Penguin Family Values? Ludicrous. Monkey Socialism? Profound

September 20th, 2005 1:08 PM

A New York Times Sunday editorial, "Penguin Family Values," mocks conservatives for praising "March of the Penguins," a surprise hit documentary about penguin families: "The news that emperor penguins are exemplars of self-sacrifice, marital fidelity and steadfast parenting has brought joy to many religious conservatives, who see the brave birds in the documentary 'March of the Penguins' as little Christian beacons of family and faith."

The Times had further sophomoric mocking of those who would equate human behavior with animal: "Those who start looking outside the human family for old-fashioned values, in fact, will need to quickly narrow their search terms. They will surely want to ignore practices observed in animals like dolphins (gang rape), chimpanzees (exhibitionism), bonobo apes (group sex) and Warner Brothers cartoon rabbits (cross-dressing). Casting a wide net for chaste and saintly creatures, the mind flails, then comes up mostly empty. Yowling tomcats? Lazy, sexist lions? Preening peacocks? Better stick with the penguins."

On Tuesday, the Science section let the paper's liberal readership pile on in an unusually long letters section mocking those silly conservatives.

Yet two years ago, one of the Times' own ultraliberal editorialists did much the same thing, albeit with weaker logic, from the left side of the aisle.

Analyzing the behavior of capuchin monkeys, Adam Cohen lauded their quest for fairness (or is it socialism?) in a bizarre signed editorial in September 2003: "Give a capuchin monkey a cucumber slice, and she will eagerly trade a small pebble for it. But when a second monkey, in an adjoining cage, receives a more-desirable grape for the same pebble, it changes everything. The first monkey will then reject her cucumber, and sometimes throw it out of the cage. Monkeys rarely refuse food, but in this case they appear to be pursuing an even higher value than eating: fairness."

Times Watch wrote at the time that such behavior sounded "more like a petulant six-year old whining that her brother got more ice cream than she did for dessert."

But Cohen found this monkey business profoundly revealing: "But in a week when fairness was so evidently on the ropes -- from the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancún, which poor nations walked out of in frustration, to the latest issue of Forbes, reporting that the richest 400 Americans are worth $955 billion -- the capuchin monkeys offered a glimmer of hope from the primate gene pool. The study's implication that we are, to some extent, hard-wired for fairness speaks with special force to the legal system. American law has undergone a transformation in recent years, led by conservative Supreme Court justices and scholars, away from a focus on broad principles of fairness and toward a willingness to subject people to treatment that might be unjust, on the grounds that it is legal. The monkey study suggests, however, that fairness might be more than a currently unfashionable legal concept. It may be integral to who we are."

For more NYT bias, check out TimesWatch.