this monkey’s gone to heaven

Do you ever think what the world would be like without monkeys?
  Probably not.  Do we need monkeys?  We don’t eat them, or use them to plow our fields.  They don’t spend money so they don’t help the economy, and the outside possibility always exists that they will develop intelligence and turn all of us into zoo entertainment until Charlton Heston saves us.

But there is no real ‘reason’ for monkeys.  My son sure does like making monkey noises.  He likes seeing pictures of monkeys.  I’m not too proud to admit that the kid in me still gets a thrill seeing a big gorilla in the zoo.  Some of them are quite intelligent, and that’s amazing – I have seen documentary footage of a monkey using a blade of grass to stick in a hole to pull out ants.  That may not seem like much, but that’s using a tool and that’s a sign of rudimentary intelligence.

I don’t think the world would miss monkeys, exactly, if they all disappeared tomorrow.
  I’m assuming there wouldn’t be a big upset in the local monkey-area ecosystems or anything of that nature.  Much in the same way that I don’t miss the presence of passenger pigeons, I don’t think my grandchildren would someday worry too much about the lack of monkeys.  They could still watch King Kong the way I watch Jurassic Park – wow, check out the effects on that critter!

Children born today will never know a pre-9/11 world.  They will never know what it’s like not to have a massive, constant onslaught of information (unless they have Luddites for parents, and even then they can’t escape everything).  At least for Americans born in the 21st century, it will be hard to imagine a time when people overseas were excited (in a good way) to meet Americans.  It will be hard for my son to imagine a world without the Web, or where you had to be home to get a phone call.

I think it’s sad, in a way, but it’s a good example of how weak the human mind can be.  I have no trouble with the concept of a man on the moon, but 20 years before that happened a rocket that could travel from Germany to London was an astonishing technical achievement.  Four generations ago heavier-than-air flight was as kooky an idea as telepathy, but now nobody would blink an eye at an airplane.  100 years ago I doubt anyone thought there was any possibility whatsoever that humans could ever have an impact on the atmosphere of the earth.  Obviously even short-term trends can’t be predicted:  I don’t remember reading much in 2005 about the housing crash.  Analysts were saying Bear Stearns was a good investment 24 hours before it collapsed.  People thought Alan Greenspan was a genius.  I thought Lending Club was a decent investment.

I can’t imagine a world without monkeys, but with the way the world is going that day will come.  It’s a sad thought.  Each generation gets more and more information and exciting scientific discoveries and more and better foodstuffs (shrimp-flavored GMO corn!) but each generation loses something in exchange, too.  Maybe it doesn’t seem like much that we’ve piled garbage all over huge sections of the earth, or that another species of whale has disappeared.  

Probably in the larger sense it doesn’t matter – I believe humans will adapt and overcome climate change or whatever challenges lie in wait.  But the earth is a zero-sum environment.  Every time you pick up a cell phone, it represents pollution and toxic chemicals and radiation and life clutter and money spent.  And every time a monkey goes to heaven, or some other non-essential part of the world is shoved aside for “progress”, another few moments of life – what most of us seem to value when we look back on our happiest times – are made a little more gray.

(editor’s note:  I know there might be substantial upsets to the ecosystem if monkeys disappeared – I am making a hypothetical argument saying “let’s assume that there would not be an effect)

Creative Commons License photo credit: suneko, and yes, I am referencing this song