Splurged and bought some books today, including a gorgeous one of African wildlife photos, hugely oversize, so that I can see every teeny little hair on the Thompson’s gazelle’s noggins. Delightful stuff. Also got “Demonic Males” which is a moderately famed book in anthropological circles, although rather dated these days (a mere decade later!) that studies the biological basis for violence in humans.
So far it’s pretty interesting. The initial chapter describes the famous “chimp wars” at Gombe and other locations, and is written by an actual firsthand observer. It’s grim reading in places–here’s a band of chimps that grew up together, split up into two seperate territories, with a few lifelong friendships continuing between them–chimps coming and going to see their buddies, and so forth. And then, gradually, over the course of a few years, the borders get tense, they get hostile, scream at each other a lot, patrol the borders between the territory, and so forth. Even chimps who had friends in the other band stop going over to see them. And then one day a raiding party of six males and a tough adult female cross the border, find an isolated male, and kill him. And this was obviously their intent, too–they pass up the chance to feed, they freeze whenever there’s a sound that could be another chimp, relax when it proves to be a baboon, and then they find the victim, one of them pins him, and given that a wussy chimp is about six or seven times stronger than a toned human athlete, they inflict an appalling amount of damage. Then they just as quietly return to their home territory. And then they do it again, and again, and again, to all the males and the adult females, integrate the few juvenile females into the band, and when they’ve completely wiped out the other guys, move into their territory and begin the process all over again with the next group over, who happen to be strangers instead of their former buddies.
As anyone who’s spent more than a nanosecond in my company doubtless knows, the quickest way to whip me into a frothing rage is to have a romanticized view of primitive innocence, whether it’s in our fellow humans (such as the noble savage thing) or of other animals. This works every time. It’s more reliable than smacking me with a hammer, because I will usually assume that you didn’t mean to smack me with a hammer and will anyway be concerned with getting to a hospital, whereas if you start gushing about the nobility of animals and how baaaad the mean nasty humans are, I will go directly into rant-and-destroy mode without passing go or collecting any sums of money thereby. And so this is pretty fun reading for me, insomuch as one can have fun reading about things killing and raping each other–it’s a sort’ve dualistic “God, poor bastard,” and “HA! As I always suspected!” combination. This probably makes me a bad person, but I’ve made my peace with that. Expect rant in a few days.