The Chimp Paradox, by Prof Steve Peters2-min read

Behind every great man, there’s a great woman – and, if you believe The Chimp Paradox, pulling the strings of both of them is a monkey…

Chimp Paradox title text over cute monkey face
Picture credit: Kelly Sikkema, via unsplash

As an Edgar Allan Poe murder mystery once revealed: the monkey did it. Is crazy-eyed rage your party trick? Do you dabble in passive aggressive Post-its? Feel discontented, but don’t know why? That’ll be your ‘inner chimp’ – and The Chimp Paradox aims to show you how embrace the ape. In other words, it’s a manual for being human or, if you like, ‘how to be a grown-up’.

In a theory that’ll enrage creationists everywhere, Peters suggests we’re all still a little bit monkey: part of our brains haven’t evolved beyond animal instincts, urges and irrational fears. When we feel our responses get the better of us, or we’re left with unwelcome emotions, that’s the chimp shouting to be heard. Sometimes that literally results in adults shouting and screaming when they don’t get their way, or “going ape-shit” over petty parking disputes. Gorilla warfare, right?

Peters expands on these neuro-socio-behavioural foundations to show/suggest that it’s possible to accept, nurture and manage the inner chimp and – in turn – to understand other people’s monkeying around. Once you’ve mastered this, the theory goes, you’ll be happier, more contented and more successful. This of course, is an end goal: the route involves thinking about how you – and chimpy – work, and then re-wiring the bits that need attention.

It’s not a difficult read – though some will either love or hate the cack-handed illustrations, endless imagined social dilemmas, and astrology-tinged metaphors (“The Planet Success”, “The Moon of Chronic Stress”). It is, however, a very long read at 300+ pages, although there’s something ‘can-do’ about the whole thing – a bit like being locked in a motivational Powerpoint presentation for a couple of weeks. Considering few of us learn (effectively) how to be productive social animals or manage feelings as children, however, it’s hard to knock the overall ethos.

“Imagine that you are going for a coffee with a friend and the friend says, ‘Would you like a piece of cake with your coffee?’ If you are trying to watch your weight then the Human will answer, ‘No, thanks.’ However, if you happen to like cake, then the Chimp will answer, ‘Yes, please.’ Who will actually answer then, the Human or the Chimp?”

Prof Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox. Vermillion, 2012

Similar to: Pretty much any book about ‘self actualisation’, Happy