Primates are smart, even the “dumb” ones. When I say the “dumb” ones, I mean those that score lower on our measurements of intelligence and have smaller brains relative to body size than species that we usually consider very bright [e.g. capuchins, chimpanzees, bonobos, spider monkeys, etc…]. Despite being the “dumb” ones, these primates have bigger brains and score higher on measures of intelligence than most other mammals species. As an Order, Primates have big brains, live in complex social worlds, and eat food that is often widely dispersed and unpredictable [except for some folivores]. They rely heavily on learned behavior for everything from finding food to finding mates, devote a lot of energy to single, or a few offspring at a time, and they take a really long time to grow up. In fact, primates have the longest pre-reproductive life history stages of animal mammal, including elephants and whales. This trait is most exaggerated in our own species, in which most females do not begin reproducing before the age of sixteen, and most males do not take on the characteristics of an adult male until the age of twenty, or so. Among the non-human primates, we see a similar trend, though it is nowhere near as extreme as is the one observed in humans. Even so, all of these factors and traits combine in our biological Order to result in extremely long lived, slowly maturing organisms that spend a lot of energy trying to successfully raise one offspring at a time and have great big brains. The end result: Primates are smart, even the “dumb” ones.
Having said all of this, the question remains, how do we know primates are smart? To answer that question, we have to know just what “smart” is. In other words, we have to find a good measure of intelligence. Intelligence usually refers to the intellectual capacity of individual, which in many cases simply means their ability to reason, or comprehend a situation, to problem solve. The problem with this definition, and attempts to measure this kind of intelligence in non-human primates is that this is a very human definition of intelligence. Reasoning, comprehension and problem solving are all mental characteristics that are important to the survival and reproduction of humans. The end result is that intelligence is only measured in an anthropomorphic way. We have very few, if any purely objective measures of intelligence, which are not put in a human context. While these are, usually, useful for understanding how smart animals are relative to us, they may not tell us how smart they actually are. For example, an animal’s ability to solve a human constructed problem may have nothing to do with its ability to survive and find mates in its natural habitat. So, the questions should be posed: Does intelligence exist outside of the human construct? If it does, is it important to other animals, and how can we measure it objectively? While there has been a lot of work on this over the last few years, completely satisfying answers have not yet emerged. Instead of recapping them here, I would like to hear what you all have to say. What do you think intelligence is? How should it be defined and studied? Does it matter?

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A few weeks ago I posted a question on my FB page. In essence, I asked that if someone chooses, during the National Anthem to stand with their hands clasped in front of them, or behind their back [as I do] does that make them less patriotic than someone who puts their hand over their heart? The comments I received on this borderline rhetorical question were interesting and a few frightening in their “kool-aid” quality. For this blog, I want to pose this question to all of you: Does the placement of your hand during a ceremonial song, designed to reinforce your allegiance to your community accurately reflect your dedication to said community?

In other words, are President Obama, myself, and thousands of other Americans less patriotic because we don’t put our hands over our hearts during the National Anthem?

To provide you with fodder for your response, I think it will be helpful to look at patriotism, its cultural origins, its historical importance and its evolutionary roots. Patriotism is nothing new, and Americans certainly don’t have a monopoly on the sentiment. In fact, our displays of pride in country pale in comparison to those that were often obligate throughout history. From Genghis Kahn’s ability to mobilize thousands of warriors to travel thousands of miles on horseback to continue conquering lands in his name, to the ancient Roman practice of complete allegiance to the state, in exchange for full rights as a citizen – patriotism is a necessity in a centralized government, and nearly universal. Among all organized societies, a sense of belonging, duty and willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good is pervasive. In fact, throughout history there has never been a large, society with a centralized government, be it democratic or autocratic, that has succeeded without citizens that felt a deep sense of patriotism. When put into this context, it’s no wonder that the “powers that be” react so strongly when students march, flags burn and songs advocate overthrowing the government.

Despite Howard Zinn’s suggestion that, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” (public lecture, 1995) history has shown that dissent is a threat to the status quo and viewed as unpatriotic. Here in lies one of the problems with the concept of patriotism: too often we are provided examples of patriots as blind followers of the policies of their governments, and we are told that that is admirable. Meanwhile, anyone with a moderate understanding of US history recognizes that is the Founders of our nation had held that view of patriotism, they would have never produced “The Declaration of Independence”. However, they did not view patriotism as a willingness to blindly support and follow the rules of your society, no matter what, and for that we hold them in the highest regard and hold them up as the ultimate examples of patriotic “Americans”. Now, before people start claiming that I’m advocating a revolution of any kind, I’m not. I’m simply asking you to consider how we define these terms that mean so much to our society. Further, I’m asking you to consider where patriotic behaviors and the social category “patriotic” evolve from in the first place.

On the surface, patriotic behaviors are similar to altruistic behaviors, and as such, are as seemingly contradictory to our current understanding of evolutionary theory. Instead of behaving in a way that exposes ones-self to undue risk of injury and death in an effort to preserve or expand the norms, goals and fabric of our society, individuals should let others make those sacrifices and “cheat” whenever possible. There does seem to be good evidence for this, as evidenced by the structure of our and past militaries that tend and tended to recruit and “utilize” individuals with fewer resources and political power. However, there are thousands of individuals in the US today, and millions throughout history and pre-history who are willing to, or did, give up their lives for the sake of God or country [or both]. There are those who claim that patriotism is another piece of evidence that humans are altruistic by nature. Still others claim that patriotism is evidence for group selection among modern humans. Still others claim that our willingness to engage in patriotic acts is evidence of how strong culture can influence behavior.

From the historical, contemporary and archaeological records, it is apparent that humans everywhere feel a sense of pride in their social groups and that they are often willing to fight, and die, to defend the territories, resources or reputations of those social groups. However, to truly understand patriotism among humans, we need to expand our perspective and consider several things: 1) Is patriotism unique to humans? 2) If not, what other animals show patriotic behaviors and why?

In response to question 1, I would say that yes, patriotism is unique to humans, however simple patriotic behaviors are not. In other words, no other animal on the planet is willing to put his or her life at risk to ensure that an abstract symbol is not defaced in anyway. Meanwhile, humans will drop their weapons in the heat of battle to make sure that a flag doesn’t touch the ground. Despite this, we do see the antecedents of patriotism among non-human animals. For example, among the social insects, individuals readily sacrifice their own lives to help ensure the survival of the queen and her offspring. Of course, once you understand haplodiploidy and its impact on behavior, these acts of “altruism” make perfect sense. We also see that individual primates living in complex social groups that defend resources against outside groups, often act in ways that increase their potential for injury, while promoting the success of the group. Among many macaque species, females from one community will join forces to exclude females from other communities from core areas with a lot of resources. While individuals could “free-load” off of one another and some do, most don’t. Instead, they all suffer losses and gain victories together. Similarly, male chimpanzees work together to defend territorial boundaries and regularly engage in group boundary patrols, intercommunity encounters [ICEs], incursions, and battles that put each individual male at risk. Despite the risks involved, males still engage in these behaviors, and often seem eager to do so.

A deeper look at the behaviors and the contexts in which they are acted out reveals that kin selection, reciprocal altruism and collective actions usually explain most of them. Both female macaques and male chimpanzees stay in the groups they are born into their entire lives and are therefore with genetically related individuals when engaging in group behaviors. Further, these are long-lived organisms that have the potential to trade favors over a long period of time, allowing for reciprocity, or the potential of reciprocity. Finally, Watts and Mitani (2001) have suggested that territoriality among male chimpanzees may be a collective action problem. That is, each of the males has the same problem [defending the community range against outsiders] and they all can gain much more if they work together to minimize individual risk and maximize the potential for success in their territorial interactions.

When we take a macroscopic view of human patriotism we see many of the same base causes and explanations. While human patriotism is a complex, social and cultural phenomenon that involves socialization and enculturation to align oneself with a specific abstract concept like a nation state, or empire or village, the fact of the matter is humans everywhere do align themselves with those concepts, and most of them do so because they identify with other group members through shared genes [kin selection], ideology, goals [collective action] or for the possibility of receiving something from the group for such actions [reciprocity, or more accurately, interchange]. It is rare that a patriot in any society is not rewarded with status and reproductive opportunities, which opens the door for selection to favor a propensity to act patriotic in populations over time. It also means that individuals will be socialized to act in a patriotic way, because they will have the positive reinforcement of those around them.

If our ancestors went through long stretches during which individuals that were willing to take risks on behalf of the group were more successful in acquiring status and attracting mates than their less enthusiastic group-mates, selection would have favored behaviors in those Hominin populations that reinforced group solidarity and loyalty to that group. Over time, those behaviors combined with heavy layering of culture and social norms could have evolved into what we call “patriotism”.

I recently read Wendy Shalit’s “Is Infidelity natural? Ask the apes” for CNN.com and a barrage of thoughts invaded my mind, including; Who is Wendy Shalit and what makes her qualified to comment on anything scientific? Why does it seem that every time a male researcher proposes an evolutionary explanation for a male behavior he is attacked in the popular press? What does personal choice have to do with our evolutionary history as a species? Who the hell is Chris Ryan and what is he doing determining what is natural or unnatural for our species? What do pendulous breasts and a thick penis have to do with pair-bonding? There were a multitude of other questions, but I will only deal with some of them here and now.

After a little further research I discovered that Chris Ryan is a psychologist with a fair amount of background and knowledge on the subject. While his article is mistaken in a few places [a topic I will deal with shortly] most of his statements in “Monogamy unnatural for our sexy species” are right on the money. Not surprisingly, Ms. Shalit chose to only include parts of statements from Dr. Ryan’s article that supported her position, and she thought, helped prove her point. It’s unfortunate that Ms. Shalit appears to have been so threatened and/or angered by the ideas put forth by Dr. Ryan in his article that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop and consider the ideas and data being presented. This happens all too often when questions about the nature of human sexuality are brought up. What seems even more apparent, from her comments, is that Ms. Shalit doesn’t understand how evolution works, or much about science in general.

When Ms. Shalit questioned the use of bonobos to understand human sexuality, she stated that she would like to consider *all* species, and suggests that data from gorillas or orangutans [or any other primate] are just as useful for understanding the behavior of our early ancestors as those from chimpanzees and bonobos. Ms. Shalit’s error comes from the fact that she doesn’t seem to understand that when scientists reconstruct the behaviors of our ancestors they choose the species they do based on evolutionary relationships. Bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives, sharing 99+% of their DNA with us. In fact, gorillas are as closely related to us as they are to chimpanzees and bonobos, and all of us [chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and humans] are more closely related to each other than we are to orangutans. To make matters worse, Ms. Shalit seems to be confused about whether or not bonobos and chimpanzees are the same thing – they’re not. Chimpanzee and bonobo populations separated from each other about 1.5 million years ago. Either Ms. Shalit doesn’t understand the relationship between these two ape species, or she chose to only use the information that bolstered her position.

The reality is there are questions about the behavior of our ancestors that we will never be able to answer fully. I call these time machine questions, because until we figure out time travel, that allows us to not only go back in time but survive the trip, survive the new environment we find ourselves in and survive the return, we won’t be able to know for sure how our ancestors behaved. However, if we use the fossil evidence [of which there is some] and modern human behavior, combined with the behaviors of our closest living relatives [bonobos and chimpanzees] we can get a good idea of how our ancestors probably behaved. We just have to make sure that we are careful, conscientious and consistent in our approach.

Unfortunately, Ms. Shalit doesn’t seem to understand this process, and instead just attacks it and tries to belittle it, from what I interpret as an angry, defensive position. This is all too apparent when we look at her comparison of pendulous breasts to pendulous earlobes in men, which is just silly. Breasts in human females are sexual signals to men all over the world. It doesn’t matter what culture they’re from, men find breasts attractive, and use them as proxies for the reproductive potential, or fertility, of women. Further, breasts are erogenous zones and are part of sexual stimulation in many, if not most, females. Men’s ears, which are sometimes larger than women’s, do not indicate anything about listening. Ms. Shalit uses a weak example to attempt to “prove” a point that is moot, and she continues it, further damaging her own position.

Despite the errors in her argument, Ms. Shalit does make a good point about monogamy and Dr. Ryan’s reported evidence for it. Pendulous, or permanent, breasts, the “thickest, longest, primate penis” and the ability of females to have multiple orgasms say nothing about whether or not our ancestors were monogamous. Permanent breasts appear to be a proxy for fertility, as mentioned above. Meanwhile, a “thick, long” penis indicates nothing about multiple partners, and instead could have evolved in response to females who were selecting males that could provide them with enhanced pleasure through both anatomical fit and endurance during intercourse. The female orgasm continues to be a mystery, on multiple levels, but it appears to increase the chances of fertilization while enhancing bonding between a female and male. This does not, necessarily, point to promiscuity. While it is true that human males have relatively larger testicles than monogamous primates [like gibbons] or harem living primates [like gorillas], our testicles are nowhere near as large, relative to body size, as the highly promiscuous chimpanzees or bonobos [or bonnet macaques for that matter]. Our testicles seem to be adapted to produce significant amounts of sperm, which allow for multiple matings in any given day, but it is our behavior, and the survival of our children that tell a stronger story here. On average, human relationships around the world last seven years. That’s right, the old cliche of the seven year itch appears to exist for a reason. Now, this doesn’t mean that relationships can only last seven years, it’s just the average across human cultures. Interestingly, seven years appears to be a significant amount of time in human development as well, which may give some clue as to why we are “serial monogamists” cycling through subsequent seven year long relationships.

When children reach age seven, several things happen physiologically, anatomically and behaviroally. Physiologically, seven year olds get exposed to new hormones that prime them for sexual maturation and the ability to reproduce. We often experience this in our 7-10 year olds in new body odors accompanied by increased sweating. Anatomically, the brain nears its completion in growth. While neural connectivity continues to change and mature, the overall brain size is almost complete by seven years of age. These changes are reflected in behavioral expectations of children when they reach age seven. Children from cultures all over the world are considered capable of finding their own food, taking care of themselves and accepting more responsibility. These changes relax the demands on the parents of children at this age, allowing them to focus their energies elsewhere. All of these changes are reflected in child survivorship, which may be the real key to the nature of our romantic relationships. Kim Hill and Magdalena Hurtado from the University of New Mexico have found that among the Ache child survivorship is most strongly impacted by the survival of their mothers. While this is not surprising, the real surprise was the second biggest determinant of child survival – the presence of the father. Among the Ache, children survived, and thrived, most often when their father was present, and that affect diminished after the age of seven. Similar data are coming out from other cultures around the world. If the pattern remains consistent, it might indicate that human males and females form relationships that, on average, promote the survival of an offspring from a single reproductive event. If that seems to be the case, the next question will be, why only one offspring?

While I think that Ms. Shalit is misguided in her approach to this critique, and don’t think most researchers are out to justify male behavior through evolutionary approaches, I agree that those of us involved in modeling the behaviors of our ancestors need to be careful in our approach. We need to understand that there are those who will take our data and twist it to justify, or condemn, the behaviors they champion or despise. Our job as scientists, and the job of those in the media who use our research for stories, or print opinions is to make sure that the public is being exposed to the most thoughtful science available. When it comes to the “naturalness” or “unnaturalness” of human sexuality, feminists and their antagonists will continue to argue their positions with great vigor, which they should. What they don’t need to do is to mislead the public while they do it.

OBAMA-LETTER This week I’m going to depart from the typical pattern of commenting on an analysis of the behavior of our early ancestors, or what the most natural behaviors are for us to exhibit as a species. Instead, I’m going to look at a letter, sent out today by President Obama, regarding the war in Iraq and what it can tell us about human behavior and the evolution of warfare, if anything.

In his letter, President Obama announced that at the end of this month [August, 2010] our combat mission in Iraq would officially come to an end. He went on to say that over the past 18 months 90,000 troops have left Iraq and that by the end of this month there would be 50,000 troops remaining in country to further train the Iraqis to maintain peace and stability. While this is an impressive accomplishment, given the Bush administration’s swelling of troops in Iraq to 160,000+ shortly before leaving office, I think it is useful to consider the numbers in the context of human evolution and recent history.

50,000 is nearly the enrollment for [The] Ohio State University. Imagine for a moment the entire student body of OSU in Iraq. 50,000 is nearly the total number of US deaths in the war in Viet Nam, one of the most costly wars in number of deaths in our nations history. 50,000 is just about half of the total standing Roman army at the height of its military power. 50,000 is the TOTAL number of Hominins estimated to be alive at any one time in Africa during the early Pliocene, when our bipedal ancestors were first evolving. While we see 50,000 soldiers in Iraq as a drastic reduction in the numbers, and it is, we should also realize just how many individuals that is engaged in a military activity at one time. At no point in the evolutionary prehistory of our species were there enough individuals alive at one time to field a force of 50,000 – even if every single Hominin showed up to fight! Oh yeah, there are now over 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan too.

There are myriad reasons that modern warfare differs from the warfare of our hunter/gatherer ancestors, technology, social complexity, international law, globalization, etc…One of the reasons often overlooked is sheer numbers. There are so many people alive today, concentrated in constructed entities called nation states, that our wars now often involve more soldiers than total humans living in most regions of the world during prehistory. The magnitude of a war that involved 160,000 soldiers [from just one side] is something beyond the wildest imaginations of our most aggressive, violent ancestors, let alone those that made efforts to avoid conflicts.

If war is a truly human behavior that is defined as Livingstone Smith so succinctly states as “premeditated, sanctioned violence carried out by one community against members of another” (p. 16 “The Most Dangerous Animal”) it has reached new levels in the post-industrial age. I could go on about “smart” bombs and drones, satellites and dragon skin, but just the ability of one “community” to put 160,000 troops onto a given “field of battle” has altered the very face and scope of war. My students have often heard me talk about waves of chimpanzees chasing back and forth during battles that I’ve observed while in the forests of Uganda. Imagine the ENTIRE population of wild chimpanzees from across Africa involved in one massive territorial battle. While it is obvious to anyone who understands military strategy, even remotely, or just watches CNN that the entire contingent of 160,000 soldiers is not involved in every battle, or even most, we are still able as a community to send over 160,000 of our members off to wage war. This is such an amazing number, that when it is reduced to 50,000 we rejoice in how few soldiers are in Iraq. Still, we need to remember that, numbers-wise, it is almost as if we’ve taken the population of OSU and sent them all overseas at once.

When I read through John Horgan’s article, “Quitting the hominid fight club: The evidence is flimsy for innate chimpanzee–let alone human–warfare” in Scientific American I was surprised. I know John and have talked to him about the topic of lethal intercommunity coalitions (LICs), and the evolution of warfare in the past. I sat there thinking to myself, “Why did he take this position in this article?” And, “Does it matter?” The answer to the second question is, “Probably not.” The investigation of the roots of warfare is a search for fact, not truth. While personal philosophies often confuse and muddle that search, the objective should remain objectivity.

When Mr. Horgan declared that he had turned, “…from a believer to a skeptic” we discover all that we really need to know about his commentary. He was a follower of the “Church of Demonic Males” and has “fallen from grace”. Mr. Horgan, for all of his pure intentions, was never an investigator who had been convinced by the evidence that supports an evolutionary predisposition towards lethal intercommunity coalitions among male humans and chimpanzees, that our common ancestry with chimpanzees is marked by males that were willing to kill their own kind. Instead, Mr. Horgan, who is an excellent science writer, was a believer, in a philosophy that looks at the world through red in tooth and claw glasses. While Mr. Horgan’s shift in his personal philosophy will probably not do much to impact the study of the evolution of warfare in our lineage, his article provides an opportunity to address several issues that are often misunderstood or misrepresented in this line of inquiry.

At the beginning of his article Mr. Horgan claims that a quote from Wrangham and Peterson’s 1996 book “Demonic Males:Apes and the Origins of Human Violence” is an extraordinary claim. When examined more closely, the quote, “Chimpanzeelike violence preceded and paved the way for human war, making modern humans the dazed survivors of a continuous, five-million-year habit of lethal aggression.” is obvious to most, it’s creative language used in a trade book to make a dramatic point. Mr. Horgan apparently doesn’t see it that way. Instead he uses it as his basis for analysis of what he calls the “demonic-males theory”. This is where I am reminded how few people understand the difference between a theory and a hypothesis, and it’s particularly upsetting that an otherwise excellent science writer doesn’t seem to grasp these two elemental concepts in science. In the sciences a theory is an agreed upon explanation of a phenomenon, or group of phenomena, that has been consistently supported through empirical testing, using available data. In other words, in the sciences, a theory is kind of a big deal. In the sciences a hypothesis is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon or group of phenomena. The ideas put forward by Wrangham and others about the evolutionary basis of LICs in chimpanzees, humans and our common ancestor are hypotheses, they are yet to reach the level of theory. Unfortunately for his argument Mr. Horgan doesn’t seem to recognize this.

Mr. Horgan continues in his article by suggesting that researchers are somehow inflating the numbers of their studies by putting things in a context of 100,000 individuals in a population. This is really an issue for the statistical tests being used, and much like the effect of predation, LICs, while rare, are critically important for the individuals impacted by those behaviors. He further tries to minimize the impact of LICs by quoting a study by Sussman and Marshack that showed that on average researchers observed LICs among chimpanzees once every seven years. If we were to do the same sort of analysis on rates of predation among wild chimpanzee populations, I bet we would find that predation was observed even less by researchers. I will soon be running this analysis to verify my wager. However, there are few researchers that would claim that predation has not been an important selective force in the natural history of chimpanzee populations. Likewise, Mr. Horgan seems to minimize the importance of infanticide as part of this behavior. By doing so he seems to be ignoring the impact that killing the offspring of rivals, and potential rivals, has on competition between groups of males. I can only attribute this position to his relative ignorance of the study of infanticide in chimpanzees and other mammals.

Mr. Horgan continued his article by asking the question: Could unusual environmental conditions be triggering intergroup chimpanzee killing? To support this proposition, he used a quote from Jane Goodall, that appeared in Sussman and Marshack’s paper in which Dr. Goodall said that provisioning, “…was having a marked effect on the behavior of the chimps. They were beginning to move about in large groups more often than they had ever done in the old days. Worst of all, the adult males were becoming increasingly aggressive. When we first offered the chimps bananas the males seldom fought over their food; …now…there was a great deal more fighting than ever before.” To the casual observer, this quote would indicate that chimpanzees only started forming large parties and engaging in LICs after they were provisioned with bananas. To this I suggest reading the report by Mitani et al more closely, in which they are describing and analyzing the behavior of the Ngogo chimpanzee community. The Ngogo community has never been provisioned and is in the middle of a fairly stable national park, with little human encroachment. Yet, this community patrols and engages in LICs at higher rates than any other community observed to this point.

Mr. Horgan goes on to talk about bonobos and how they may more accurately represent our primate ancestry than chimpanzees. This is a position held by a minority of scientists. Bonobos are geographically isolated to the south of the Congo River, while chimpanzees stretch from the western edge of Africa to the Albertine Rift. Bonobos are much more homogeneous, ecologically than chimpanzees. Finally, bonobos have derived characteristics not shared by chimpanzees or humans. It is more plausible [and parsimonious] that the common ancestor of bonobos, humans and chimpanzees was chimpanzee-like and that bonobos and humans are derived from that ancestral condition.

In a flash, Mr. Horgan moves quickly into archaeology and the seeming absence of data that indicates warfare in our recent evolutionary past. This is a leap given the evidence of warfare in numerous prehistoric societies, that have spawned volumes like Pearson’s “Warfare, Violence and Slavery in Prehistory”, Guilaine’s “The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory” and Arkush and Allen’s “The Archaeology of Warfare: Prehistories of Raiding and Conquest”. These volumes together represent over 40 separate studies that document and analyze warfare in prehistoric societies. Despite this, Mr. Horgan continues the myth that there is little evidence of warfare in prehistory. Even if we ignore these studies for a moment [a difficult task given their breadth and scope] there is a point that Mr. Horgan seems to be missing: warfare doesn’t always take the form of battles between armies. It often consists of a few individuals ambushing a member of another community and inflicting as much damage as possible in an attempt to kill that individual.

Dr. Fry, who Horgan invokes next to combat the dreaded “demonic-males theory” has tried to minimize the importance of warfare among hunter-gatherers and pre-state societies by using definitional deflection. He is using the definition of war to deflect readers from a pattern, observed in prehistory and today, among male humans that resembles chimpanzee boundary patrols and territoriality: Groups of related males working together to isolate, ambush and kill [if possible] males from other communities. While modern human and chimpanzee males engage in this behavior, and human males in prehistory did likewise, it leaves little direct evidence for researchers to find. Human victims of this sort of ambush killing die alone and their bodies are often not recovered. In the forest we are lucky if we find the bodies of chimpanzees that have been killed by rivals from other communities – dead bodies don’t last long in the rainforest. While I would never say that we can use data that doesn’t exist to support a position in science, I would agree that just because we haven’t observed something yet, we cannot conclude that it doesn’t happen. It took years of observation for Jane Goodall to describe to us all how chimpanzees regularly make and use tools in the wild – a trait that used to distinguish our species from all others.

Mr. Horgan is a self-proclaimed “peacenik” who obviously would like to believe that our ancestry is much less bloody than what the data indicate. I do not fault his philosophical position, I just hope that those reading his article do not confuse it for scientific inquiry or skepticism. One thing that I do hope is that the individuals who share Mr. Horgan’s personal philosophy come to understand that ignoring facts and plausible explanations for phenomena will not make them go away. If we want to be able to do something about war, we need to understand where it comes from. To do that, we need to consider all of the data available, not just that which fits within our personal philosophies.

Scientific American recently published two blogs related to the evolution of warfare. The first is by primatologist Frans de Waal, and is concerned with over-crowding and the impact of it on primate populations. The second is by John Horgan, an author, and former adherent to the idea that Hominins engaged in warfare. I will comment on de Waal’s work here and Horgan’s next week.

De Waal begins his

I’ve been getting requests from some people to comment on BP, the oil disaster, and the impact on our environment. I have been following this story pretty closely since it first broke, and have worried about the health of the Gulf Coast ecologies and communities. I hope everyone who comes across this post realizes what this was: a failed experiment by a massive corporation that considered itself above any moral, ethical, or written laws, to make huge profits off an unproven system. The blowout preventer had never been tested at 5000 feet [nearly one mile], and should never have been tested in such a manner. However, BP understood how much oil they could harness, if they were successful, and they deemed the potential profits worth the risks involved. This is where one of the primary problems in this scenario lie: a corporation decided that the risks faced by our environment and our communities was worth the potential profits they could make by tapping the oil reserves at the base of the Gulf of Mexico. Sound familiar? How about Wall Street deciding that the risks faced by our collective financial well-being were worth the potential profits they would make off of trading on residuals? We need to wake-up and realize that as long as we continue to elect lawmakers in this country who are beholden to large corporations, we will be at the mercy of those entities. We need to understand that our environment is not something that should, or ought, to be gambled based on a risk assessment memo produced by a for profit corporation. This disaster will have ecological ramifications that the best computer simulations cannot even begin to predict at this point. What’s disheartening to me is that people seemed to only respond to the real crisis when they saw the lack of availability of shrimp and other gulf products in their local supermarkets, or when they saw the price of those products when they were available. This is where one of the other primary problems in this scenario comes into play: human nature. We are selfish by nature, and it is only when we are personally affected by an event that we take notice. This results from a genetic predisposition shared by all organisms, but we can overcome it through our cultural teachings, but we must act fast.

Right now, there are voices in our country stating that this is not a disaster, that the environmental groups are overreacting to the impacts of the spill, and the most insidious of these talking heads have proposed that environmental groups were responsible for, or complicit in, the spill. As if the Sierra Club was some hippie version of the Heritage Foundation and Deepwater Horizon was the aquatic equivalent of the Twin Towers. This sort of talk reveals more about the source than the target. Neocons in this country saw the attacks on 9/11 as a tragedy and great opportunity for our country. They used the attacks as a rallying cry for the country which led to the invasion of Iraq and record profits for military contractors throughout our nation. While the portrayal of the Deepwater Horizon disaster as some sort of blessing for US environmental groups is the most insane and extreme rhetoric emerging to this point, there is more. Some of our lawmakers are in complete denial about the severity of the situation, saying that the oil spill is, “…not an environmental disaster.” [Don Young (R) Alaska]. Still others are slow to condemn BP, their practices or even the practice of offshore drilling.

Understand this. BP is to blame for this disaster because their high risk practices allowed it to happen. To that end, BP must pay for the costs of cleanup and recovery – without limitation. Further, we must put a moratorium on offshore drilling, until further studies are completed on the equipment involved and their shortcomings. Third, we must put greater emphasis on finding ways to feed our power hungry societies without drilling – alternatives HAVE to be found. Finally, we must vote with our votes. We need to find and elect leaders who are visionaries and forward thinking, not slaves to the system and the corporations who keep paying for their campaigns. We are reaching a critical time in the history of our nation and the world, in which we have to move past our innate propensity to accept risk of our environmental health for increased resource availability. We need to understand the ramifications of our actions, and act accordingly. This begins with each of us and our approach to the world around us.

I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend over the past 15 years or so; more and more we, as a society, refer to the President of the United States by their last name only. This is troubling to me. It represents a relaxed attitude toward our highest elected official, the leader of our nation, and the Commander in Chief of our armed forces that is not healthy. Some would argue that this breach of etiquette is just people trying to relate to such an obscure figure. I don’t think that’s the case, especially with President Obama. His critics love to call him, simply, Obama as if he has no other title. It’s as if they are trying to forget that he won [in a landslide], was sworn into office in front of the largest inaugural crowd ever, and is actually leading this country and making many of the changes he promised during the campaign. Hear this Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity; Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. You can call him Mr. President, President Obama, The President of the United States, The President of the United States of America, or even POTUS, just show he and the office the respect they deserve. When you call him Obama, without the title, it doesn’t damage him. In case you hadn’t noticed, President Obama is resilient. When you show that kind of disrespect, as a rule in your conversational M.O. you are damaging yourself and the country that you claim to love. Everyone else out there, here this, when you throw your hat in with classless blow-hards who don’t understand the term mutual respect, let alone know how to display it, you become a classless blow-hard. Move beyond the insulting, childish rhetoric, and learn how to communicate without attempting to derogate or diminish others. Anyone who knows me, knows how hard I worked to limit the tenure and reach of the last administration. It’s no secret that I despise President George W. Bush and his administration, and what they did to this country. However, even when I was writing letters calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, I did so while using their correct titles. I didn’t respect the men, but I respected, and still respect, the offices they held. What Neocon talking head out there can say the same? Show yourself!

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. Not the analysis of them, or the symbolic nature of them, or even what they may tell us about our mind’s propensity for fits of insanity. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the advice many of us are given as kids. We are told to chase after our dreams, to reach for them and to never give up. This is great advice, and it’s what I tell my two daughters all the time. However, we are rarely told what to do, if and when those dreams come true, and that is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

For most of the world, what to do when their dreams come true is not an issue, they are hardly able to conceptualize dreams, much less work toward their fruition. Instead, most of the world is working everyday to survive, to live, and if they’re lucky to succeed. Don’t get me wrong, as children we all dream about what our lives will be like when we grow up. Some dream of being a doctor, some of being leader of their country, while others dream of being a singer, or a farmer, or simply a mom or dad. For most of the world, though, those dreams wane as they grow up and face the realities of life. For many, just being a mom or dad will be the only dream they achieve.

For a lucky few of us, dreams can become reality. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a gorgeous family filled with love and am a professor and field primatologist who spends his days in the forest following chimpanzees, and then writes and lectures about it to college students. Now, on the verge of moving into the house we’ve been looking for and a new venture in my professional life, I stop to wonder: what’s next? I’ve been working my whole life to achieve my dreams. Not once while I was on this journey did I think that it couldn’t be done [thanks Mom and Dad], but it wasn’t easy, and I didn’t mind the hard work. Now, however, I stop to wonder what my next dream is.

Don’t get me wrong, my journey is nowhere near its conclusion. I still have to get tenure, publish my two books and become full professor, but these dreams are secondary to those with my family and my research. Those that are becoming realities. It is that “success” that I’m trying to understand how to cope with. How do we as goal driven, hard-working individuals enjoy success when it comes to us? How do we revel in our successes while continuing to respect our dreams? I’ve watched this past week as a fellow child of 1972, Corey Haim, reaped the results of not handling success. He spiraled into drug addiction early on in life and never found his way out. While he wasn’t the biggest star [though he was for a while] or the most talented actor, he was a child of the 80’s and starred in a few iconical hits of my youth. I felt bad for him, and thought about how his dreams came true and he couldn’t handle it. I wondered if anyone who was telling Corey how he would become famous, and why, ever stopped to tell him what to do when his dreams materialized? I’m willing to bet that conversation never occurred.

I don’t claim to have the answers, and don’t have to worry about stardom and celebrity, though I have some thoughts on handling both. What I’d really like to know is what everyone thinks about why we’re not told what to do when we achieve our dreams, and how we should handle it when our dreams come true.

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