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Inside the Social Cage Gil Vines
Frans de Waal's Good Natured New Scientist 13 Apr 96 p40

EVER since Darwin's pal Thomas Henry Huxley spoke on "evolution and ethics" to a packed Oxford audience at the end of the last century, evolutionary biologists have been struggling to explain why humans have moral sensibilities. Huxley, a stalwart defender of Darwin's theory of natural selection, was deeply vexed by this question because he saw nature as essentially nasty and utterly indifferent to questions of right and wrong. For him, morality could only be a human invention at odds with the natural world-"a sword forged by Homo sapiens to slay the dragon of its animal past", as de Waal puts it. By placing morality outside the biological realm, Huxley sidestepped the need to account for its evolution. Contemporary evolutionary biologists have largely kept to Huxley's line, in which "human kindness is not really part of the larger scheme of nature". As Richard Dawkins wrote in his best seller, The Selfish Gene: "Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish." This pessimistic view is "enough to give goose bumps to anyone with faith in the depth of our moral sense", argues de Waal. "It also leaves unexplained where the human species can possibly find the strength and ingenuity to battle an enemy as formidable as its own nature." In Good Natured, de Waal convincingly develops another, decidedly more optimistic point of view. Without denying our penchant for nastiness, he argues that we are at the same time moral beings to the core. "Given the universality of moral systems," he says, "the tendency to develop and enforce them must be an integral part of human nature." And because he sees morality not just selfishness, as an evolved characteristic of human beings, he sets out to discover whether "some of the building blocks of morality are recognisable in other animals". He faces squarely the "profound paradox that genetic self-advancement at the expense of others-which is the basic thrust of evolution-has given rise to remarkable capacities for caring and sympathy". The result is a tour deforce and a landmark in the growing field of cognitive ethology: a voung science that looks at animals as knowing, wanting and calculating beings and attempts to investigate these capabilities in a rigorous way. De Waal is well suited to being the flag bearer for this new movement. Now working at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, de Waal is a highly regarded Dutch primatologist who has studied apes and monkeys living in groups in door enclosures at Arnhem Zoo in the NetherlaA and at several other zoos and research instituri Good Natured is an example of the very bes popular science writing. De Waal skilfully wea together anecdotes, theories and data to creat text that is thought-provoking and a pleasure read. Technical appendixes and a bibliogra; provide signposts for any reader %vho %vants to further into the scientific literature. A veteran primate watcher, de @Vaal Dokes -wtie fun at strait-laced biologi researchers who use "anthropo when describing a chimpanz( ters. Charting the ways in whir after a fight, de Waal says he for using the word "reconciliation" sorry, "affiliative"-reunions be adversaries. In thisjargon, "a reconciliation sealed with a kiss became a 'postconflict interaction involving mouth-to-mouth contact"'. are changing, de Waal says, and interest in the mental life of animals is regaining respectability. What fascinates de Waal about social animals from wolves to elephants-is the relational quality of everyday life in their tight-knit social groups, and their capacity for sympathy, care and reconciliation. Consider the behaviour of a herd of elephants in Amboseli National park in Kenya. The other animals surround Tina, who has a poacher's bullet in her lungs, and lean into her in an attempt to hold her up. And the elephant Agatha, who, 15 months after losing her mother, regularly returns to the fatal spot to gently turn and feel her mother's skull. Many primates go even further, demonstrating what de Waal calls community concern. "Each and every individual has a stake in the quality of the social environment on which its survival depends," he argues, and so may enter into arbitration and mediation in disputes that help both themselves and their group mates. At Arnhem Zoo, de Waal has observed female chimps approaching males geared up for confrontation, gendy pry open their hands and "confiscate" weapons such as heavy sticks or rocks. on another occasion, at Yerkes Field Station, jimoh the dominant chimpanzee detects a claning between Socko, an adolescent male, and one of Jimoh's favourite females. Instead of chasing his rival away, he relentlessly pursues him, intent on catching him. Several females nearby quickly note that the situation has got out of hand, and begin a chorus of "woaow" barks, an indignant sound used in protest against aggressors and intruders. Soon everyone has joined in. "The scattered beginning [of the protest] almost gave the impression ilding that the group was taking a vote," says de Waal. "Once the protest had orality swelled to a chorus, Jimoh broke off his attack with a nervous grin on his isable face: he got the message.

Good Natured focuses on the central role of reciprocity in primate social groups, and the ways in which animals may forge lasting alliances through grooming, sharing food or other acts of goodwill. Chimpanzees go further. "Not only do they assist one another mutually, they add a system of revenge to deal with those who oppose them," says de Waal. Not only are beneficial actions rewarded, "there seems to be a tendency to teach a lesson to those who act negatively", and perhaps even a sense of indignation at a perceived injustice. For example, during experiments in which he gave a chimpanzee group freshly cut branches, prized for their tasty leaves, some animals were noticeably more generous. "If Gwinnie obtained one of the large bundles ... she would take it to the top of a climbing frame, where it could easily be monopolised. Mai, in contrast, shared readily and was typically surrounded by a cluster of beggars. Guess who met with more resistance if she herself was in need and tried to get food? Gwinnie and other stingy person alities encountered far more threats and protestations than gen erous sharers such as Mai." Our understanding of the roots of our moral sense has long been obscured by our failure to recognise the centrality of our social nature, de Waal believes. The 18th-century romantic Jean Jacques Rousseau and his intellectual descendants may fantasise about the autonomous noble savage happily ensconced on his desert island, and see society as so many Robin son Crusoes lumped together. But in reality we and our close primate relatives start out as social beings -even as social captives-says de Waal. We primates need our fellows to survive. And therein lies the wellspring of our morality. Friendships, give and take, and a sense of indignation are ways of avoiding and resolving conflict, and so of holding the group together. As de Waal evocatively puts it: "Each clash with a valued companion brings in a waft of chilly air from outside the social cage." This is an important and provocative book that looks set to influence the way we think about ourselves and other animals. El

Kissing cousins Roger Lewin on Frans de Waal's "Bonobo"
New Scientist 15 Mar 97

THE BONOBO was the last large mammal to become known to science, having been "discovered" barely 70 years ago. The discovery was made by the examination of dry bones in the Tervuren Museum, Belgium. The first to note the anatomical distinctiveness of the bonobo was the American anatomist Harold Coolidge, but it was a German, Ernst Schwartz, who got into print first, in 1929. Schwartz actually named the bonobo as a subspecies of chimpanzee. Only later was it given full species status, Pan paniscus. We still know far less about bonobos than the common chimpanzee. This is partly because fewer than a hundred bonobos are in captivity, but more particularly because they are extremely difficult to study in their natural habitat, the dense forests of Zaire in central Africa. Nevertheless, two field studies established in the 1970s-one American, the other Japanese-have helped to create a portrait of an extraordinary creature, so much so that they are already becoming the stuff of myth. For instance, Bonobos are often portrayed as living a peaceful, egalitarian life, in which sex has been elevated to human levels of ingenuity and inventiveness, and beyond. This includes face-toface copulation, homosexual encounters and group sex. In Bonobo, the internationally renowned primatologist Frans de Waal brings together what has been learnt about the bonobo, from field studies and in captivity. He creates a story that strips away the idealisation and the mythology surrounding bonobos, revealing what truly remarkable apes they are. Frans Lanting's photographs, which are distributed throughout the text and collected as a series of eight picture essays, make the book not only a thoroughly engrossing and informative volume for the nonspecialist, but also extremely handsome. First, bonobos are not diminutive versions of chimpanzees: they are about the same size. And there are many differences: in body proportions, coloration, and most particularly in behaviour. For instance, there is much less male-inspired aggression in bonobos, within and between communities. While males form strong alliances in chimp groups, it is the females who bond in bonobo society. This is interesting, because in both apes it is the females who leave their natal groups at maturity, with males remaining behind. Males are the dominant sex in chimpanzees, whereas bonobo females have no truck with male machismo. Bonobos also appear to have more extensive vocal communication than common chimps. In six chapters, de Waal describes the history of the discovery of bonobos as a separate species; he compares them with common chimps; he describes their natural habitat and their extraordinary use of sex as social currency, particularly in moderating agression, he examines Bonobo social structure in relation to that of common chimps and humans; and he finishes with an exploration of bonobos highly developed sense of empathy. When he first started working with bonobos two decades age, de Waal recalls that he was struck "especially by the inquisitiveness and sensitiveness of their gaze ... It may provide a foundation for what in humans we call'sympathy' and'empathy'." Although many hard-nosed behaviourists might feel uncomfortable with the attribution of such human-like cognitive abilities, de Waals anecdotes about bonobo behaviour may indeed reveal bonobos to be "the most empathic apes". Whatever your conclusions are about this philosophically sensitive issue, de Waal is always informative and entertaining. He has at least matched the power of his previous ground-breaking books, such as Chimpanzee Politics and Good Natured. The book's epilogue documents the peril bonobos face in their rainforest habitat. Logging is already encroaching. Their numbers are declining and they are classified as "vulnerable to extinction" by the World Conservation Union. It is a cruel irony that after becoming known to science, the bonobo is heading for oblivion. El