virus: Review of _Rogue Primate_

Ken Kittlitz (
Tue, 01 Oct 1996 20:22:52 -0600

An interesting book, maybe a bit at odds with what generally gets reviewed
here. Also available at

_Rogue Primate_ by John H. Livingston
(reviewed by Ken Kittlitz)

Looking at the world from other perspectives, especially perspectives
that do not mesh well with one's normal views, is an invaluable aid to
critical thinking. John Livingston's _Rogue Primate_ puts forth
ideas that many will find disturbing and difficult to believe, but backs
them up with arguments that are at the least worthy of consideration.

Examining the relationship of humans to the "natural" world,
Livingston makes the uncomfortable observation that man, the great
domesticator, practiced first on himself. Like our domesticated animals,
and unlike virtually all wild animals, we live in crowded conditions,
are sexually promiscuous. and accept a great deal of homogeneity in our
environment. More telling, we are _dependent_, not on other beings
as our domesticates are on us, but on our ability to construct
ideologies and belief systems through which we view the world. Chief
among these has been our ability to figure out how to do things (start a
fire, cooperatively hunt an animal, grow crops, etc.). More recently,
particularly in the Western world, our ideologies have accepted competition
and struggles for dominance as inevitable, indeed praiseworthy, aspects of

Livingston agrees that these may well be the norm, for _us_, but
points out that this belief system infects how we view the lives of
other animals. "Believing is seeing", he states, probably with
considerable justification: our perspectives, and the perspectives of
the society in which we live, have an immense effect on our observations
and conclusions. Livingston counter-argues that relationships among
wild animals can perhaps be better viewed as comprising an overall
community rather than a conglomeration of inter-species, inter-group and
inter-animal struggles; some of his observations to this end are quite
convincing, but I think he goes too far when he takes the community
analogy to the point of stating that a rabbit does not really mind being
caught and eaten by a predator.

Indeed, while Livingston probes some of the beliefs society holds
without question (competition, the right of the human enterprise to come
before all else), he too falls into the trap. At numerous points he
describes human beings as "unnatural", and the description is not meant
as a compliment. Like many others, he assumes that "natural" is _ipso
facto_ good, and its opposite bad, a view that, in my opinion, should
be as carefully examined as any other. Nevertheless, _Rogue
Primate_ is a stimulating, challenging book, one that will make you
see your beliefs in a new light. This can be a painful process, as
Livingston eloquently admits:

"Just as ships' bottoms pick up layers of barnacles over time,
so, through their lives, human societies and individuals
become encrusted with layers of cultural and ideological
sediment. ... The cemented coating clings as though
chemically bonded to me and screams bloody bloody murder at
my slightest advance..." (pp. 178-179).

_Rogue Primate_
John H. Livingston
Key Porter Books Ltd.
70 The Esplanade
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5E 1R2