Saturday, May 31, 2008
From Kennedy To Obama; Liberalism's Last Fling
By John Pilger
In this season of 1968 nostalgia, one anniversary illuminates today. It is the rise and fall of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president of the United States had he not been assassinated in June 1968. Having travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June, I heard The Speech many times. He would "return government to the people" and bestow "dignity and justice" on the oppressed. "As Bernard Shaw once said," he would say, "'Most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask: Why not?'" That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.
Kennedy's campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised the expectations of young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war's conquest of other people's land and resources, but because it was "unwinnable".
Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism's last fling. In the United States and Britain , liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality. A great many people understand this, as the hatred of Blair and new Labour attest, but many are disoriented and eager for "leadership" and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on extremes of wealth and privilege, liberalism as expressed through the Democratic Party has played a crucial, compliant role.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party and his own ambitions from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil rights campaign and the anti-war movement then commanding the streets of the main cities, and which Martin Luther King had drawn together until he was assassinated in April that year. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skillfully suppressed as he competed against the maverick Eugene McCarthy, whose surprise win in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-war ticket had forced President Lyndon Johnson to abandon the idea of another term. Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy assiduously exploited the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for politics that represented them, not the rich.
"These people love you," I said to him as we left Calexico , California , where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty and people came like a great wave and swept him out of his car, his hands fastened to their lips.
"Yes, yes, sure they love me," he replied. "I love them!" I asked him how exactly he would lift them out of poverty: just what was his political philosophy?
"Philosophy? Well, it's based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them, because we are the last and the best hope of the world, as Thomas Jefferson said."
"That's what you say in your speech. Surely the question is: How?"
"How? . . . by charting a new direction for America ."
The vacuities are familiar. Obama is his echo. Like Kennedy, Obama may well "chart a new direction for America " in specious, media-honed language, but in reality he will secure, like every president, the best damned democracy money can buy.
As their contest for the White House draws closer, watch how, regardless of the inevitable personal smears, Obama and McCain draw nearer to each other. They already concur on America 's divine right to control all before it. "We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good," said Obama. "We must lead by building a 21st-century military . . . to advance the security of all people [emphasis added]." McCain agrees. Obama says in pursuing "terrorists" he would attack Pakistan . McCain wouldn't quarrel. Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Tel Aviv, unquestioning support for which defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a UN Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel 's starvation of the people of Gaza , Obama was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton. In January, pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement that "nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people" to now read: "Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel [emphasis added]." Such is his concern for the victims of the longest, illegal military occupation of modern times. Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran , whose regime, he says absurdly, "is a threat to all of us".
On the war in Iraq , Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of "100 years", his earlier option). Obama has now "reserved the right" to change his pledge to get troops out next year. "I will listen to our commanders on the ground," he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq , Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush's demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq ; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan . His senior advisers embrace McCain's proposal for an aggressive "league of democracies", led by the United States , to circumvent the United Nations.
Like McCain, he would extend the crippling embargo on Cuba .
Amusingly, both have denounced their "preachers" for speaking out. Whereas McCain's man of God praised Hitler, in the fashion of lunatic white holy-rollers, Obama's man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth. He said that the attacks of 11 September 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of US power across the world. The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear an oath of loyalty to the Bush lie that "terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms". So he did. The conflict in the Middle East, said Obama, was rooted not "primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel ", but in "the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam". Journalists applauded. Islamophobia is a liberal speciality.
The American media love both Obama and McCain. Reminiscent of mating calls by Guardian writers to Blair more than a decade ago, Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote: "There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline . . . Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon 'the better angels of our nature'." At the liberal New Republic , Charles Lane confessed: "I know it shouldn't be happening, but it is. I'm falling for John McCain." His colleague Michael Lewis had gone further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like "the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls".
The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America 's true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. "Seven of the Obama campaign's top 14 donors," wrote the investigator Pam Martens, "consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages." A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States . "Washington lobbyists haven't funded my campaign," said Obama in January, "they won't run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president." According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.
What is Obama's attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy's. By offering a "new", young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party - with the bonus of being a member of the black elite - he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell's role as Bush's secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.
America's war on Iran has already begun. In December, Bush secretly authorised support for two guerrilla armies inside Iran , one of which, the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, is described by the state department as terrorist. The US is also engaged in attacks or subversion against Somalia , Lebanon , Syria , Afghanistan , India , Pakistan , Bolivia and Venezuela . A new military command, Africom, is being set up to fight proxy wars for control of Africa 's oil and other riches. With US missiles soon to be stationed provocatively on Russia 's borders, the Cold War is back. None of these piracies and dangers has raised a whisper in the presidential campaign, not least from its great liberal hope.
Moreover, none of the candidates represents so-called mainstream America . In poll after poll, voters make clear that they want the normal decencies of jobs, proper housing and health care. They want their troops out of Iraq and the Israelis to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. This is a remarkable testimony, given the daily brainwashing of ordinary Americans in almost everything they watch and read.
On this side of the Atlantic , a deeply cynical electorate watches British liberalism's equivalent last fling. Most of the "philosophy" of new Labour was borrowed wholesale from the US . Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were interchangeable. Both were hostile to traditionalists in their parties who might question the corporate-speak of their class-based economic policies and their relish for colonial conquests. Now the British find themselves spectators to the rise of new Tory, distinguishable from Blair's new Labour only in the personality of its leader, a former corporate public relations man who presents himself as Tonier than thou. We all deserve better.
- John Pilger is a world-renowned journalist, author and documentary filmmaker www.johnpilger.com
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs
Baltimore Activist Alert - Part 3
30] Death penalty demonstration – June 2
31] Donna Edwards fundraiser – June 2
32] Pledge of Resistance meeting – June 2
33] Frederick Peace Center meeting – June 2
34] Single payer study session – June 2
35] War Is Not the Answer vigil – June 3
36] Death penalty meeting – June 3
34] Pledge of Resistance meeting – June 2
36] Death penalty meeting – June 3
37] Mobilization for Global Justice meeting – June 4
38] PG County peace meeting – June 4
39] Peace vigil in Philadelphia – June 4
40] Peace vigil in W. Mount Airy , PA – June 4
41] Peace vigil in Chestnut Hill , PA – June 4
42] Towson WIB vigil – June 5
43] Israel/Palestine roundtable – June 5
44] First Thursday protest against war – June 5
45] Living Room Dialogue between an Israeli and a Palestinian – June 5
46] The film THE LANDLORD at the BMA – June 5
47] WIB Frederick peace vigil – June 6
48] Peace center fundraiser – June 6
49] Ballroom dancing – June 6
50] National health program meeting – June 7
51] ETAN job opening – deadline June 7
52] Reflections on 1968 – June 8
53] Alternative Directions fundraiser – June 10
54] LESSONS FROM IRAQ book discussion – June 11 & 22
55] Green Party meeting – June 12
56] War Is Not the Answer signs for sale
57] Donations needed to finish Winter Soldier film
58] SOA/WATCH seeks interns and folks for paid positions
59] Become a member of the Washington Peace Center
60] Click on The Hunger Site
61] Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil
29] – Support Student Hunger Strike For Youth Jobs in the Knowledge-Based Economy! Call Mayor Dixon at 410-396-3835 or 410-396-3100 (city hall switchboard). Contact Chris Goodman at 443-957-5346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The students are not eating in order for Mayor Sheila Dixon to provide Peer-to-Peer Enterprises with $3 million for YOUTH JOBS in the knowledge-based economy!! On Mon., June 2 march at 5 PM from Legg Mason to the War Memorial Plaza . At 6 PM, the students will attend the Mayor’s Night In.
30] – There is usually a vigil to abolish the death penalty every Monday from 5 to 6 PM, outside the prison complex and across the street from Maryland’s death row, at the corner of Madison Ave. and Fallsway in Baltimore . The next vigil, however, is scheduled for Mon., June 2. Call 410-233-0488.
31] – Progressive Democrats of America national board chair Mimi Kennedy will join host committee Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin, Delegate Roger Manno, PDA board member Joe Libertelli, Maryland PNHP, Democracy for Montgomery County and progressive leaders, PDA activists and the public in a Healthcare NOT Warfare Benefit and report on the Donna Edwards campaign. The event is Mon., June 2 from 6 - 9 PM at the Mayorga Coffee Factory, 8040 Georgia Ave , Silver Spring , MD 20910 . The factory is six blocks from the Silver Spring Metro down East West Highway (410) or ride on Bus 28 (towards Silver Spring )/VanGo.
Tickets to the event are $20.08, and proceeds go to help elect Donna Edwards and a more progressive Congress in 2008. For $200 and ten tickets, you get to join the Host Committee. Email email@example.com.
32] – The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore usually meets on Mondays at 7:30 PM at the AFSC, 4806 York Road . The next meeting, however, will be on June 2, and the agenda will include reviews of the Gitmo trial, the distribution of peace diplomas and the bridge action against war with Iran and planning the next haunting of a legislator’s office. Call Max at 410-366-1637.
33] – There will be a meeting of the Frederick Peace Resource Center on Mon., June 2 at 7:30 PM at 4 East Church St. Call Gus Fahey at 301-663-6117
34] – On Mon., June 2 at 7:30 PM at St. John's United Methodist Church , St. Paul St. at 27th St. , there will be a study session on what a single payer health insurance system could look like in the U.S. This will be the sixth session, and the study will continue on the first Monday of each month. The topic and presentation will be the same. Go to www.mdsinglepayer.org. Call 410-467-7756. There is single payer legislation HR 676 whose principal sponsor is Congressman John Conyers of Michigan . Go to www.healthcare-now.org. There are also single payer bills in many state legislatures, including Maryland . Go to www.mlis.state.md.us/2008rs/billfile/HB1125.htm.
35] – There is a vigil to say "War Is Not the Answer" each Tuesday since September 11, 2001 at 4806 York Road . Join this ongoing vigil. The next vigil is June 3 from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.
36] – The next meeting of the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty will be Tues., June 3 at 7 PM at American Friends Service Committee, 4806 York Road. The agenda will focus on a forum to discuss the Supreme Court decision on lethal injection and the Maryland legislation calling for a commission to study the state’s death penalty. Call 410-488-6767 or 443-838-3221.
37] – There will be a Mobilization for Global Justice meeting at 7 PM on Wed., May 7 at St. Stephens Church, 16th & Newton Sts. , NW, WDC. Exit at the Columbia Heights Metro stop. The meeting takes place the first Wednesday of the month. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
38] – The Peace & Justice Coalition of Prince George’s County meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 7 PM at the Greenbelt Community Center. The next meeting is May 7. Call 301-577-2350.
39] – Each Wednesday from 4:30 - 5:30 PM, the House of Grace Catholic Worker holds a weekly vigil for peace in Iraq outside the Phila. Federal Building , 6th & Market Sts. The next vigil is June 4. Call 215-426-0364.
40] – Each Wednesday in clear weather, there is a peace vigil from 5 to 6 PM outside the Unitarian Society of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive (between Wayne & Hortter) in West Mount Airy, PA. The next vigil is June 4. Call 215-843-4256 or email email@example.com.
41] – Each Wednesday, there is a peace vigil from 7 to 8 PM outside the Borders Book Store, Germantown Ave. at Bethlehem Pike in Chestnut Hill, PA. The next vigil is June 4. Call 215-843-4256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
42] – There is a WIB peace stand on Thurs., June 5, noon-1PM in Towson at northwest corner of Washington & Chesapeake Aves., across the street from the post office, near the courthouse. Contact email@example.com . This vigil takes place on the first Thursday of the month.
43] – On Thurs., June 5, the WEEKLY ROUNDTABLE SEEKING A JUST PEACE IN PALESTINE/ISRAEL takes place from 12:30 - 1:30 PM at Potter's House, 1658 Columbia Road NW, WDC. Join a civil discourse which explores the history, issues, myths, realities, and truth of the conflict between Israel and Palestine . Contact Alice Azzouzi at 202-232-5483.
44] – The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore hosts an End the War! End the Occupation! rally on Thurs., June 5 starting at 5 PM in Mount Vernon at Centre & Charles Sts. The Pledge gathers in Mount Vernon on the first Thursday of the month to protest the war. Call Max at 410-366-1637.
45] – The Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution is holding its 2008 Second Membership Quarterly Meeting in the Howard County Central Library, Meeting Room 10375, Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044, on Wed., June 4 from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. Quarterly meetings are open to everyone. There is no charge, and newcomers are welcome.
Hilla Keren, who grew up on a Kibbutz, and Tarek Abuata, a Palestinian living in the U.S., will speak about the process of Living Room Dialogue and share their experience of transformation, through dialogue, from victims of war to peace activists. The commitment to dialogue helped them to overcome mistrust and fear, and allows them to continue to provide healing as they work together to build trust between their peoples. Living Room Dialogue is a national movement convening Jews, Palestinian Muslims and Christians to expand cultural awareness, encourage mutual learning, and promote international understanding. Go to www.mcdr.org.
46] – The Baltimore Museum of Art will host a free screening of THE LANDLORD (1970) on Thurs., June 5 at 8 PM. The film tells the story of a young, wealthy, naive white man (Beau Bridges) who, against his parents' wishes, buys a home in a predominantly black neighborhood. Trying to befriend (and bed) his tenants, the young landlord quickly gets in over his head in a world in which he is decidedly an outsider. Set in Park Slope, Brooklyn at a time when it was predominantly African-American (and at a time when hippies and Black Panthers were on the nation’s mind), THE LANDLORD is a wild, funny, pre-PC look at race relations, interracial dating, and gentrification -- and, directed by Hal Ashby just prior to HAROLD AND MAUDE, it's a prime slice of delirious Hollywood psychedelia. As a bonus enticement to '70s cult cinema fans, THE LANDLORD was written by actor/director/playwright Bill Gunn, who also gave the world the 1973 blaxploitation/cult classic GANJA & HESS.
47] – WIB Frederick holds a silent vigil mourning all violence, the first Friday of the month, from 12 to 12:30 PM, War Memorial Park, W 2nd St. & N. Bentz in Frederick. The next vigil is June 6. Please dress in black; no additional signs. Men are welcome. Contact: 301 834-7581 or firstname.lastname@example.org; www.wibfrederick.org.
48] – On Fri., June 6, hear SONGS OF LOVE AND PEACE from 5:30 to 8:30 PM at Chief Ike's Mambo Room, 1725 Columbia Rd., NW, WDC. Perform music, recite poetry and speak out for justice. Each beverage you enjoy raises $1 for the Washington Peace Center while listening to Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley and Tim Buckley. There is a $3 donation, but no one turned away for lack of funds. Contact Jay at 202-234-2000 or email@example.com.
49] – There is an opportunity to participate in ballroom dancing, usually on the first and third Friday of the month, in the JHU ROTC Bldg. at 8 PM. Turn south on San Martin Dr. from the intersection of Univ. Parkway and 39th St . Drive on campus by taking the third left turn. The next dance will be June 6. Call Anne and Dave Greene at 410-435-0967.
50] – The Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program will meet on Sat., June 7 from 9 AM to noon at the Mercy Hospital, Weinberg Building "Dublin Room,” 227 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202. Join in at the first meeting of the renewed Maryland State Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. See the new movie HEALTH, MONEY AND FEAR. Breakfast provided. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
51] – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) seeks a part-time advocacy coordinator to work with ETAN's national coordinator, based in New York , to organize the work in Washington , DC . The advocacy coordinator can be based anywhere on the East Coast but will have to regularly travel to Washington. The position will be half-time (averaging 20 hours/week), with a salary in the $15,000 range. To apply, send a cover letter, resume and writing sample to email@example.com by June 7, 2008. Go to www.etan.org.
52] – The Brandywine Peace Community supper/program takes place at 4:30 PM on the second Sunday of the month (except August) at the University Lutheran Church , 3637 Chestnut St. , Phila. , PA. Bring main dish, salad, or dessert to share. The program begins at 5:30 PM.
On Sun., June 8 the program "King, Kennedy, Chicago: 40 Years in the Wilderness, Is it Time to Cross the River?" will feature Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia . Go to www.shalomctr.org. He is the author of many books, including THE FREEDOM SEDER (1977) and with Sister Joan Chittister and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti THE TENT OF ABRAHAM: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (2007). As a Vietnam War era activist and writer, Waskow was a fellow at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies in Wash. , DC, and was one of the authors of "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority". Waskow was embroiled in the turmoil around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago , both as a delegate inside the convention and in the street during the police riot, and testified at the famed Chicago 8 trial.
53] – Alternative Directions works with women, and recently men, coming out of prison. The program has a recidivism rate of about 25% compared to the state's 80%. At the annual fundraiser, appreciations will be presented to five individuals who have made contributions to the program. Marc Steiner is one of the honorees. The fundraiser is on Tues., June 10 at the Douglass-Myers Museum in Fells Point. The cost of the ticket, $50, includes food and drink. The evening will include a silent auction. To receive an invitation or to get more information, email Stan Markowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
54] – A new book, Lessons From Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Publishers) sums up the "upside" of the war. Miriam Pemberton, Institute for Policy Studies, and Bill Hartung, New America Foundation, drew up their list, and enlisted the experts, many of whom have written whole books on these topics, to boil down what they know for the rest of us. The authors include The Three Trillion Dollar War co-authors Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, pre-war UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Frances Fitzgerald.
A discussion of the book will be held at Barnes and Noble, Rockville Pike, on Wed., June 11 at 7:30 PM. Another one takes place at Busboys and Poets, 14th and V Sts. NW, WDC on Sun., June 22 at 4 PM.
55] – The Baltimore Green Party meets the second and fourth Thursday at 7:30 PM at the Progressive Action Center, 1443 Gorsuch Ave. [at Kirk Ave. ]. The next meeting is June 12. Email email@example.com.
56] – WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER signs from Friends Committee on National Legislation are again for sale at $5. To purchase a sign, call Max at 410-366-1637.
57] – Displaced Films produced SIR, N0 SIR which told the story of the GI resistance movement against the war in Vietnam . Now that company is working with Northern Light Productions to produce the only documentary film that will be made about the historic Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan/Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations held outside of Washington , DC , March 13-16. To make a donation to this film, click here: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=24841.
58] – SOA Watch is looking for summer interns and has some paying positions in the D.C. office. Help make the upcoming Nov. 21-23 Vigil to Close the SOA/WHINSEC one of the most exciting events of the year by joining the SOAW Staff! Contact Eric LeCompte at elecompte(at)soaw.org or 202-234-3440 with questions.
59] – Become an active member of the Washington Peace Center , which is now located at 1233 12th St. NW . All members are granted voting rights and are invited to join one or more of our many working groups. Members are asked to pay suggested annual dues of 25 dollars, or volunteer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org - subject "membership.” The mailing address is The Washington Peace Center, P.O. Box 50032 , WDC 20019-0032 . Call 202-234-2000. Subscribe at www.washingtonpeacecenter.org. Send donations to The Washington Peace Center.
60] – The Hunger Site was initiated by Mercy Corps and Second Harvest, and is funded entirely by advertisers. You can go there every day and click the big yellow "Give Food for Free" button near the top of the page; you do not have to look at the ads. Each click generates funding for about 1.1 cups of food. So consider clicking.
61] – Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil takes place every day in Lafayette Park, 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 24 hours a day, since June 3, 1981. Go to http://prop1.org; call 202-682-4282.
Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 East 25th St. Baltimore , MD 21218 Ph: 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski [at] Verizon.net.
"One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" - Daniel Berrigan
Six 'Uniquely' Human Traits Now Found in Animals
Six 'Uniquely' Human Traits Now Found in Animals
17:11 22 May 2008
To accompany the article So you think humans are unique?
we have selected six articles from the New Scientist
archive that tell a similar story. We have also asked
the researchers involved to update us on their latest
findings. Plus, we have rounded up six videos of animals
displaying 'human' abilities.
Art, theatre, literature, music, religion, architecture
and cuisine - these are the things we generally
associate with culture. Clearly no other animal has
anything approaching this level of cultural
sophistication. But culture at its core is simply the
sum of a particular group's characteristic ways of
living, learned from one another and passed down the
generations, and other primate species undoubtedly have
practices that are unique to groups, such as a certain
way of greeting each other or obtaining food.
Even more convincing examples of animal cultures are
found in cetaceans. Killer whales, for example, fall
into two distinct groups, residents and transients.
Although both live in the same waters and interbreed,
they have very different social structures and
lifestyles, distinct ways of communicating, different
tastes in food and characteristic hunting techniques -
all of which parents teach to offspring.
Read the original article: Culture shock (24 March 2001)
Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University writes:
"Since our 2001 review, people have often considered
culture as a potential explanation of the behavioural
patterns that have turned up in their studies of whales
"Our own work has concentrated on the non-vocal forms of
sperm-whale culture. The different cultural clans of
sperm whales, although in basically the same areas, use
these waters very differently, and are affected very
differently by El NiÃ±o events. They also have different
"In sperm whales, and likely other whales and dolphins,
culture has the potential to affect population biology,
and so issues as diverse as genetic evolution and the
impacts of global warming on the species."
2. Mind reading
Perhaps the surest sign that an individual has insight
into the mind of another is the ability to deceive. To
outwit someone you must understand their desires,
intentions and motives - exactly the same ability that
underpins the "theory of mind". This ability to
attribute mental states to others was once thought
unique to humans, emerging suddenly around the fifth
year of life. But the discovery that babies are capable
of deception led experts to conclude that "mind-reading"
skills develop gradually, and fuelled debate about
whether they might be present in other primates.
Experiments in the 1990s indicated that great apes and
some monkeys do understand deception, but that their
understanding of the minds of others is probably
implicit rather than explicit as it is in adult humans.
Read the original article: Liar! Liar! (14 February 1998)
Marc Hauser, Harvard University, writes:
"The tamarin work didn't pan out, but there are now
several studies that show evidence of theory of mind in
primates, including work by Brian Hare, Josep Call, Mike
Tomasello, Felix Warneken, Laurie Santos, Justin Wood,
and myself on chimps, rhesus monkeys and tamarins. There
is nothing quite like a successful Sally-Anne test, but
studies point to abilities such as seeing as a form of
knowing, reading intentions and goals."
3. Tool use
Some chimps use rocks to crack nuts, others fish for
termites with blades of grass and a gorilla has been
seen gauging the depth of water with the equivalent of a
dipstick, but no animal wields tools with quite the
alacrity of the New Caledonian crow. To extract tasty
insects from crevices, they craft a selection of hooks
and long, barbed tapers called stepped-cut tools, made
by intricately cutting a pandanus leaf with their beaks.
What's more, experiments in the lab suggest that they
understand the function of tools and deploy creativity
and planning to construct them.
Nobody is suggesting that toolmaking has common origins
in humans and crows, but there is a remarkable
similarity in the ways in which their respective brains
work. Both are highly lateralised, revealed in the
observation that most crows are right-beaked - cutting
pandanus leaves using the right side of their beaks. New
Caledonian crows may force us to reassess the mental
abilities of our first toolmaking ancestors.
Read the original article: Look, no hands (17 August 2002)
Gavin Hunt at the University of Aukland, writes:
"The general aim of our research on New Caledonian crows
is to determine how a 'bird brain' can produce such
complex tools and tool behaviour. Since the New
Scientist article appeared in 2002, our team has focused
on continuing to document tool manufacture and use in
the wild (New Zealand Journal of Zoology, vol 35 p 115),
the development of tool skills in free-living juveniles,
the social behaviour and ecology of NC crows on the
island of MarÃ©, experimental work investigating NC
crows' physical cognition and general intelligence, and
"Some of this work is being undertaken collaboratively
with laboratories in Germany (neurology) and New Zealand
(genotyping). A very similar study is also being carried
out independently at the University of Oxford . This
parallel research has produced findings that are both
confirmatory and conflicting."
Alex Kacelnik, University of Oxford, adds:
"We now know for sure that genetics is involved in the
tool-making abilities of new Caledonian crows. We raised
nestlings by hand and found that chicks that had never
seen anybody handle objects of any kind started to use
tools to extract food from crevices at a similar age to
those who were exposed to human tutors using tools
(Animal Behaviour, vol 72, p 1329). Clearly, observing
others is not necessary for the tool use. However chicks
exposed to tutoring exhibit a greater intensity of tool-
related activity. Not surprisingly, genes and experience
show a complex interaction.
"We have also developed a new technique, consisting of
loading tiny video cameras on free-ranging birds, so as
to see what they see and document the precise use of
tools in nature. We have discovered that they use tools
in loose soil, that they use a kind of tool not
previously described (grass stems), and that they hunt
for vertebrates (lizards). All of this, together with
laboratory analysis of their cognitive abilities is
forming a richer picture of what the species can do."
A classic study in 1964 found that hungry rhesus monkeys
would not take food they had been offered if doing so
meant that another monkey received an electric shock.
The same is true of rats. Does this indicate nascent
morality? For decades, we have preferred to find
alternative explanations, but recently ethologist Marc
Bekoff from the University of Colorado at Boulder has
championed the view that humans are not the only moral
species. He argues that morality is common in social
mammals, and that during play they learn the rights and
wrongs of social interaction, the "moral norms that can
then be extended to other situations such as sharing
food, defending resources, grooming and giving care".
Read the original article: Virtuous nature (13 July 2002)
Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, writes:
"Work published this year showed that animals are able
to make social evaluations and these assessments are
foundational for moral behaviour in animals other than
humans. Francys Subiaul of the George Washington
University and his colleagues showed that captive
chimpanzees are able to make judgments about the
reputation of unfamiliar humans by observing their
behaviour - whether they were generous or stingy in
giving food to other humans. The ability to make
character judgments is just what we would expect to find
in a species in which fairness and cooperation are
important in interactions among group members (Animal
Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0151-6)."
Emotions allow us to bond with others, regulate our
social interactions and make it possible to behave
flexibly in different situations. We are not the only
animals that need to do these things, so why should we
be the only ones with emotions? There are many examples
of apparent emotional behaviour in other animals.
Elephants caring for a crippled herd member seem to show
empathy. A funeral ritual performed by magpies suggests
grief. Was it spite that led a male baboon called Nick
to take revenge on a rival by urinating on her? Divers
who freed a humpback whale caught in a crab line
describe its reaction as one of gratitude. Then there's
the excited dance chimps perform when faced with a
waterfall - it looks distinctly awe-inspired. These
days, few doubt that animals have emotions, but whether
they feel these consciously, as we do, is open to
Read the original article: Do animals have emotions? (23 May 2007)
It's no surprise that animals that live under constant
threat from predators are extra-cautious, while those
that face fewer risks appear to be more reckless. After
all, such successful survival strategies would evolve by
natural selection. But the discovery that individuals of
the same species, living under the same conditions, vary
in their degree of boldness or caution is more
remarkable. In humans we would refer to such differences
as personality traits.
From cowardly spiders and reckless salamanders to
aggressive songbirds and fearless fish, we are finding
that many animals are not as characterless as we might
expect. What's more, work with animals has led to the
idea that personality traits evolve to help individuals
survive in a wider variety of ecological niches, and
this is influencing the way psychologists think about
Read the original article: Critters with attitude (3 June 2001)
For an update on animal personalities and how research
in this area is throwing light on human behaviour read
The personality factor.
* So you think humans are unique?
* 21 May 2008
* Culture Shock
* 24 March 2001
* Liar! Liar!
* 14 February 1998
* Look, no hands!
* 17 August 2002
* Virtuous nature
* 13 July 2002
* Do animals have emotions?
* 23 May 2007
* Critters with attitude
* 03 June 2001
* Video roundup: Animals with 'human' abilities
* 22 May 2008
* Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University
* Marc Hauser, Harvard University
* Gavin Hunt, University of Aukland
* Alex Kacelnik, University of Oxford
* Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado