Recently, there have been a blizzard of reports about powerful men behaving like chimpanzees. Why would I utter such? Because, in looking at the life of chimps, scientifically, our evolutionary ancestors and with whom we share 98.3 percent of our DNA, we behave very similarly, especially the alpha male and his close associates.

Similar to humans, chimps are social animals and live together in relatively stable but mobile communities. Males, females, adults and adolescents spend their lives in proximity over long periods. The males among chimps are organized in a pyramid fashion, from top to bottom, with an alpha male at the top.

The powerful men making headlines are equivalent to the “alpha male” or in the second tier of the high castle, with wealth, influence and resources. These kinds of chimps generally possess unusual intelligence and other abilities.

In the chimp communities, females also exhibit their own hierarchy, but all females are deferential to all males. The young chimp females with most sexual appeal that can attract the alpha males have the most power, but it is fluid power since there are always numerous young female chimps in a community. Generally, the chimp females mate with numerous males when they are at peak fertility unless prevented from doing so by an alpha male.

Male chimpanzees, like other male mammals, exhibit patterns of behavior toward females that disarm females' resistance to mating. These behaviors may include physical force and behavior that qualify in human terms as rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment, or they may be more subtle or indirect, as when males engage in seductive activities.

As human beings, we are very similar but also very different from the chimps. As we learn from various media reports, some men with worldly control and wealth have been behaving just like alpha male chimps. The powerful men, from movies moguls, TV anchors to top politicians, would be considered as alpha males akin to our chimp ancestors.

However, from the beginning of man’s arrival on this earth, the Creator has provided us with innate moral and ethical guidelines. We learn that these ethics were embedded into our original father and mother’s DNA -- the Adam and the Eve. These guidelines are spelled out clearly in every scripture, from the Hindu holy book of Purana to the Old and New Testaments and the Qur’an.

All the ethics have been incorporated into the Homo sapiens communities across history and time. Since these ethics are part of our deep innate gift that the Creator has awarded us, I will describe these guidelines not from the Holy Scriptures (to avoid controversies between believers of different faiths that may distract us from the main points) but from Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the giant of deep contemplation, logic and philosophy.

I have selected the guidelines from Aristotle’s book, “Nicomacheon Ethics.” In this book, he aimed to describe an idea of a perfect society where men would live in happiness. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is the most important aspect of human race and man is innately guided toward its attainment.

“Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good ... the end of the science of medicine is health, that of the art of shipbuilding is a vessel, that of strategy is of victory, business that of economic wealth.”

Aristotle concluded that the purpose of life is not goodness for its own sake, but happiness!

What is happiness? Aristotle divides this into four groups. The first is “pleasure,” which would vary for each individual. For example, for an immigrant from Syria or other oppressed peoples, it may be getting a green card from the U.S. or permanent residency to Germany, Canada or Australia.

The second, receiving an “honor” for a war veteran or a university professor. The third, “wealth,” which may indirectly raise the social status of a person, or virtual wealth by driving an expensive luxury car. The last and the fourth is the life of contemplation and reasoning, the most glorious end.

Aristotle teaches us that intellectual excellence (i.e. sense of justice, bravery, humanitarian acts, etc.) can be acquired through learning, practicing, but moral and ethical perfection of character is developed by habit. A truly ethical and moral individual consciously and consistently makes proper decisions and acts correctly, constantly reinforcing his good virtues and enriches his soul.

How can we recognize virtue vs. vice? Aristotle defines this by presenting his famous principle of the “golden mean,” the middle way, a balance, as a guide to perfection. The qualities of characters fall in one of the three: the two extremes and the middle way.

Therefore, the right choice between miserliness and indulgence is generosity, between laziness and greed is ambition, between humility and vanity is self-respect, between cowardice and fanatic is courage, between shyness and shamelessness is modesty and between boastfulness and impulsiveness is self-discipline. The middle way that many of the Holy Scriptures teaches us is innate to man’s nature. It is embedded into our genetic makeup.

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However, the concept of the “middle way” cannot be blindly applied to everything man does. Certain actions like jealousy, theft, robbery, adultery, murder and defamation are intrinsically evil -- wrongful actions without redeeming qualities.

According to Aristotle, natural impulses are neither good nor bad in themselves. In order to have perfection, men should avoid excesses and adopt a middle ground – harmony of action is the answer.

A realist, Aristotle admits the “golden mean” will not be sufficient to lead men to inner balance and true happiness. Therefore, men needs a certain amount of external worldly goods in order to be happy. These include basic “necessities” of life to avoid unhappiness. Poverty is disgusting, according to Aristotle.

The most essential of the external connection is friendship, he contends. He places friendship above everything. But, again, he states that “a friend” is one soul in two bodies. However, a man with too many friends is no one’s friend. True friendship indicates long duration, stability of character and inner harmony.

Finally, Aristotle believes the best happiness is achieved through the pleasure of mind, the intellectual pursuit of truth. He suggests the life of intellect is the best way of life and study of truth and contemplation of sciences and nature is the best form of ultimate happiness.

According to Aristotle, the inner happiness can be observed in a man who is kind, hardworking and dedicated to truth, speaks truth -- who is ashamed to receive favors but willing to do favors, who is open about his likes and dislikes, who cares more for reality than appearance of wealth, who is not condescending toward people around him and avoids speaking ill of his enemies.

His happiness is not dependent on the company of others. He takes pleasure in privacy, unlike the man of no virtue who surrounds himself with bootlickers. Of course, the politicians and media folks will fall into this later group, with millions of followers on Tweeter and Facebook.

In summary, I have described how a chimp behaves and what a man with the “golden mean” looks like. We can learn a great deal from a man of wisdom. The less contemplative and reflective we become, the more chimp-like we are going to be. The more smart phone and constant sources of distraction become available, the need for many-times-a-day meditations, reflection and prayers will become urgent.

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Omar Bagasra, M.D., Ph.D., is professor in the Department of Biology and director of the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology at Claflin University.


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