Lessons from Primates

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy migrating the software that supports the secweb.org kiosk. That’s online now so I can breathe a little easier. Yesterday I read a fantastic article in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs by primatologist Robert Sapolsky on primate behavior (also online here). The typical story of evolution, primates, and human history goes something like this: out of the group emerges a few alpha males who claw and tear their way to the top. Once there, they control resources and dispense or withhold food in order to maintain power in the strict hierarchy. The dominant males get to mate with the females, thus passing on their DNA, and life is generally a constant struggle to overthrow those at the top in order to continue the so-called game of “survival of the fittest.” Sapolsky has been studying baboons, bonobos, and other primates for about 30 years and his article debunks this story. He provides many examples of how cooperation, reconciliation, and bonding play a much larger role in shaping behavior than the old story would have it. Well worth checking out.