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Altruism: Chimpanzees 1, President Assad 0

Bananas and Bullets (Photos: Fernando Stankuns/flickr, left, Rudy Lara/flickr, right)

In a news report yesterday, the International Business Times outlined that an Emory University study has found that chimpanzees are actually “genuinely altruistic animals that can show unselfish concern for the welfare of others”. The experiment, in which chimpanzees had to decide whether or not to share banana slices with their neighbours in adjoining cages, observed that if given the opportunity, a chimpanzee will usually choose to act in a way that aids its fellow chimpanzees, rather than choose to act selfishly to receive an exclusive personal gain.

In another unrelated report yesterday, the BBC announced that the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, had ordered tanks to attack the north-western Syrian towns of Taftanaz, Sermin, and Binnish, with several citizens reportedly killed in the attacks. In addition, the report estimated that more than 1700 Syrians had been killed since the uprisings began in mid-March, and over 10,000 people had been arrested. It further outlined that in a statement addressing the current situation in his country, President Assad stipulated he would not relent in pursuing “terrorist groups”.

Consequently, when reading these two reports in succession, one cannot help but ask: if even a modest chimpanzee can act altruistically towards his fellow species,  how come Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to choose a course of action that focuses solely on his political self-preservation,  rather than the communal preservation of the people he governs?

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