The John Hawks blog has an interesting piece here regarding a recent piece in the New Yorker concerning bonobos. It seems that Frans de Waal, who has studied bonobos for years, objected to certain aspects of the article claiming that bonobos are not the peaceable creatures they have been made out to be. He sort of seemed to imply that the New Yorker was promoting some political agenda by publishing this. Now it so happens, I tend to agree with Hawks; he does not seem to think that the New Yorker is promoting some political agenda, whatever that may be. In fact, the New Yorker Magazine generally promotes "agendas"(when it does at all), that are the opposite of what de Waal appears to be implying. OTOH, I have come across people who sort of "valorize" a popular view of bonobos, that they are peaceable and "female dominated", which is partly based on some of de Waal's writings. Whether he's right or wrong, I don't know. I'm hardly a primatologist. But it's also true that for a long time, primatology was dominated by men who were "into" strong "dominance hierarchies" and exaggerated their importance among our closest relatives. This is hardly anything new; well before I got into anything relating to human evolution, I learned(and am still learning, everything I could about wolves. Supposedly, wolves have a "strong" dominance hierarchy in their packs, and, until very recently, most canid researchers were men. And most of these men made much of the "dominance hierarchy" of wolves. Interestingly, more women are getting involved in canid studies, which may, in the future, lead to some interesting results.
In fact, this lupine "dominance hierarchy" is mostly for reproductive purposes(a pack would get awfully large, awfully fast, and run out of territory rather quickly, if all 7-10 wolves in an average pack could be breeding adults). In other words, there's an "alpha pair" that (usually) does all the breeding, but the other wolves in the pack are (usually) all related to the "alpha pair". And eventually, one of the pair may get killed or die of old age or the pack just gets too large, and it splits up, possibly making room for another alpha pair. And even if the pack is "stable", the "alpha-ness" of the pair may be more fluid than meets the eye. I've actually read accounts of some alpha female sneaking off with some wolf other than the alpha male, and breeding.
Which leads me back to Hawks's comment, the New Yorker article, and Frans de Waal. Bonobo behavior is just as variable in its way, as wolf behavior. Which apparently means, as the New Yorker article, and Dr. Hawks, correctly pointed out, that bonobos are sometimes "peaceable hippies" and sometimes something else. Just like humans.
And this, in turn, leads me to the subject of human nature. A lot of people(and this, I think, is where "political" agendas may come in), seem to have the idea that "human nature" is somehow mean and violent. These people like to point to recent wars and conflicts and "ethnic cleansings" as "proof" that humans are "naturally" nasty and violent. This is why some other people with other agendas, sometimes wish "we" were more like those "peaceful" bonobos. Except that human nature --- which, in my opinion has never really been defined --- is a lot of things. Yes, sometimes "we" are nasty and violent. But think of all the saints, prophets, founders of world religions, humanitarians, heroes, who try to do good, and are not violent. Think of those selfess people who try to help poor people out of poverty or care for the very sick, or take in orphaned children or. . . . I think the Gentle Reader will get the idea here. Humans are as variable in their way as wolves, or bonobos. People act nasty or selfless, start wars or bring peace and happiness, often depending on their environments and circumstances.
But some people have a view of humanity that is basically dark and pessimistic. If they are attracted to "agendas", they will be attracted to those agendas that promote such dark and pessimistic views. And they may even work to make these agendas a reality. But in a sense, they are working against, and do not understand, the variability of what is called "human nature" All they are really doing is projecting their own dark views. And this holds true, whether they are projecting onto wolves, bonobos, or humans.
So, if anybody tells you that "human nature is__________(fill in the blank here), you, Gentle Reader, should view such statements with a good deal of skepticism. Because at this moment, we know that there is a "human nature". But at this moment, we don't know what it really is.