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This is a Draft Amnesty Day draft. I wrote this several months ago and didn't know what to do with it. I wondered at the time if I should post this here, but didn't think it was that appropriate or useful. But I am posting now to test that!

Commenting and feedback guidelines: I’m going with the default — please be nice. But constructive feedback is appreciated; please let me know what you think is wrong. Feedback on the structure of the argument is also appreciated. 

Also keen to know if this is relatable, and/or the kind of thing that's useful to post on the forum.


  • We (humans) are animals (apes/monkeys).
  • Seeing myself and others as apes and monkeys makes me feel more concerned and compassionate.
  • Being more compassionate drives me to do more good (help the other monkeys) in a way that is considerate of my limitations (because I am a monkey).

We are all animals

I really value remembering that humans are animals. It feels like it pushes my intuitions towards a clearer picture of humanity.

When I forget this, my default intuition is to see humans as somehow “separate”, “above” or “beyond” nature. Like we are magical in some way, or that our intelligence and capacity for rational thought make our values more true. These things seem unhelpful. Seeing us as animals pushes back on these illusions and helps me have more reasonable expectations of humanity. Humans are still very much connected to the world, and our bodies, minds, motivations and values were shaped by our evolutionary past.

Being a monkey versus being an ape

Humans most commonly get described as two specific types of animal, apes and monkeys (I think the latter is more common?).

Although we are technically apes and monkeys, these two descriptions push my feelings about humanity in different directions.

Monkeys, to me, are silly and funny, maybe impulsive and driven by their immediate needs. 

Apes (e.g. chimps and gorillas) are big and strong. Not super easy to communicate with, but smart enough to be dangerous. They are scary…

I connect with both of the ways for seeing humanity. But they inspire very different feelings in me:

  • Monkey = humour and compassion
  • Ape = fear

These both seem like appropriate reactions to our position in the world

Responding with fear, humour and compassion 

Fear, humour and compassion all seem appropriate responses to the realisation that humans are animals. The realisation that our moral intuitions and social emotions evolved via natural selection in a context that is pretty different to the current situation we find ourselves in. The realisation that our perceptions, intelligence, intuitions and emotions were designed to meet our needs during the millions of years pre-agriculture. The realisation that the universe is vastly more complex than our minds are capable of understanding. The realisation that we are often ill equipped to deal with modern reality; definitely ill equipped to deal with politics on the scale of billions of people or handle technology that could destroy the world. 

This framing is sad and terrifying. It inspires a lot of compassion for all of those emotion-driven monkeys, having to navigate a complicated world built by other apes. But given that I am one, it also makes me scared. Like holy shit, the apes have nukes, and they're building AGI, and I’m just this monkey.

Caring for the monkeys

Thinking about humanity this way make me feel more compassionate and helps motivate me more towards making a positive difference in the world. 

Seeing myself as a monkey, in a world run by other animals, also pushes my intuitions away from unreasonable expectations and self-judgement, and toward understanding and self-compassion.


The apes are in charge and they only seem to be dimly aware that they are apes. We should maybe help them do that less badly. While we are at it, we should probably go easy on ourselves, because we are only monkeys.





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My monkey brain liked this. Thank you for sharing!

(I also learnt something - I incorrectly thought we were technically not monkeys, but based on cladistics we are!)

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