[ExI] Fwd: [EP_group] Book: Gorilla Society

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Thu Dec 20 14:59:28 UTC 2007

>Nature 450, 1160-1161 (20 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/4501160a;
>Published online 19 December 2007
>Our social roots
>Sarah F. Brosnan1
>We share many behavioural traits with our primate relatives ? some
>disquietingly nasty.
>BOOK REVIEWED-Gorilla Society: Conflict, Compromise and Cooperation
>Between the Sexes
>by Alexander H. Harcourt & Kelly J. Stewart
>University of Chicago Press: 2007. 416 pp. $75 (hbk), $30, £19 (pbk)
>BOOK REVIEWED-Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and
>Humans Have Conquered the World
>by Dario Maestripieri
>University of Chicago Press: 2007. 192 pp. $25, £14
>BOOK REVIEWED-Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes
>by Frans de Waal
>25th Anniversary Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press: 2007. 276 pp.
>$24.95, £16.50
>Why do you spend more time with your colleague next door than the one
>down the hall? As a founding scholar of primate social behaviour, the
>fifteenth-century philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli might have been
>able to tell you. Today's primatologists are still fascinated by the
>evolutionary roots of power, sex and politics in human and non-human
>primates ? surprising parallels emerge that may explain facets of
>our behaviour and codes governing our society.
>A seminal book in the field is Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics, just
>re-released as a 25th-anniversary edition. De Waal explores interactions
>among three high-ranking males in the Arnhem Zoo colony in the
>Netherlands to obtain insight into alliances, sex and power in our
>closest living relatives. The chimpanzees' lives include all the
>intrigue and shifting allegiances of the Florentine court; it is easy to
>forget that the participants are not human.
>[Our social roots]
>Family feast: endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei)
>enjoying a vegetarian menu together.
>A quarter of a century after its first publication, the influence of de
>Waal's approach is pervasive. Dario Maestripieri's engaging new book,
>Macachiavellian Intelligence, argues that social cognition is the key to
>our species' extraordinary success. The book is also a salutary reminder
>that we are members of the Order Primates as much as of the Family
>Hominidae, and not all that different from our disquietingly nasty
>Rhesus macaques and humans, Maestripieri explains, are group-living
>generalists who succeed by advancing their own ? and their family's
>? future through political manoeuvring. Altruism and social
>behaviour are therefore useful only when the pay-off is greater than the
>investment, although, according to Maestripieri, humans may have
>recently evolved more pervasive pro-social tendencies.
>Some may question Maestripieri's pragmatic approach to human behaviour,
>such as his view that our sexual patterns were shaped to secure partner
>commitment. But, his use of anecdote, and comparisons between humans and
>macaques, make a persuasive case that a self-interested desire to
>manipulate others motivates much of human behaviour.
>An understanding of how society determines the behaviour of individuals
>calls for an examination of an outgroup that varies in its degree of
>relatedness or its social organization. Gorillas, with their harem
>societies and lesser aggression, provide a nice counterpoint to
>chimpanzees and macaques (excepting, perhaps, the little studied but
>apparently more gregarious western gorilla). Gorilla Society aims to
>develop a socio-ecological framework for understanding the animals'
>social organization and behaviour.
>Harcourt and Stewart's book contains some novel approaches. For example,
>the authors attempt to model rarely seen behavioural variants in order
>to estimate their pay-offs, which helps in understanding previously
>unexplained behaviour. They also approach social organization from the
>male and female perspectives, developing a picture of infinite regress
>as the decisions of each sex affect each other's choices. They explain,
>among other things, the conspicuous absence of male takeovers in gorilla
>populations. Every chapter ends with a comparison between gorilla
>behaviour and that of chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans in similar
>circumstances, illustrating the broader power of socioecological theory.
>The authors of all three books are noted primatologists. Although aimed
>at different audiences, the books are all readable and informative.
>There is some repetition in Harcourt and Stewart's because it is written
>as a reference work; extensive cross-referencing and helpful section
>headings make it easy to use. Maestripieri's slimmer volume will appeal
>to a general audience with its fast pace, references to popular culture
>and wide-ranging discussion of human behaviour. It cites the original
>studies, but could leave primatologists wishing for more in-depth
>Just as we are on the brink of a more nuanced and thorough understanding
>of primate and human society, the breakdown of human society continues
>to fuel the demise of the remaining strongholds of primates in the wild.
>For instance, gorillas are now listed as critically endangered by the
>World Conservation Union (Nature 449, 127; 2007
><http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/449127a> ).
>Contrary to his stereotype, Machiavelli believed that force should be
>mitigated with prudence, that morality must not be abandoned. Where is
>our prudence and morality when we ignore the fate of other peoples and
>species who share our planet? Humans should find a way to narrow the gap
>between our own well-being and that of our fellow creatures.
>Source: Nature

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