Book Review: The Chimp Paradox

The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Steve Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know it looks like get-up-and-gotivation office jockey tripe, but it’s a ruse. The market for business books is probably better than the market for self help. Nobody wants to do things “for themselves”, especially in America, but everybody wants to make more money.

Peters hammers the reader with any number of meandering analogies that are impossible to keep track of, comparing aspects of the personality to various structures in our solar system including, for some reason, the Kuiper belt, and describes reflexive unconscious schema as either “autopilot”, “goblins”, or “gremlins”. He’s English, and maybe there’s a more pronounced and innately understood cultural difference between goblins and gremlins there. I’m an American. I will not learn about English culture under any circumstances.

Where the book and the theory really shines is the divvying up of the Freudian id and ego/superego into “chimp” and “human” aspects of our mind. The chimp is irrational, easily angered, highly defensive, functionally feral. The human is logical, rational, capable of delaying gratification to get two marshmallows later, that kind of thing. However, both in your head and in real life, chimps are 5x stronger than humans per square inch of muscle, and you will never overpower your internal chimpliness with sheer force of will.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. You just have to be on good terms with your chimp. Just like you positively condition a dog with treats to get it to do what you want, you bribe, bargain, and placate your chimp into cooperation. When it gets worked up and “makes you anxious”, give it ten minutes to vent. Let your chimp bitch and moan. Once it’s done, the human steps in and says, “I know it sucks. It’s okay. How about we pound through the homework assignment right quick, then after we can get a drink with the lads?”

A well-exercised chimp is much more manageable. Take it out, let it run around. Let it scream itself out when it needs to. Your chimp likes creature comforts like food and sex and smoking weed, but it also likes things that remind your body that you’re alive, like exercise, cold showers, and social achievement (as the chimp is deeply concerned about its place in the troop at all times).

Peters presents a concise owner’s manual for fruitful chimp companionship. Take care of your chimp (and your body). Address your chimp’s need to chimp out (your emotions). Distance yourself from those irrational aspects of yourself, but stop punishing yourself for feeling things strongly! There’s a chimp in there, but he’s not necessarily you, in that you are more than just the chimp.

You don’t need to fly into a rage and regret it later when the chimp is exhausted and the human needs to pick up the pieces, which in turn humiliates the chimp, creating a feedback loop of rage. You can get the chimp out of the crisis zone, let him hop around in the jungle for a while, then come back at this when he’s contentedly eating bananas and you can actually steer the damn vehicle.

Excuse the mixed metaphor. Chimps shouldn’t drive, unless they have demonstrated a natural talent.

An excellent book for anybody with even a passing interest in psychology. I’ve been pushing it on a bunch of people, even though nobody ever takes my book recommendations. I don’t take it personal. Reading is hard, especially for a chimp, and if you didn’t have chimp management issues I wouldn’t be pushing the book on you in the first place.

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Book Review: Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Ishmael, #1)Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hugely condescending gorilla bullies the narrator about his affiliation with civilized society and the mythology perpetuated by agriculture.

The titular Ishmael puts out an ad in a newspaper encouraging starry-eyed idealists who want to save the world to come to his darkened office, whereupon he talks down to them both for the ongoing ecocide of their species and their mistreatment of the Jews.

The narrator is a monke masochist and eagerly returns day after day to receive another telepathic lambasting from a pompous gorilla who, we are repeatedly assured, smells “meaty”.

Ishmael tells him that every society has a creation myth, and humanity’s prevailing myth of evolution, while correct, is organized so that creation is complete with the coming of man. Man is the reason for the creation, the world is man’s to conquer, and these are the reasons man is such an absolute asshole to ecology in general.

That’s the Takers mentality, or the people who opted in to the agricultural revolution and all the grody little kinks to our individual and collective psychology it brought with it. The Leavers are the isolated bands of humans who opted to keep living in accordance with nature, and they’re doing just peachy keen, as they had been for 2 million years. At least, they were peachy keen, until the Takers’ unrelenting destructive grabassery threatened (and continues to threaten) an extinction-level event.

There was a cool little Biblical analogy spun in there, where the story of Genesis is an allegory written by the Semites (Leavers, nomadic herders) and co-opted by the Caucasians (Takers, agriculturalists from the fertile crescent. Don’t be alarmed, this is before Caucasian was synonymous with white) after the smoke cleared.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the belief that the eater can distinguish exactly that, which was otherwise left up to the gods. When the first farmers started stockpiling grain, they were no longer at the mercy of the fates. They knew what was right. Their way was right, and anybody who disagreed was in for a good old fashioned reckoning.

Like any good fledgling empire, they expanded recklessly. They ran across the Semites, ancestors of the Hebrews, who were pastoralists, and they started killing them because they needed the land. The Semites, as you can imagine, were baffled.

This brings us to Cain and Able. Able represents the Semites, favored of God, his very chosen people, and Cain represents his murderer, the increasingly militarizing Caucasians, decidedly not their brother’s keeper for the first time in recorded history. And guess what that makes the mark of Cain?

The gorilla teaches the narrator that every civilization before us has crashed and burned, empires keep turning to ash, and we’re next in line, with the added bonus of destroying most of the environment.

“What do we do?” pleads the narrator.
“Knock it off,” says his instructor.
“Destroy industrialized society and go camping again.”
“No,” says the narrator, “I mean what do I do, personally?”
“Teach 100 people.”

Cop out! Raise awareness? Come on, Ishmael. Nut up and advocate ecoterrorism. We’re all thinking it.

In the end of the book, Ishmael dies of pneumonia before the narrator can rescue him from the carnival sideshow. This was the masterstroke, in my opinion, because he didn’t need to die. When the narrator offered to help him, he insisted he wouldn’t live “off anyone’s largesse”. He didn’t even tell the narrator that he was sick.

He was trying to ignore it. He was too proud to change what he was doing, too proud to reach out for help, and it wound up killing him.

The same way we’re killing the world.

Hooooo, don’t it just give you chills? Five monke out of five.

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Barcelona: It’s Exactly Like in Tony Hawk

October 25, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

Let me start by saying Barcelona is nothing like in Tony Hawk. I’ve seen like 2 skateboarders, tops. Lots of bikes. It’s more like the BMX game in that respect, but no other, really.

After my airplane didn’t burst into flames I wandered aimlessly around the airport after being instructed to go “down, left”. What she meant was turn the corner, find the elevator, take it to the ground floor, then locate the correct bus. On the right, coincidentally. Fortunately, airbus or buslift or airwolf has an apparent monopoly on all of Europe, so I climbed on the same bus I did in Dublin and hoped it wouldn’t take me back.

It dropped me off a half hour later next to a gorgeous set of multicolor water fountains. The streets were flooded with humans, moving in a throng, mostly college-aged but some older folks and children, everyone totally amped to be next to the fountains in Barcelona. I found my hostel and attempted to conduct my business in Spanish. We made it about halfway. They charged me an extra 2 euros for bedsheets, but that’s how they getcha. (For those familiar with my conversion rate, that’s approximately 9.32 chicken nuggets).

Realizing I hadn’t eaten that day, I went to forage. Every other shopfront was a tapas restaurant, which I learned means “about 3 bites of food for next to no money”. Conceptually, I can get behind that, but in practicality, it’s a good thing I’m not lifting because 220g of protein are not happening through tapas.

Estrella lookin so good I be like20171025_144044.jpg

I found a likely looking place that promised cervezas and something called a “meat bomb”. They ushered me in and when I ordered it, the waiter assured me in rapid-fire, heavily accented English that they were out, but I could order meatballs and bravas. I assumed these were most of the components to the meat bomb. Not so much.

Three meatballs later, he puts this monster in front of me:


It turns out this meant patatas bravas, which I’ve been struggling with the translation for since. In Spanish Spanish, brava means” “brave. In Mexican Spanish, it means “a fight”. In Italian, brava means “well done” or “good”. They were good patatas, I guess, but linguistically challenging.

And surprisingly plentiful. I found out this is because I somehow ordered like $10 worth of patatas bravas. That’s also how they getcha, but Mama ain’t raise a quitter, so I plowed through ’em and went on my merry way.

good thing, if they’re gonna keep giving me three pounds of potatoes every time I try to order food

I made the tragic mistake of trying to find a brewery in Barcelona. Google assured me that “Cervezeria 100 Montaditos” was a brewery, and only a half mile from my hostel, so that was my next stop. Montaditos, for the record, are simple sandwiches made by cutting a half a loaf of twisty Spanish baguette in half and jamming it full of meat. This is distinct from bocadillos, which are the same thing but with standard baguettes — and they would go on to save my life.

Regarding the bar: Imagine a high school pep rally. Now take it out of the gym, and put it in a 2-story bar, and that was 100 Montaditos. Thousands of children, all shouting, all drinking the Spanish equivalent of Natty Light, a flavorless amber concoction called “Cruzcampo Glacial”, made by the Spanish branch of Heineken and receiving a whopping 12% on But they were also 1€ each. I ducked into a corner to evade all the screeching, downed it like a frat boy, and retreated to my hostel for a long-deserved shower.

The bathrooms were a shared affair. Three shower stalls, three sinks, two stalls. Standing in front of the mirrors were two middle-aged men. One was a tall, stocky German man, discernibly a dad and discernibly nonplussed with the conversation he was having with a hunched French philosophy professor who shared Sartre’s perspective, both due to his metaphysical beliefs and his lazy eye. The professor was trying his damnedest to convince the dad that he had to take things less seriously, because all of life is a derision. The dad did not know this word, and clearly wanted to just get out of the conversation and go to sleep, but couldn’t due to manners.

“All of life is a joke!” the professor insisted, laughing like a maniac. “Is a joke! None of it is real! It is a derision! You take too serious!”

The dad made a face and said, “How do you know this about me? You cannot know me.”

“I know you! I know you, you have a wife, two children. They could have been girls, you know! Is all a derision!”

“Oh, okay,” I interjected, because they were both trying to cross entirely too many language barriers here. “He means a delusion.”

The German made the same face.

“It’s like in a dream,” I said. “Something you think is real, but it’s not. And you have no way of knowing.”

“No way to know!” the Frenchman said. “I cannot trust!”

“Yeah, you’re talkin about Descartes,” I said. This helped no one.

“You mean… illusion?” the German asked me. I considered, then nodded.

“Yeah, basically.”

“Then he should just say illusion!”

The dad considered the professor distastefully for a moment, then motioned to me and said, “What about him? You know this about me, can you tell also about him?”

“Is prollity,” the professor said, and I tried to interject “probability” but they weren’t having it.

“Or are you,” the dad continued, looking at me for the word, “How do you say… psychic? Mind-reader?”

The Frenchman considered me critically for a moment.

“How about him?” the German demanded again. “Does he have family and kids?”

“No. He has no family. He is alone.”

There was a beat of silence, and the dad started laughing nervously, I imagine because he had to do something to vent his discomfort. I grinned and said, “But aren’t we all, really?”

At this point a Ukrainian teenager entered the bathroom and politely tried to figure out which shower was okay for him to use. The dad said, “This one is fine, but you must be careful, or you will be trapped for 15 minutes talking to him!” He nodded at the professor, who had removed his shirt and was now trying to explain that he had hair on his shoulders because he was “once a monkey”. I didn’t know if he meant evolutionarily or in a past-life sense, and I did as much deciphering as I was ready to that night. I bid them goodnight, took my damn shower, and went to bed.


I really like Barcelona.


The Bastard