Book Reviews

Our Inner Ape

Frans de Waal

The premier primatologist, Frans De Waal gives us the wisdom of his 20 odd years of field research and does so in a semi-casual, sometimes formal style. I like these less formal excursions into science by formal scientists; it is though the scientist is having you over for dinner and she or he lowers their formal academic shield that they usually raise for peer reviewed works. But they know that you, the guest, have a good structural understanding of the evolutionary perspective and in particular their own past primate studies. My only defense is: not a problem for me -- doesn't everyone think about the world and our species' behavior from an evolutionary perspective?

As such, in my environment of 2006, it is a mid-term election year and I can not write a review of this book without touching on the evolutionary climate surrounding politics. On page 47, we are reminded once again what essentially evolution is

"Everything in evolution boils down to reproductive success…"

If you're a political student who has discovered the evolutionary perspective, then you instantly understand the phrase, "survival of the fittest" really means "who leaves behind the most children" as the true interpretation. Thus, in the real world America in 2006, it is the Mexican-American families that are currently out-producing the white population. Social psychology students will then understand why the "immigration issue" is a hot political potato in 2006. What is going on is that the Dominates in political territories are going through angst revolving around the perceived lost of territory, and more importantly, the possible increased competition for resources within those territories by the increased visibility of the subordinates, named "Mexican-Americans."

I think that de Waal greatest contribution in his book is his chapter on violence. We, in the evolutionary community know for a solid fact that there are only two species that form alliances amongst themselves to attack their own species: Humans and Chimpanzees; and in both cases, it is always the males who do the violence. But here, de Waal makes a solid point considering the driving theory behind evolutionary feminism:

"Pragmatic solutions to conflict, such as formation of the European Union, are typically male. I say this without chauvinism, equally aware that males are also responsible for the worst excesses of violence when peace attempts fail. One of the very few studies on the different ways genders manage disagreements focused on children's games. It found girls playing in smaller groups and less competitively than boys. The average girls' game didn't last long, however, because girls were not nearly as good as boys at resolving disputes. Boys quarreled all the time, debating the rules like little lawyers, but this never meant the end of the game. After an interruption, they would simply continue. Among girls, however, a quarrel usually meant that the game broke up. No efforts would be made to get the team back together again." P. 153.

And again:

"Aggression among girls is often barely visible to the naked eye. In her novel Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood contrasted the torments to which girls subject one another with the straight-forward competition among boys. Her principal character complains:

[[I considered telling my brother, asking him for help. But tell what exactly? Cordelia does nothing physical. If it was boys, chasing or teasing, he would know what to do, but I don't suffer from boys in this way. Against girls and their indirectness, their whispering, he would be helpless.]]]

This kind of subtle aggression does not fade easily, as reported by the Finnish researchers. They found that discord among girls outlasted that among boys. If asked how long they might stay angry with each other, boys thought in terms of hours, sometimes days, whereas girls felt they might stay angry for the rest of their lives!" p. 154.

For those of us who take the evolutionary feminist perspective, it strengthens our views that the female, because she picks the most aggressive males in competition with other females, is responsible for the violence that human males do. It is an undeniable fact that "the female goes for quality rather than quantity" (p.47), and, as such, part of the female's hostility toward other females (as noted above in the novel extract) is merely part of their campaign strategy in passing their gene's into the next generation and giving their progeny the best possible advantage.

Yes, it usually is at this point in my discussions with feminists where they throw rotten tomatoes at me. Well, that's the bad news - the good news is that once this realization becomes part of the planet-wide consciousness, then the female will begin to reverse the process, and thus, bring peace to our species. It is simply amazing that in the final process, it will all come down to the easy access to sex in exchange for the establishment of institutions that replace the male's old role of protector and provider. The human male will still be the male with his passionate drive and creative skills, but his role as protector and provider will be diminished. He will be invited to mate with the female; not compete for her access; that is the paradigm shift.

In the final pages of his book, de Waal muses that our human species seems to be divided between two the two personalities presented to us by the chimpanzees and the bonobos. In regard to the two personalities, de Wall describes the chimpanzees as believing in law and order and harsh measures to keep that order; and the other, the bonobos, with their openness to sexuality and alliances that want to level the playing field for all.

De Waal asks: "Do we perhaps act like a hybrid between those two apes?" p. 236.
I'm sure that de Waal's book was published before the news came out of Cambridge, Mass about the conclusion that humans and chimpanzees diverged and then ""hybridized" to create the human species. The findings were published by the journal Nature on May 17th, 2006 by researchers from the Broad Institute. This is an alliance between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. The most important thing that we have to note is that this comes from comparing the genes of modern humans and chimpanzees, and not the fossil record. Creationists or "intelligent design" proponents now have another hurdle to overcome in their efforts to keep the wool over the eyes of the world. I really wish that they would come to the conclusion that I have: that God wants this information that we have evolved from the chimpanzee to come to light.
Despite this final bit of late-breaking news that we are more evolved from the chimpanzee than from a mixture of the of chimpanzee and bonobo, this is an important book by an important observer in primatology. And since the book is easy to read for the common person, it makes my recommended reading list.

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