© Elaine Thompson / Associated Press
A piece of sad news last week was that of the death of Koko the gorilla, the female primate who lived at the Gorilla Foundation in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains and, during her 46-year life, was said to have learned over a thousand items in sign language and to understand about 2000 words of spoken English.
Among the other things that made Koko remarkable was her empathy for her fellow creatures. According to her Wikipedia entry, she cared for a total of five cats – All Ball, Lipstick, Smoky, Miss Black and Miss Grey – from the age of 13. She also became buddies with the likes of Robin Williams, venerable actress Betty White, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and children’s TV personality Fred Rogers and in 2014 was clearly upset to hear about Williams’ death. Koko, in other words, was proof that animals are capable not only of thought and communication but also of compassion.
Compassion, though, is not a word that immediately springs to mind when you consider one of last week’s other news stories – the scandal of how in the last month-and-a-half the Trump administration has overseen the separation of some 2000 migrant children from their parents (often fleeing turmoil in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras) on the southern US border, with the kids being kept in cages in detention centres with no indication of when or if they’ll see their parents again. Yes, as Trump and his supporters have been blabbing frantically, the legislation that allows this to happen had been in place under previous presidents, dating back to the Bush Jr years. But it’s been Trump’s rhetoric and his creation of a ‘hostile environment’ (to use a phrase that’s lately become notorious on the other side of the Atlantic) towards immigrants, outsiders and foreigners that’s enabled it to escalate into a modern-day atrocity.
Koko the gorilla displayed heart-warming levels of empathy for members of other species. Trump and his courtiers, fixers, and minions, on the other hand, have shown about as much empathy for members of their own species as a falling slab of rock shows for the person whose head it’s hurtling towards. We already knew that Trump has the emotional intelligence of a blocked drain – back in 2016, when he wasn’t mocking people for being disabled or having his thoughts about how to charm women (“Grab ’em by the pussy!”) aired on tape, he was busy dehumanising Mexican immigrants by describing them as criminals, drug-dealers and rapists. But this time, for sheer callousness, he’s had stiff competition. His wife Melania jetted off to spread some love among the kids penned up at a detention facility in Texas, but the gesture was spoiled a wee bit by her insistence on wearing a Zara jacket that said on the back, ‘I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?’
Meanwhile, Trump admirer and extreme right-wing horror-show Ann Coulter dismissed the kids in the news reports from the detention centres as ‘child actors’ who are “given scripts to read by liberals”; while another Trump-eteer, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, ghoulishly likened the centres to ‘summer camps’. And Trump’s resident Britannic cheerleader / court jester / arse-licker Nigel Farage moaned about all “the screams coming from the liberal media’, which seemingly bothered him far more than the screams coming from the kids.
Trump and co. really give me the impression these days that humanity is de-evolving. Our species is losing the qualities of love, kindness, kinship, understanding and so on that originally made us, well, human. Maybe it’s time for homo sapiens to give up the pretence that they’re the most advanced species on the planet, get out of the way and allow some other type of creature – like Koko’s gorillas – a chance to take up the mantle of dominant life-form on earth for a while. Yes, maybe we should just let the primates take over. Then the world would become like the Planet of the Apes movies, where the simians enjoy all the perks of civilisation, like clothes, cutlery and indoor plumbing, while the humans exist in a state of bestial savagery out in the fields.
It wouldn’t last forever, of course. After being the Alpha Life-Form for a time, I have no doubt that the apes would let their supremacy go to their heads too and they’d become as emotionally barren as human beings seem to be today. Actually, if you’ve seen the second of the original series of Planet of the Apes movies, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, you’ll know that it’s set 2000 years into the future and chronicles the end of the apes’ civilisation. By then, the earth is heading for nuclear annihilation, the apes’ society is full of loutish gorillas swaggering around waving guns, and it’s ruled by an orangutan with crazy hair.
Come to think of it, considering what’s happening just now, that far-future scenario may well be a case of history repeating itself.
© 20th Century Fox / APJAC Productions