Anthropology, Biology, Psychology, Reviews

Monkey Politics

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Today’s New York Times is running an article titled “Political Animals,” comparing the current presidential candidates election politics to the complex social dynamics found in other species like elephants, whales, and rhesus macaques—the latter of which are the subject of Dario Maestripieri’s new book Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World. In the article, the NYT‘s Natalie Angier cites Maestripieri’s book as she compares the political behavior of these prolific primates to our own:

As the candidates have shown us in the succulent telenovela that is the 2008 presidential race, there are many ways to parry for political power.… [And] just as there are myriad strategies open to the human political animal with White House ambitions, so there are a number of nonhuman animals that behave like textbook politicians.…
As Dr. Maestripieri sees it, rhesus monkeys embody the concept “Machiavellian” (and he accordingly named his recent popular book about the macaques Macachiavellian Intelligence).
“Individuals don’t fight for food, space or resources,” Dr. Maestripieri explained. “They fight for power.” With power and status, he added, “they’ll have control over everything else.…”
“Rhesus males are quintessential opportunists,” Dr. Maestripieri said. “They pretend they’re helping others, but they only help adults, not infants. They only help those who are higher in rank than they are, not lower. They intervene in fights where they know they’re going to win anyway and where the risk of being injured is small.”

We may not know whence humans are descended but as for politicians it’s pretty clear, read the rest of the article here.