Scary anthropology book: "Demonic Males"

Eirikur Hallgrimsson Eirikur at polymathy.org
Tue Sep 23 18:53:41 PDT 2003


Subtitle: "Apes and the Origins of Human Violence"
Authors: Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson (both male, note)
It's a current trade paperback.

This is a very well-written and readable account of the inter-tribal
raiding behavior of chimpanzees, and some of the theories about why bonobos 
(AKA pygmy chimpanzees) and gorillas don't have raiding.   We (humans) 
clearly do.  Very, very clearly.

The whole book is based on the years of observation by people like Jane 
Goodall who have been following apes around in the field 
for decades now.

I highly recommend this account, particularly if you are unaware of the 
very interesting comparisons between human and chimpanzee/bonobo behavior.

Feminists should study bonobos, or perhaps I should say that bonobos 
prototyped "sisterhood" before we thought of it.   Bonobos still have 
patriarchy and exogamy (female progeny move out), but the patriarchy isn't 
particularly powerful in the face of extremely strong female bonding.  And 
it looks like they don't have rape, either.   What they do have is 
recreational and social sex on a level that sounds to me as though it 
exceeds ours.

Bonobos have concealed ovulation.   Like us.    That's really interesting, 
and  it seems to be independently evolved in their line and ours.  That's 
if you buy the current family tree view and the current timeline, which I 
don't have any real reason to argue with.  Convergent evolution has many 
examples to support it. 

I really want a time machine.   I want to watch the genomes and populations 
over time.  I want to see what troop sizes, raiding, and relations between 
the sexes were like at the point we diverged from the common 
chimp/human/bonobo ancestor.


I had only two points to quibble with in this book.

1)  I don't completely buy their argument that bonobos don't "raid" other 
groups because of food source changes that caused them to split off from 
the chimpanzee genome in the first place.   It's an interesting and solid 
argument, and they are still living in the exact same territory under 
pretty much exactly the same conditions as they evolved, but it just 
doesn't seem strong enough.
It's interesting to think that a bonobo is a chimp that learned to eat a 
gorilla diet. 

2) This is, apart from all the sex and violence stuff, a pretty mainstream 
look at human evolution.   It absolutely does not discuss the human 
voicebox, sweating via the apocrine glands and other rather strange 
innovations that our species somehow acquired.  It's not about that stuff, 
true, but we have some really strange adaptations that we don't really 
understand.   If bonobos discovered peace and near-sexual-equality via a 
diet change to foods that other apes were already eating, what other 
fallout does apocrine sweating have, and what on earth would have caused 
it?

Whatever happened to our direct-line ancestors, the "woodland apes?"
It's not like there aren't any forest fringes for them any more.

--Eirikur




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