…a male chimpanzee in his prime organizes his whole life around issues of rank. His attempts to maintain and achieve alpha status are cunning, persistent, energetic, and time-consuming. They affect whom he travels with, whom he grooms, where he glances, how often he scratches, where he goes, what times he gets up in the morning.
…all these behaviors come not from a drive to be violent for its own sake, but from a set of emotions that, when people show them, are labeled “pride” or, more negatively, “arrogance”.
The male chimpanzee behaves as if he is quite driven to reach the top of the community heap. But once he has been accepted as the alpha …his tendency for violence falls dramatically. …they can become benign leaders as easily as they became irritated challengers.
What most male chimpanzees strive for is being on top, the one position where they will never have to grovel. It is the difficulty of getting there that induces aggression.
I’ve been enjoying Demonic Males, a book by Richard Wrangam (Harvard professor of biological anthropology) and writer Dale Peterson.
Chimps are homo sapiens’ closest relative. I was surprised to learn chimps are genetically closer to us than they are to other great apes.
Perhaps this can explain my dreams where I hit Bill Easterly and Tyler Cowen over their heads with a big bone?
The basic idea behind Demonic males: most of the world’s problems can be attributed to our chimp-like heritage, most of all the violent instincts in males. (To which all of my female readers are likely to respond: “you needed to read a book to figure that out?”)
The authors play a little fast and loose with human political science and history, but I assume the chimp stuff is more thorough.
For an application of evolutionary biology to economics, a favorite book of mine is The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life.