5 thoughts on “The city”

  1. Quite true but his theory brings very contentious corollaries.
    (Unnatural, non-survival animal behaviors in zoos.)

    These days his core observation (humans are a species of chimp) is generally ignored, which is probably safest for Morris.

    These are not good times for believers in human zoology.

    His observations in his four books on human zoology (THE NAKED APE, THE THIRD CHIMP, THE HUMAN ZOO, INTIMATE BEHAVIOR) remain as accurate as ever but accuracy isn’t exactly palatable these days.

  2. The Third Chimpanzee is actually by Jared Diamond.

    Thanks for the reminder to freshen up my acquaintance with these works and more by Desmond Morris (and Diamond)– it’s been a long time.

    Some of the conclusions don’t stand up to more recent work in genetics (e.g., claims that H Sapiens can’t interbreed with Neanderthal), and Diamond keeps coming in for criticism/excess-simplifications, but that doesn’t damage the various insights and suggestions, just the mechanisms. They may sometimes be wrong in predictive (advances in science) details, but overall they remain useful ways of looking at deep roots/causes.

    • Oops.
      Both THIRD CHIMP and HUMAN ZOO cover a lot of the same terrain, albeit a generation apart. And behavioral genetics is still poorly understood but in the aggregate they do a decent job of flagging hardwired drivers that underlie culture.


      Of Diamond’s works I prefer Guns, Germs, and Steel.

      Collapse suffers from the same problem as the Club of Rome books: they fail to consider that technology constantly changes the relationship between humans and the world but not between humans. Todays problems aren’t guaranteed to be tomorrow’s problem but human drivers will endure. Human behavior is a far less tractable problem.

    • In tbe 60’s there was no difference: zoos were cages. And cramped cages at that.
      The city is both cage (the buildings) and keeper (the socioeconomic millieu). People crammed into cities out of economic need and caged themselves.

      The key point that Morris focused on was population density and the dehumanizing effect of living in the cramped sea of humans. He identified parallels between the behavior of caged primates and city dwellers. (By some standards, psychotic.)

      There is at least one excellent SF book inspired by the idea: F.M. Busby’s TO CAGE A MAN.


      First volume in a trilogy.
      (Short version: Aliens cage an ordinary guy, use him as a lab rat, and he goes psycho. No longer ordinary. Escapes. Damaged goods. Hides it as he seeks revenge. Or as Larry Niven summarized: it doesn’t pay to mess with the monkey boys of Earth.)

      FWIW, my take is the effect is non-linear: it takes hold above a certain density and is a function of a range of socio economic factors. Once the thresholds are exceeded its downhill all the way. The theory is most visible today in San Fran, Seattle, and Chicago; less so (so far) in Boston, Dallas, San Diego.

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