Desmond Morris was appointed Curator of Mammals at London Zoo in 1959, a post he held for eight years. His book, The Human Zoo, was published in 1969. When a reprint edition was issued in 1996, I revisited the book and reflected on how true it is today as it was then. His previous book, The Naked Ape (1967), presented a study of human behavior patterns from a Zoologist’s point of view. It became an international bestseller, with translations in 23 languages. Nevertheless, Desmond Morris seldom gets credit for starting the evolutionary psychology ball rolling. Here are some quotes from the Introduction to The Human Zoo:

“under normal conditions, in their natural habitats, wild animals do not mutilate themselves, masturbate, attack their offspring, develop stomach ulcers, become fetishists, suffer from obesity, form homosexual pair-bonds, or commit murder. Among human city dwellers, needless to say, all of these things occur.
. . .   . . .
 
Other animals do behave in these ways under certain circumstances, namely when they are confined in the unnatural conditions of captivity. The zoo animal in a cage exhibits all these abnormalities that we know so well from our human companions. Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.”

 
The first few pages of Chapter One could serve as a synopsis for Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, which came out almost 30 years later. The rest of the book takes a different course, however. Desmond Morris examines how our evolutionary heritage as a tribal animal conflicts with the pressures of life within a complex, impersonal social system. The two closing paragraphs at the end of The Human Zoo sum up our situation now:

“The politicians, the administrators and the other super-tribal leaders are good social mathematicians, but this is not enough. In what promises to be the ever more crowded world of the future, they must become good biologists as well, because somewhere in all that mass of wires, cables, plastics, concrete, bricks, metal and glass which they control, is an animal, a human animal, a primitive tribal hunter, masquerading as a civilized, super-tribal citizen and desperately struggling to match his ancient inherited qualities with his extraordinary new situation. If he is given the chance he may yet contrive to turn his human zoo into a magnificent game-park. If he is not, it may proliferate into a gigantic lunatic asylum, like one of the hideously cramped animal menageries of the last century.
 
For us, the super-tribesmen of the twentieth century, it will be interesting to see what happens. For our children, however, it will be more than merely interesting. By the time they are in charge of the new situation, the human species will no doubt be facing problems of such magnitude that it will be a matter of living or dying.”


More to read:

Consumerism and the global population explosion.

Quotes on children’s rights.

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