there.
All this to say that what appears to be a peculiar trait of our hairy predecessors is in fact traceable to the more noble evolutionary advancement and explanation for today’s version of the aggressive chimpanzee – the curmudgeon, per Jon Winokur:
“A curmudgeon’s reputation for malevolence is undeserved. They’re neither warped nor evil at heart. They don’t hate mankind, just mankind’s absurdities. They’re just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but they hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy. They ease the pain by turning hurt into humor. They attack maudlinism because it devalues genuine sentiment. Nature, having failed to equip them with a serviceable denial mechanism, has endowed them with astute perception and sly wit.
“Curmudgeons are mockers and debunkers whose bitterness is a symptom rather than a disease. They can’t compromise their standards and can’t manage the suspension of disbelief necessary for feigned cheerfulness. Their awareness is a curse.
“Perhaps curmudgeons have gotten a bad rap in the same way that the messenger is blamed for the message: They have the temerity to comment on the human condition without apology. They not only refuse to applaud mediocrity, they howl it down with morose glee. Their versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them, even though they soften it with humor.”
Curmudgeons are what Leonard Pitts, Jr. would call “zealots with microphones.”
Curmudgeons are the journalists of whom John Pilger in his book “Tell Me No Lies” describes as writers who “secretive power loathes – journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind façades, lift rocks. Opprobrium from on high is their badge of honor.”
They’re what “INC” magazine (July, 1991, p.44) says are most needed in any organization, “somebody who can stand up to crazy ideas; somebody who can help you think things through. Often that means somebody who can tell you you’re wrong.”
When “indecisiveness and unanimous votes” begin to characterize board and council decisions, what’s needed is a boat-rocker, a poop-thrower, not a space-filler, a position-holder, or a seat-warmer. Not somebody who just sits there or nods sleepily in assent to the work someone else has done.
But someone willing to say the emperor has no clothes.
John Carver, “Boards that Govern” (p.137), decries board or for that matter council members who, in “the desire to avoid confrontation sometimes deliberate on inconsequential issues to avoid dealing with a difficult, unspoken issue. What appears as a preoccupation with trivia may be fear of confronting the larger issues in a group setting. Board members deprived of trivia might not know how to spend their time.”
While curmudgeons may be but a step or two along the evolutionary ladder removed from their poop-throwing chimpanzee primate predecessors they are, nearly two-thirds of a million dollars of research shows, possessed with better communication skills.