Response to Post#11, Part 1
Originally Posted by feelyunicorn
I only saw the first 3 minutes of that (gruesome stuff), I think I get the picture. But Sex at Dawn doesn't argue that we've evolved (or rather devolved) into some rather brutal practices at times; he's saying that in hunter gatherer tribal societies, it didn't work like this.
He brings up Jane Goodall, a subject which Sex at Dawn brings up. From Sex at Dawn's Chapter 13:
The Mysterious Disappearance of Margaret Power
Even apart from doubts raised by bonobos [which are just as close to us as chimpanzees and have never been known to be violent, with only one alleged exception I know of that Sex at Dawn gets into later and I quote below], there are serious questions worth asking about the nature of chimp “warfare.” In the 1970s, Richard Wrangham was a graduate student studying the relation between food supply and chimp behavior at Jane Goodall’s research center at Gombe, Tanzania. In 1991, five years before Wrangham and Peterson’s Demonic Males came out, Margaret Power published a carefully researched book, The Egalitarians: Human and Chimpanzee, that asked important questions concerning some of Goodall’s research on chimpanzees (without, it must be said, ever expressing anything but admiration for Goodall’s scientific integrity and intentions). But Power’s name and her doubts are nowhere to be found in Demonic Males.
Power noticed that data Goodall collected in her first years at Gombe (from 1961 to 1965) painted a different picture of chimpanzee social interaction than the accounts of chimpanzee warfare she and her colleagues published to global acclaim a few years later. Observations from those first four years at Gombe had left Goodall with the impression that the chimps were “far more peaceable than humans.” She saw no evidence of “war” between groups and only sporadic outbreaks of violence between individuals.
These initial impressions of overall primate peace mesh with research published four decades later, in 2002, by primatologists Robert Sussman and Paul Garber, who conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature
on social behavior in primates. After reviewing more than eighty studies of how various primates spend their waking hours, they found that “in almost all species across the board, from diurnal lemurs—the most primitive primates—to apes ... usually less than 5 percent of their day is spent in any active social behavior whatsoever.” Sussman and Garber found that “usually less than 1 percent of their day is spent fighting or competing, and it’s unusually much less than 1 percent.” They found cooperative, affiliative behavior like playing and grooming to be ten to twenty times more common than conflict in all primate species.15
But Goodall’s impression of relative harmony was to change—not coincidentally, argues Power—precisely when she and her students began giving the chimps hundreds of bananas every day, to entice them to hang around the camp so they could be observed more easily.
In the wild, chimps spread out to search for food individually or in small groups. Because the food is scattered throughout the jungle, competition is unusual. But, as Frans de Waal explains, “as soon as humans start providing food, even in the jungle, the peace is quickly disturbed.”16
The mounds of deliciously smelly fruit locked in reinforced concrete boxes opened only for timed, regular feedings altered the chimps’ behavior dramatically. Goodall’s assistants had to keep rebuilding the boxes, as the frustrated apes found endless ways of prying or smashing them open. Ripe fruit that could not be eaten immediately was a new experience for them—one that left the chimps confused and enraged. Imagine telling a room of unruly three-year-olds on Christmas morning (each with the strength of four adult men)
that they’ll have to wait an unspecified amount of time to open the piles of presents they can see right there, under the tree.
Recalling this period a few years later, Goodall wrote, “The constant feeding was having a marked effect upon the behaviour of the chimps. They were beginning to move about in large groups more often than they had ever done in the old days. They were sleeping near camp and arriving in noisy hordes early in the morning. Worst of all, the adult males were becoming increasingly aggressive. ... Not only was there a great deal more fighting than ever before, but many of the chimps were hanging around camp for hours and hours every day [emphasis added].”17
Margaret Power’s doubts concerning Goodall’s provisioning of the chimps have been largely left unaddressed by most primatologists, not just Wrangham.18 Michael Ghiglieri, for example, went to study the chimps in Kibale Forest in nearby Uganda specifically in response to the notion that the intergroup conflict Goodall’s team had witnessed might have been due to the distorting effects of those banana boxes. Ghiglieri writes, “My mission ... [was] to find out whether these warlike killings were normal or an artifact of the researchers having provisioned the chimps with food to observe them.”19 But somehow Margaret Power’s name doesn’t even appear in the index of Ghiglieri’s book, published eight years after hers.
We lack the space to adequately explore the questions Power raised, or to address subsequent reports of intergroup conflict among some (but not all) unprovisioned chimps in other study areas.20 While we’ve got our doubts about the motivations of
Pinker and Chagnon (see below), like Margaret Power, we have none about Jane Goodall’s intentions or scientific integrity. Still, with all due respect to Goodall, Power’s questions deserve consideration by anyone seriously interested in the debate over the possible primate origins of warfare.
The book also continues by getting into the benefits of war when wealth is concentrated as well as some rather unflattering points regarding Napolean Chagnon's study of the Yanomamö; it provides compelling evidence that he instigated much of the violence that occurred during the time he spent with Yanomamö.
Now, for the one alleged exception to the peaceful Bonobos that I'd mentioned before:
The Desperate Search for Hippie Hypocrisy and Bonobo Brutality
For a certain kind of journalist (or evolutionary psychologist), nothing is more satisfying than exposing hippie hypocrisy. A recent headline from Reuters reads, “Hippie Apes Make War as Well as Love, Study Finds.”35 The article states, “Despite their reputation as lovers, not fighters, of the primate world, bonobos actually hunt and kill monkeys....” Another assures us that “Despite ‘Peacenik’ Reputation, Bonobos Hunt and Eat Other Primates Too.” A third, under the headline “Sex Crazed Apes Feast on Killing, Too,” opens with an audible sneer: “As hippies had Altamont [where Hell’s Angels killed a concert-goer], so bonobos have Salonga National Park, where scientists have witnessed the supposedly peace-loving primate hunting and eating monkey children.” “Sex crazed”? “Supposedly peace-loving”? “Eating monkey children”? Do monkeys have “children”?
If both chimps and bonobos make war, maybe we are “dazed survivors”of a “5-million-year habit of lethal aggression” after all. But a closer look reveals that it’s the journalists who are a bit dazed. Researchers witnessed ten attempts to hunt monkeys over five years of observing the bonobos in question. The bonobos were successful three times, sharing the monkey meat among the hunters—mixed groups of males and females.
A brief reality check for science journalists:
• Researchers have long known and reported that bonobos regularly hunt and eat meat, generally small
jungle antelopes known as duikers—as well as squirrels, insects, and grubs.
• The evolutionary line leading to humans, chimps, and bonobos split from that leading to monkeys about thirty million years ago. Chimps and bonobos, in other words, are as closely related to monkeys as we are.
• Young monkeys are not “children.”
• Monkey meat is on the menu at fancy Chinese restaurants and jungle barbecues in many parts of the world.
• Tens of thousands of monkeys, young and old, are sacrificed in research laboratories throughout the world annually.
So, are humans also “at war” with monkeys?
Nothing sells newspapers like headlines of “WAR!,” and no doubt “CANNIBALISTIC HIPPIE ORGY WAR!” sells even more, but one species hunting and eating another species is hardly “war”; it’s lunch. That bonobos and monkeys may look similar to untrained eyes is irrelevant. When a pack of wolves or coyotes attacks a stray dog, is that “war”? We’ve seen hawks pluck pigeons out of the sky. War?
Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving or jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid, or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: It depends. On a nearly empty planet, with food and shelter distributed widely, avoiding conflict would have been an easy, attractive option. Under the conditions typical of ancestral environments, human beings would have had much more to lose than to gain from warring against one another. The evidence—both physical and circumstantial—points to a human prehistory in which our ancestors made far more love than war.