Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Peter Augustine Lawler, 1951-2017: On the Evolutionary Psychology of Individual Liberty and Social Virtue

I was saddened to hear of the sudden death of Peter Augustine Lawler at his home in Rome, Georgia, where he was the Dana Professor of Government at Berry College.

Peter and I were friendly debating partners.  The importance of that debate for my thinking is indicated by the many blog posts that I wrote in response to Peter: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Peter combined commitments to an Augustinian Catholic faith, a Heideggerian existentialist philosophy, and a Kirkean conservative politics.  He expressed those commitments in a witty and poetic style of improvisational speaking and writing, often with references to the popular culture of television shows, movies, and novels.  Much of his speaking and writing was done under the sponsorship of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

The one author who most influenced Peter's thinking was Walker Percy.  And of Percy's writings, Lost in the Cosmos was the most important.  Peter's themes of human beings as "aliens" in the universe, wondering wanderers, haunted by love and death were all from Percy, and originally from Heidegger.

Peter and I debated about the adequacy of Darwinian science for supporting traditionalist conservatism or classical liberalism.  Ultimately, our debate turned on the question of whether that science can fully explain human nature.  I generally argued that it can.  Peter generally argued that Darwinian science provides at best only a partial explanation: it goes a long way in explaining our nature as social animals, but it fails to explain our nature as individual persons who want to be the center of the universe.  As he often said, it's all about ME!  (In all of this, Peter was restating themes from Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.)

As often happens with friendly debaters, we began to find more and more common ground.  I now see that common ground as a Darwinian account of human nature that supports a fusion of traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism. 

I use the word "fusion" here to evoke the memory of Frank Meyer, who argued that the debate between American libertarians and conservatives was misconceived, because what was needed was a "fusion" of both positions.  If we properly distinguish state and society, he claimed, we can see that the libertarians (or classical liberals) are right in asserting that the purpose of the state is to secure individual liberty, while the conservatives are also right in asserting that the purpose of society is to promote social virtue.

Of course, this works only if the conservatives are liberal conservatives (like Russell Kirk, for example) rather than illiberal conservatives (like Joseph de Maistre, for example).  Illiberal conservatives want to use the state to coercively enforce moral and religious orthodoxy, which they regard as the necessary condition for any healthy social order.  Liberal conservatives think that the enforcement of moral and religious orthodoxy is properly done through the natural and voluntary associations of society, while the state is limited to securing individual liberty.  To use the language of Richard John Neuhaus in his article on "The Liberalism of John Paul II," illiberal conservatives want a "confessional state," while liberal conservatives want a "confessional society."

Peter and I moved towards a fusion of classical liberalism and liberal conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

I saw hints of this in Peter's chapter in Stephen Dilley's book Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism.  But I saw it even more clearly in one of Peter's articles in The New Atlantis--"Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians".  The editorial note above this article captured the theme of Peter's article in one sentence: "Peter Augustine Lawler argues that evolutionary psychology, rightly understood, reinforces the conservative lesson that we are not merely autonomous  individuals but also social and relational beings."

I have identified evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt as a Darwinian conservative., who shows how classical liberalism is rooted in our evolved moral psychology.  In his New Atlantis article, Peter came close to the same conclusion: "To be effective, social cooperation cannot simply be the product of calculation or self-interest rightly understood (as the Lockeans would have it); but it also cannot be imposed in a way that would abolish individual choice or responsibility (as in the Republic).  For all his sympathy with social conservatism and understanding of the importance of relationships for morality, politically speaking Haidt is more of a libertarian.  He's the increasingly rare kind of libertarian that idealizes not the liberated individual who chooses to design himself from an ever-expanding menu of choice, but rather the intelligently eusocial animal who takes responsibility for his own relationships." 

Peter added: "On his moderately socially conservative view, both 'libertarians (who sacralize liberty)' and 'social conservatives (who sacralize certain institutions and traditions)' reliably espouse partly correct views of who we are."  This is what I see as the fusion of libertarianism and conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

Turning to E. O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth, Peter was impressed by what Wilson said about evolved human nature as showing the tension between individual selection and group selection, which Peter saw as a Darwinian intimation of the tense dualism of human nature as both relational and personal that is captured in Christian theology:
"An unexpected way to unite the Darwinian and Cartesian perspectives can be found in Christian theology, as expressed in the thought of the lately abdicated philosopher-pope Benedict XVI.  The Darwinians are right that we are relational beings, the Lockeans are right that we are personal beings.  We can only be personal through being relational.  And that is the point of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  We don't lose ourselves in God, just as we don't lose ourselves in our relationships with persons made in His image.  We retain our personal identity; being personal is hardwired, so to speak, in the very structure of being itself.  And we are made to be in relationships without becoming mere parts; each of us is a relational whole by nature.  It is a mistake to believe, as the Cartesians do, that we have to win our personal freedom against an impersonal nature, because we are, in fact, free persons by nature."
And yet Peter still held to his often repeated claim that Darwinian science cannot account for the human sense of individual personal dignity: "Although evolutionary psychologists try to reach the same political conclusions as people devoted to the human rights of individuals liberated from nature, evolutionary science offers no real evidence that could ground our sense of personal significance apart from the requirements of the group and ultimately the species." 

This leads to Peter's complaint, in his chapter in Dilley's book, that "Darwin, from a Lockean view, turns individuals into species fodder" (59).

But doesn't the Darwinian account in Wilson's book of the evolved tension between individual selection and group selection convey the human dualism of personal individuality and relational sociality?  Locke captures this tension by affirming both individual freedom based in self-ownership and social bonding based in social instincts.  (Strangely, Peter chose to ignore Locke's emphasis on the social bonding of human biological nature, because Peter was unduly influenced by Leo Strauss's distorted reading of Locke as teaching an asocial individualism in a "joyless quest for joy.")  Evolutionary neuroscience now supports this Lockean psychology: we can see that our mammalian neuroanatomy has evolved so that we naturally care for the survival and well-being both of ourselves and of our families and social partners.

In our debates, I argued that Darwinian science could explain all this about human beings as a product of our evolutionary history.  Peter agreed with Pope John Paul II that Darwinian evolution accounts for everything about human beings except their immortal souls, which requires an "ontological leap"--a miraculous intervention by God that separates human beings from the other animals.

Unlike the other animals, human beings really do insist: it's all about ME!  That means, according to Peter, that none of us can imagine or accept that we must die, that our personal existence can endure only for one human lifetime.  We all fear death and long for immortality, because we all want to be known and loved forever as the unique persons that we are.

By contrast, I have suggested that fearing death and longing for immortality shows a foolish refusal to see the goodness in the enduring but temporary life that we enjoy for as long as we live.  If we could exist as ageless bodies, we would actually be dead.  As I have said in another post, Wallace Stevens was right: Death is the mother of beauty.

This question--whether the goodness of our human lives depends on each of us having personal immortality--is one of those deep questions that we wrestle with in the natural and voluntary associations of our society--in our families, friendships, schools, and religious organizations.  A liberal state secures the peace and liberty that allow us to ponder those questions with one another, but without any coercive enforcement of any particular answers to those questions.

Now that he has died, Peter finally knows--or doesn't know--that he will live forever, and that it really is all about HIM.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Is Chimpanzee Politics Machiavelli's Politics?

                             The Picture on the Book Cover of Machiavellian Intelligence II

In 1967, Antony Jay published Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life.  He argued that the pursuit of power in a modern corporation was just like the Renaissance politics described by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince, and that Machiavelli's principles for gaining and holding political power were also the best principles for successfully advancing one's position in a corporation.  His book is considered a classic of management science that was followed by dozens of other books on "Machiavellian management." 

Jay was also interested in how human behavior in organizations was like a lot of animal behavior.  In a 2005 interview, he said: "During my own experiences, I saw how an awful lot of animal behavior, particularly primate behavior, comes up in the modern corporation."  He also wrote the popular BBC television series "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" that were comic depictions of British civil servants and government ministers fighting for dominance.

In 1970, Richard Christie and Florence Geis published Studies in Machiavellianism, in which they developed a procedure for identifying  the "Machiavellian personality" of people who unscrupulously pursue their selfish interests by manipulating and deceiving others.  They developed a "Mach Scale" based on whether people agree with a series of statements that are identified with Machiavelli.  In its most extreme form, the purest Machiavellian personality might be a psychopath, who manipulates and exploits other human beings unrestrained by any moral emotions of shame, guilt, or love.  The "Mach Scale" has been used extensively by social psychologists.

In 1982, Frans de Waal published Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes.  The book was based on de Waal's study of the chimpanzees in the Burgers' Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands.  At that time, this was the largest group of chimpanzees in a zoo (23 individuals).  During the warmer half of the year, they were free to move over a two-acre outdoor island area surrounded by a moat, which allowed for careful observations of their social behavior by de Waal and his students.

De Waal says that he couldn't understand what these chimpanzees were doing until he read Machiavelli: "The biological literature proved to be of no help understanding the social maneuvering that I observed, so I turned to Niccolo Machiavelli. During quiet moments of observation, I read from a book that had been published more than four centuries earlier.  The Prince put me in the right frame of mind to interpret what I was seeing on the chimpanzees' forested island, though I'm pretty sure the Florentine philosopher never envisioned this particular application" (de Waal 2016, 168).  He found that "whole passages of Machiavelli seem to be directly applicable to chimpanzee behavior" in explaining "the struggle for power and the resultant opportunism" (1982, 19).

In 1988, Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten published their edited book Machiavellian Intelligence: The Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, which explored the "Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis"--the idea that the evolutionary growth in the size of primate and human brains could be explained as an adaptation for the cognitive challenges of navigating through the social complexity of primate communities in which individuals must figure out how best to both compete and cooperate with other members of their species.  This has been a popular topic of research for primatologists and for cognitive scientists generally, although the term "Machiavellian intelligence" is sometimes replaced by "social intelligence" or "social brain" by people like Robin Dunbar.

Michael Jackson and Damian Grace--social science scholars at the University of Sydney (Australia)--have complained that all of these applications of "Machiavellian" thinking to management, social psychology, and primatology show a crude distortion of what Machiavelli actually taught, and that those historians and political theorists who have studied Machiavelli should feel obligated to correct these false views of Machiavelli and his teaching (Jackson and Grace 2012, 2015).

They say that when they examined many of the textbooks on the history of political thought, "we found in them not one single reference to Machiavelli's afterlife in management, social psychology, or primatology" (2015, 68).  They did not look at my textbook on the history of political philosophy--Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.  If they had, they would have seen that my chapter on Machiavelli has passages on de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics, Byrne and Whiten's Machiavellian Intelligence, and Christie and Geis's Studies in Machiavellianism (see Arnhart 2015, 145-46, 151).  I also refer to Edward O. Wilson and Jane Goodall as biologists who study the power-seeking personality among chimpanzees and other animals.  I bring all of this up as I ask the question, Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?  In other words, does Machiavelli's teaching correspond to the popular use of the term "Machiavellian" as denoting the ruthless pursuit of power over others through immoral force and fraud?  Jackson and Grace answer no to this question.

I am particularly interested in raising this question as it bears on primatology.  Is chimpanzee politics Machiavellian?  If it is, does this Machiavellian chimpanzee politics conform to what Machiavelli himself taught?  Or does this chimpanzee Machiavellianism depart from Machiavelli's teaching about politics?  Although Jackson and Grace are a little obscure on these points, they seem to say that while chimpanzee politics might be "Machiavellian" in the popular sense of that term, this contradicts what Machiavelli himself taught.

I will survey some of what de Waal says about chimpanzee politics.  Then I will consider the arguments of Jackson and Grace for denying that chimpanzee politics conforms to what Machiavelli teaches. Finally, I will suggest some ways in which the political life of chimpanzees really does manifest some of what Machiavelli teaches about politics.

When de Waal arrived at the Arnhem zoo in 1975 to study the chimpanzees, Yeroen was the alpha male.  Yeroen was dominant over three other adult males--Luit, Nikkie, and Dandy.  The social hierarchy is indicated by a special form of greeting.  Chimpanzees show a submissive greeting that is a sequence of short panting grunts by the subordinate individual as he looks up at the superior individual, which is usually accompanied by a series of deep bobbing bows by the subordinate.  Sometimes the subordinate will stretch out a hand to the superior or kiss the superior's feet, neck, or chest.  The superior reacts to this by rising up and making his hair stand on end, so that he looks very large in contrast to the groveling subordinate.  The alpha male is the male who is "greeted" by the other males.  Generally, the alpha male is also "greeted" by the females and the children in a group.

The male on the left is dominant.  The male on the right is subordinate.  Although they are actually the same size, the dominant male makes himself look bigger.

People often assume that among animals the dominance hierarchy must be determined by fighting in which the biggest and strongest animal wins and becomes the alpha.  But de Waal insists that this is false.  Among chimpanzees and other animals, physical strength is only one of many traits required for becoming the dominant alpha leader.  To become the alpha, one needs supporters.  So one must form coalitions with partners, and to win the support of the females and the children, one needs to act as a mediator in intervening in disputes to enforce peace and unity either through impartial intervention or by supporting the weaker party against the stronger.  One must know how to reconcile after disputes.  And one must know how to achieve mutual cooperation through reciprocity by returning favors and by punishing those who are not cooperative.  So a chimpanzee community is not governed by "the law of the jungle" or the "rule of the stronger."

There is a female hierarchy as well as a male hierarchy.  In fact, before de Waal arrived at the Arnhem Zoo, the alpha female--Mama--was the dominant chimp over the whole group beginning in 1972.  Then, on November 5th of 1973, three adult males--Yeroen, Luit, and Nikkie--were added to the group.  Mama refused to accept them.  With her friend, Gorilla, she attacked the males--biting their feet and pulling their hair.  Their fear of her was expressed in their screaming, diarrhea, and vomiting.  After two weeks of this, the zoo managers decided to remove Mama and Gorilla from the group, because these females were inflicting too many injuries through their uncontrolled aggression.  Males seem to be better at controlling their aggression.  And since it is known that in the wild adult males are dominant, it was thought that they should have a chance to become dominant without the interference of Mama.

After three months, Yeroen was dominant over the group.  Mama and Gorilla were brought back.  Mama attacked the three adult males.  But she had no support from the other females, not even Gorilla.  Without the solidarity of the females, Mama could not alone intimidate the males.  Within a few weeks, Yeroen was dominant again, and he remained dominant from the spring of 1974 to the spring of 1976.

In 1976, de Waal saw the first of two power take-overs, which he understood with the help of Machiavelli, and this is what became the central focus of his book Chimpanzee Politics.  In the spring of 1976, Luit stopped "greeting" Yeroen, which initiated months of tense conflict between them as they fought over which would be dominant.  Luit formed a coalition with Nikkie, so that Nikkie would help Luit against Yeroen. On June 21st, Yeroen bared his teeth for the first time, which is a sign of fear in chimps.  On September 1, Yeroen "greeted" Luit for the first time.  Luit began to take on the control role of the alpha male in mediating fights to restore peace in the group.  On October 31, Yeroen "greeted" Nikkie for the first time.  So, now, Luit was the alpha male, Nikkie was second in command, and Yeroen was ranked third.

But then, in the spring of 1977, Nikkie formed a coalition with Yeroen to challenge Luit, and by December of 1977, Luit was "greeting" Nikkie as his superior. Nikkie had become the alpha male, with Yeroen second in command.  The chimpanzees' keeper at the zoo worried, however, that Nikkie was too young and immature to properly control his aggression.  De Waal responded by arguing that Nikkie was so dependent on the support of Yeroen, the oldest male, that there was no need to fear "an absolute dictatorship by a snotty-nosed upstart" (1982, 136).

But now that winter had come, and the chimps were confined to their indoor housing, Nikkie's violence did become excessive.  Whenever Luit and Yeroen were sitting together, Nikkie fought to separate them and to be close to Yeroen.  Nikkie became so violent that de Waal and the keeper agreed that he needed to be removed from the group for the rest of the winter.  Once Nikkie was gone, Luit resumed his dominant position.  In the spring of 1978, the chimps were released to their outdoor island, Nikkie was reintroduced, and Nikkie soon reclaimed his dominance.

De Waal noticed something strange about Nikkie's alpha male dominance.  When Yeroen was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other adult males, and he also received almost all of the "greetings" from the females and children.  When Luit was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other adult males, and he also received over 50% of the "greetings" from the females and children.  But when Nikkie was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other alpha males, but he received a lower proportion of the "greetings" from the females and children than did Yeroen.  Moreover, Yeroen exercised the control role--mediating disputes and restoring peace--that would normally be exercised by the alpha male, and this increased the popular respect for Yeroen as opposed to Nikkie.  Echoing Machiavelli's famous remark that "it is better to be feared than loved," de Waal observed that Nikkie was "feared rather than respected" (1982, 149).  But de Waal suggests that this lack of popularity made Nikkie weak.

There was another strange feature of Nikkie's alpha male status. Generally, alpha male chimps have the highest number of sexual matings with the females, and they actively disrupt the attempted matings of other males.  This makes sense in evolutionary terms, because we assume that the drive for male dominance evolved as an adaptive trait because alpha males have higher reproductive fitness.  But during the period of Nikkie's dominance, Yeroen had the highest proportion of matings, and Nikkie was forced to tolerate this in order to keep Yeroen's support.

To explain this, de Waal quotes a passage from Chapter 9 of The Prince entitled "Of the Civil Principate."  A civil principate, Machiavelli explains, is when "a private citizen neither by wickedness nor other intolerable violence, but with the favor of his fellow citizens, becomes prince of his fatherland." 
"One ascends to this principate either with the favor of the people [populo] or with that of the great [grandi].  For in every city, these two different humors are to be found. Thus it is that the people desire not to be commanded or oppressed by the great, and the great desire to command and to oppress the people. . . ."
 "The principate is established either by the people or by the great, according to whether one of the other of these parties has the occasion.  For the great, when they see they are not able to resist the people, begin turning to the reputation of one of their own, making him prince, so they may, under his shadow, give vent to their appetite.  The people also, when they see that they are not able to resist the great, turn to the reputation of one, and make him a prince, so that he may with authority be their defense.  He who comes to the principate with the aid of the great maintains himself with more difficulty than the one who attains to it with the aid of the people--for he finds himself prince with many around him who opine themselves his equals, and because of this he cannot command or manage them in his own mode."
De Waal quotes the last sentence above, and he explains:
"Nikkie's position was not an easy one.  Compared to him Yeroen and Luit were almost all-powerful, thanks to the collaboration of the females.  The important difference between Nikkie's leadership and the old order was that Nikkie stood on the shoulders of someone who was himself very ambitious.  The ensuing problems are familiar enough in the human world.  Machiavelli wrote about the relative powerlessness of this kind of leader.  In in the following quotation from The Prince, we translate 'nobility' [the 'great'] by 'males of high rank' and 'common people' by 'females and children,' then we see that Nikkie's 'principality' is indeed very different from the 'principality' of his two predecessors" (1982, 153).
De Waal observes:
"Sometimes it seemed that Nikkie was being used as a figurehead, and that Yeroen--experienced as he was and extremely cunning--had him in the palm of his hand.  The broad basis for leadership rested not under Nikkie but under Yeroen.  The older male had a coalition with the females to pressurize Nikkie and a coalition with Nikkie to keep Luit in check.  Seen in these terms the situation appeared to represent a comeback for Yeroen.  Luit had deprived him of the support and respect he had hitherto enjoyed, but by pushing a youngster forward, Yeroen seemed to have succeeded in reacquiring both" (1982, 152).
But then, from 1978 to 1980, the proportion of the "greetings" directed from the females and the children towards Nikkie increased until he had the level of respect that normally goes to the alpha male.

In Chimpanzee Politics, de Waal ended the story here. But years later, he admitted that he had left out a brutal act in 1980 of what he called "political murder," because he didn't want to end his book on a "dark note" (de Waal 1986; 1998, 211).  In the summer of 1980, Nikkie refused to tolerate Yeroen's copulations with estrus females, and consequently Yeroen withdrew his support of Nikkie.  Without the coalition with Yeroen, Nikkie lost his dominance, and Luit became alpha male again for ten weeks.

But then Nikkie and Yeroen renewed their coalition and challenged Luit.  One night, while the chimps were in their night cages, Nikkie and Yeroen jointly attacked Luit--bitting off fingers and toes and then ripping out Luit's testicles.  Luit died from loss of blood.

The powerful jaws and teeth of adult males are deadly weapons.  Their incisors are like knives that can easily kill their victims.  But male chimps almost never use these weapons in lethal attacks.  There seems to be a rule against lethal fighting.  And yet the underlying threat of fighting to kill always creates tension in any severe conflict.  On rare occasions, killing does occur.  It's more likely to occur in war--in conflicts between chimpanzee groups rather than within a group.  Jane Goodall has seen this in Gombe.  De Waal could not see this because he was observing only one group.

De Waal's silence about the killing of Luit in the first edition of Chimpanzee Politics was not just to avoid ending the book on a "dark note," I suspect, but to avoid confirming the fears of those who had warned that establishing such a large community of chimps, including adult males, in a zoo without separating them in cages would lead to explosive and even lethal violence.  Since it was known that feeding chimps together created violence in fighting over the food, the Arnhem chimps were fed every morning and evening in separate cages so as to eliminate fighting over food.  But then being enclosed indoors every night during the warm months and throughout the day in the cold months created tension, because chimps in conflict could not separate.  Mama had to be removed in the winter of 1973, and Nikkie was removed in the winter of 1977, because their aggression was leading to serious injuries.  The killing of Luit in 1980 was during a night when Luit, Yeroen, and Nikkie were all caged together, and so Luit had no room to escape the attack.

The longest chapter in Machiavelli's The Prince--Chapter 19 on "Of Avoiding Contempt and Hatred"--is about how princes who become hated open themselves up to conspiracies leading to their assassination.  The killing of Luit seems to show that political assassination is also part of the Machiavellian politics of chimpanzees.

So why exactly do Jackson and Grace object to identifying chimpanzee politics as Machiavellian?  They suggest at least five arguments.  First, they object that what is called "Machiavellian" is based on "the more flamboyant passages" in The Prince--such as "it is better to be feared than loved"--without seeing how less flamboyant passages in The Prince moderate what Machiavelli is saying.  They write: "The Prince, like his other books, also offers moral judgments, recommendations of caution, emphasis on the importance of stability, advice on treating the populace with respect, and much else that surprises those whose stereotype of Machiavellianism is transposed to Niccolo Machiavelli" (Jackson and Grace 2012).

Second, they object that primatologists like de Waal have read only The Prince, and so they don't see Machiavelli's support for republicanism in The Discourses and other writings.

Third, they object that the popular view of Machiavellianism fails to see how Machiavelli was simply responding to his historical circumstances in Renaissance Italy in which political life was disrupted by domestic violence, warfare, brutality, and deceit.  The apparent cynicism of what Machiavelli says is a response to those harsh conditions.  They write: "The best analogy for the circumstances in which Machiavelli lived are to be found today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, or the remoter regions of Pakistan, where power does grow out of the barrel of a gun" (Jackson and Grace 2012).

Fourth, they argue that much of Machiavelli's writing is a factual description of what princes and politically ambitious people do without any endorsement of that behavior.

Fifth, they argue that Machiavelli is clear that the political class of people who strive for dominance over others is very small, and that most human beings do not have such a dominance drive, and they wish only to live their private lives in peace without being exploited by those who wish to dominate them.  In a republic, Machiavelli indicates, the desire to be free is for most people a desire to be free to live a secure life; and it is only for a few people--perhaps no more than 40 or 50--that the desire to be free is a desire to be free so as to command others `(Discourses, I, ch. 16).

Oddly, however, Jackson and Grace don't reflect on the fact that much of what de Waal says about Machiavelli and the chimps agrees with some of their arguments.  De Waal indicates that he does not like the term "Machiavellian intelligence" insofar as it assumes the crudely distorted popular meaning of "Machiavellian":
"The term Machiavellian implies a cynical, the-ends-justify-the-means exploitation of others.  Social cognition covers much more than this.  A mother resolving a weaning conflict by cleverly distracting her offspring, or an adult male waiting for the right moment to reconcile with his rival, both intelligently use their experience but are not exactly acting 'Machiavellian' in the usual sense.  Sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, and reciprocal exchange all demand a great deal of intelligence but are left out if our terminology one-sidedly emphasizes one-upmanship" (1998, 218).
Thus, de Waal agrees with Jackson and Grace in rejecting the popular sense of "Machiavellian."  He also agrees that this Machiavellian idea of "a cynical, the-ends-justify-the-means exploitation of others" cannot explain chimpanzee social life, which requires "sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, and reciprocal exchange."  In Chimpanzee Politics, De Waal sees in chimpanzee life the evolutionary roots of morality--a "sense of moral rightness and justice" (1982, 105, 111-12, 176, 200, 204-205, 207, 212-13).

In his writing published after Chimpanzee Politics, which Jackson and Grace ignore, de Waal argues that chimpanzees show the evolutionary foundations of morality--including reciprocity, fairness, empathy, and social cooperation.  De Waal has summarized some of the evidence for this in a TED talk:

And while Jackson and Grace accuse the Machiavellian primatologists of ignoring Machiavelli's teaching about the importance of a republican politics that respects the needs of the populace, De Waal sees in chimpanzee politics a democratic or republican structure like that recommended by Machiavelli with a balance of three orders--the one, the few, and the many.

Machiavelli analyzed politics as competition for power and glory organized around three orders of human beings--the "prince," who is number one; the "great ones," who are high-ranking individuals with ambition to rule; and the "people," who are the great majority of individuals in a society with no ambition to rule, but who do not want to be oppressed by the "prince" or the "great ones," because they want to live their private lives in security and peace.  A stable and peaceful regime would have to balance these three orders in a manner that would satisfy the ambitions and appetites of all three without anyone having the power to tyrannize over others (The Prince, ch. 9, 57-60; The Discourses, I.2, 10-14).

De Waal saw a similar social structure among the chimpanzees: the alpha male chimp is the "prince"; the high-ranking males are the "great ones"; and the females and children are the "people."  The similarities between chimpanzee politics and human politics were so close that Newt Gingrich, when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress, recommended de Waal's book to all freshmen congressmen who might want to understand Washington politics.

Just as Machiavelli saw the balance of three orders in a republic as the fundamental mechanism for maintaining a stable and free political regime that would not be despotic, de Waal saw the same mechanism at work among chimps.  Noticing how the alpha male often had to rely on the support of an ally to keep challengers down, de Waal explained this as a "balance of power: the superiority of one party over another depends on the support of a third, so that each party affects the position of the others."  De Waal observed that the leader "cannot impose his leadership on the group single-handed. His position is granted him, in part, by the other chimpanzees.  The leader, or alpha male, is just as much ensnared in the web as the rest" (1982, 23).  So, among chimps, there is something like government by the consent of the governed. 

De Waal sees here what some political scientists have called government by the "minimal winning coalition" (de Waal 1982, 187; Bueno de Mesquita and Smith 2011). No one individual can rule without supporters, and so there must always be a ruling coalition supporting the leader, who must satisfy his supporters.  A dictatorship is rule by a small coalition.  Democracy is rule by a large coalition.  The leader must serve the interests of his coalition, and so the larger the coalition, the closer this approximates to serving the common interests of society.

Consequently, there was something like a "democratic structure" in this order of chimpanzee society:
"All parties search for social significance and continue to do so until a temporary balance is achieved.  This balance determines the new hierarchical positions. Changing relationships reach a point where they become 'frozen' in more or less fixed ranks.  When we see how this formalization takes place during reconciliations, we understand that the hierarchy is a cohesive factor, which puts limits on competition and conflict. Child care, playing, sex and cooperation depend on the resultant stability.  But underneath the surface, the situation is constantly in a state of flux. The balance of power is tested daily, and if it proves too weak, it is challenged, and a new balance is established" (1982, 176, 212-13; 1998, 172, 208-209).
Although every human society shows an order of dominance like that of a chimpanzee society, a well-balanced society can achieve egalitarian dominance rather than despotic dominance.  De Waal has observed that rhesus monkeys manifest despotic dominance, because a dominant rhesus monkey instills unremitting fear in subordinates.  But among chimpanzees, the dominant chimp often acts to protect subordinates, and if he becomes a bully, he can provoke an alliance of subordinates to throw him out of power (de Waal 1996, 125-32).

This seems to be what happens in egalitarian human communities.  Among hunter-gatherers, leaders who become too proud are attacked with social ridicule, and in extreme cases, leaders can be deposed or even executed by their followers.  With the establishment of centralized, bureaucratic states, it became possible for despots to concentrate their power.  And yet the natural human desire to be free from despotic exploitation has provoked alliances among subordinates to check the power of dominants, which has promoted political systems for balancing power.  In their style of political dominance, human beings are more like chimpanzees than rhesus monkeys (Boehm 1999, 2012; Rubin 2002; Turner and Maryanski 2008).

John Adams agreed with Machiavelli that every society shows three social orders rooted in human nature--the one, the few, and the many--and that a stable and free republic requires a balance of these three orders.  Adams saw this balance in the American and British constitutions (Arnhart 2009, 73-84; Ryerson 2016).

Adams believed that human nature is such that every human society must decide the question, Who is the first man?  "It is a question that must be decided, in every species of gregarious animals, as well as men."  In a savage state, this question is decided by physical combat between contenders.  But even in the most civilized societies, "the same nature remains," and the contest for first rank must be decided, whether by peaceful or by violent rivalry.  The balance of powers answers this question by providing for a supreme executive office to be filled by one with sufficient ambition to strive for it, while still checking the power of this executive officer with the powers of other offices.

At the top of every society, Adams thought, there will be competition among the "first men" for the highest rank.  The people of a society will fix their attention on these men at the top.  And if there is division over who should fill the dominant position, the society will be thrown into turmoil and eventually civil war.  For this reason, societies should select a single person with executive authority separated from the rest of society and from the legislative body.  This chief executive unifies a society and directs its management.  This executive can then mediate between the passions of the ambitious few who want to rule and the passions of the deferential many who want to be free from oppression by the ambitious few.

Machiavelli and Adams saw this balance of three orders as a republican form of government best designed in conformity to human nature.  De Waal and other primatologists can see the evolutionary precursors of this human nature in the political life of chimpanzees.

And, after all, as de Waal has observed, can't we see a lot of chimpanzee politics in Donald Trump?  Trump once told People magazine: "Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.  You just can't let people make a sucker out of you."


Arnhart, Larry. 2009. Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question. Ed. Kenneth Blanchard. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic.

Arnhart, Larry. 2015. Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker. 4th edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Boehm, Christopher. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Alastair Smith. 2011. The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. New York: Public Affairs.

Byrne, Richard, and Andrew Whiten, eds. 1988. Machiavellian Intelligence: Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jackson, Michael, and Damian Grace. 2012. "Machiavellian Monkey Business: Machiavellian Intelligence in Primates and Machiavelli." The Montreal Review, December. Available online.

Jackson, Michael, and Damian Grace. 2015. "Machiavelli's Shadows in Management, Social Psychology, and Primatology." Theoria 62: 67-84. Available online.

Jay, Antony. 1967. Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life. New York: Bantam Books.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1989. The Prince. Trans. Leo Paul de Alvarez. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1996. Discourses on Livy. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rubin, Paul H. 2002. Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origins of Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Ryerson, Richard Alan. 2016. John Adams's Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Turner, Jonathan H., and Alexandra Maryanski. 2008. On the Origin of Societies by Natural Selection. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

de Waal, Frans. 1982. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. New York: Harper & Row.

de Waal, Frans. 1986. "The Brutal Elimination of a Rival Among Captive Male Chimpanzees." Ethology and Sociobiology 7: 89104.

de Waal, Frans. 1996. Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

de Waal, Frans. 1998. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. Revised edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

de Waal, Frans. 2016. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Some of my other posts on these themes can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here., here., here, and here.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Biological Roots of Monogamy and Parental Care as Natural Desires

My list of 20 natural desires includes monogamous mating and parental care.  If the good is the desirable, then a good life for most human beings will include monogamous marriage and parental care.

I have argued that the biological roots of these two natural desires arise from the complex interaction of genetic causes, neuroendrocrine circuitry, individual personality, and social life history.  That complex interaction creates such individual and social variability that different individuals will rank those two natural desires in different ways.  In societies that show the "demographic transition," most couples will choose to have only a few children, while investing heavily in each child, because social success requires advanced training and education.  A few individuals will choose--perhaps rightly--never to enter a monogamous marriage and never to care for children.

I have elaborated some of my reasoning for this in Darwinian Natural Right and in various blog posts (here, here, here, here, and here).  In Darwinian Natural Right (113-115), I surveyed some of the research on the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin--produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and found only in mammals--as supporting parental care among mammals.

Now, some recent research has identified for the first time some of the genetic basis for parental care among mammals.  This new research has been published in Nature (Bendesky et al. 2017; Phelps 2017; Zimmer 2017).

Parental care is essential for the survival and reproductive fitness of mammals.  And yet among most mammals (about 95% of species), parental care comes mostly or entirely from the mother, while the father mates promiscuously with other females and provides no paternal care for his offspring. 

The oldfield mouse (Peromyscus polionotus) is one of the rare exceptions to this mammalian pattern.  Fathers and mothers are monogamously bonded to one another, and they cooperate in digging burrows and building nests for their pups.  Fathers help in caring for the pups by licking them, keeping them warm, and retrieving them when they fall out of the nest.

                                    Oldfield Mice Share Parenting Duties between the Sexes

This is very different from their closest living relatives--deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus)--who are sexually promiscuous rather than monogamous, and among whom fathers provide little or no paternal care of their offspring.

We might wonder whether this difference is nurture rather than nature: perhaps deer mice parents are uncaring because they were reared by uncaring parents themselves.  But if deer mice pups are moved into oldfield nests, and if oldfield pups are moved into deer mice nests, this does not change the typical pattern when they grow up: deer mice parents are still less caring of their offspring, and oldfield parents are still attentive parents.

In the wild, deer mice and oldfield mice never interbreed.  But in a laboratory, they will interbreed if a single male and female are put together in a cage, and their hybrid offspring are healthy and fertile.

Hopi Hoekstra (an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University) and her colleagues realized that they could study these hybrid mice to find the genetic causes for the differences in mating and parenting.  They paired five mice from each species to produce 30 hybrids, which then produced 769 pups.  They then measured the parental behaviors of these second-generation of hybrids raising a third-generation of pups.  Some of the second-generation parents showed almost no parental care, like purebred deer mice.  Others showed as much parental care as purebred oldfield mice.

By scanning the DNA of the hybrids, Hoekstra and her colleagues identified twelve stretches of DNA (loci) that were linked to parenting behavior.  Some of these loci influence only a single parenting behavior, such as nest-building.  Others influenced several parenting behaviors at once.  Moreover, some loci were important in fathers but not mothers.

The researchers decided to concentrate on the one locus associated with nest building, which contains 498 genes.  They focused on the one gene that codes for the hormone vasopressin, because this hormone as produced in the hypothalamus of the brain has been previously identified as linked to paternal care.  They discovered that deer mice make three times as much vasopressin in the hypothalamus as do oldfield mice.  So elevated levels of vasopressin seem to suppress paternal behavior.  They confirmed this by injecting vasopressin into the brains of oldfield mice, and as a result of this, the oldfield mice fathers made simple nests more like that of deer mice.

This is a strange result, however, because in previous research with prairie voles, another socially monogamous rodent, it has been shown that higher levels of vasopressin in males increases parental care, which is what I reported in Darwinian Natural Right.  As Steven Phelps suggests in his analysis in Nature, previous studies have examined the release of vasopressin in the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus, while this new study analyses the release of vasopressin in the paraventricular neurons of the hypothalamus.  Furthermore, as Phelps points out, genetic variation in nest-building is dissociated from the genetic variation in pup-directed behaviors like retrieving and grooming pups.

We should also remember that the effects of male parenting often depend on social life history.  If the father in a biparental species (like California mice) is removed during offspring development, this paternal deprivation impairs the normal development of the cognitive, emotional, and reproductive behavior of the offspring (Bales and Saltzman 2016; Storey and Ziegler 2016).  We also know from Harry Harlow's famous experiments that this is true for monkeys who have been deprived of maternal care (Blum 2002).

We might wonder whether something similar happens with human beings, so that children reared by both parents are generally better off in their development than those deprived of either paternal or maternal care.  We might also wonder whether there is any harm generally to the children raised by same-sex couples, because the children are deprived of either paternal or material care.


Arnhart, Larry. 1998. Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bales, Karen L., and Wendy Saltzman. 2016. "Fathering in Rodents: Neurobiological Substrates and Consequences for Offspring." Hormones and Behavior 77: 249-259.

Bendesky, Andres, et al. 2017. "The Genetic Basis of Parental Care Evolution in Monogamous Mice." Nature 544: 434-439.

Blum, Deborah. 2002. Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. New York: Basic Books.

Phelps, Steven M. 2017. "How to Build a Better Dad." Nature 544: 418-19.

Storey, Anne E., and Toni E. Ziegler. 2016. "Primate Paternal Care: Interactions between Biology and Social Experience." Hormones and Behavior 77: 260-271.

Zimmer, Carl. 2017. "Why Are Some Mice (and People) Monogamous? A Study Points to Genes." New York Times, April 19.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Slaves Did Not Abolish Slavery

This is the seal of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded in 1787 by the English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.  It was widely replicated as a medallion in different forms.  Many historians today criticize this image as insulting to black slaves by presenting them as supplicants begging for the help of abolitionists rather than as active, self-assertive people who could emancipate themselves through their aggressive resistance to slavery.

Toussaint Louverture, the "Black Spartacus" who led the Haitian slave rebellion, is the best image for slaves emancipating themselves.

In my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right, I compared human slavery and ant slavery.  The similarities suggest that both for human beings and for ants, slavery is a form of social parasitism in which slavemakers exploit their slaves through coercion and manipulation.  The differences suggest that human beings resist the exploitation of slavery because it violates their natural moral sense.  Unlike slave ants, human slaves will resist exploitation and demand social cooperation based on kinship and reciprocity.  Actually, as I have indicated in some blog posts (here and here), some slave ants have been observed rebelling by killing the offspring of the slavemaking ants.

In a series of blog posts (here, here, here, here, and here), I have argued that the natural resistance of slaves to their enslavement illustrates the general principle that might makes rights--that natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human right that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.

Recently, however, I have been reconsidering that line of thought after studying Joao Pedro Marques's argument that the abolition of slavery in the 19th century was not generally caused by slave revolts, with the one possible exception being the Haitian Revolution, which seems to be the one and only case in all of human history of a large-scale slave rebellion that led to the abolition of slavery.  Marques's book has been published in Who Abolished Slavery?, edited by Seymour Drescher and Pieter Emmer (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), which includes commentaries by other scholars and Marques's response.

For a long time, many historians of slavery have attributed the abolition of slavery to the success of white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and white politicians like Abraham Lincoln.  But in recent decades, some historians have argued that the abolition of slavery was caused by the slaves themselves who actively resisted their enslavement, and that the legal abolition of slavery was the consequence of that slave rebellion.

Marques's argues that slaves did not in fact abolish slavery through their rebellion, and that the abolition of slavery was the result of the ideology of abolitionism that appeared for the first time at the end of the 19th century.  He makes two kinds of arguments for this conclusion--a logical argument and an empirical argument.  His logical argument is that a constant cannot explain a variable: slaves have resisted their enslavement for thousands of years--through escape or rebellion--but this slave resistance never led to the abolition of the system of slavery, as occurred in the 19th century.  So there must be something new to explain this, and that something new is the moral and political idea of abolishing slavery that arose in the European Enlightenment sometime after 1750.  Throughout the history of slavery, slaves have shown that they don't want to be enslaved, and so they have looked for ways to emancipate themselves and others close to them.  But prior to 1750, this desire of individuals for their own emancipation was never a desire for the total emancipation of all human beings.  Slaves who act to liberate themselves but otherwise accept the slavery of others are not showing themselves to be anti-slavery or abolitionist.  In fact, emancipated slaves have often become slave masters themselves, thus showing that they accept the system of slavery, although they prefer not to be enslaved themselves.

Marques's empirical argument is that the history of the abolition of slavery does not generally show that this abolition was caused by slave rebellions.  The Haitian Revolution in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue in the 1790s is the only clear case of a large-scale slave insurrection leading to the abolition of slavery.  In all of the other cases of the abolition of slavery, slave rebellion was neither the necessary nor sufficient cause of the abolition.

Many historians find this to be a disturbing conclusion, because it denies the heroic image of slaves as emancipating themselves and all humanity from slavery by their courageous struggle.  For example, Ira Berlin, one of the leading historians of American slavery, claims, in his recent book The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States (Harvard University Press, 2015), that Marques is completely wrong, because American black slaves really were their own emancipators in abolishing slavery.  Oddly, however, while Berlin quickly rejects Marques's position in the Introduction to The Long Emancipation, Berlin does not, in the rest of his book, respond to Marques's arguments, and thus Berlin leaves his readers wondering whether he can refute Marques.

Berlin is silent about Marques's logical argument that since slave resistance has occurred throughout the history of slavery for thousands of years without causing slavery to be abolished, slave resistance cannot be a sufficient cause for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century.  Berlin says that American slavery proved to be a "leaky vessel," because slaves wanted out of slavery, and they found many ways to escape--by running away, by buying their freedom, by persuading their owners to liberate them, and by legal emancipation.  But then Berlin admits that "leaks did not destroy slavery" (13-15).  And he does not observe that slavery has always been a "leaky vessel," and that this never led to complete abolition until the 19th century.

Berlin notes that many slaves "sought freedom for themselves and cared little or nothing for their fellows still in bondage," and that some of the freed slaves even became black slaveowners (35).  But he does not notice that this was one of Marques's arguments for why slave resistance could not be the cause of abolition.

Berlin insists that slave rebellions in the United States were crucial for the movement to abolition.  But he says nothing about Marques's observation that slave rebellions were too rare to explain abolition.  From 1800 to 1831, there were only two medium-sized slave rebellions that failed.  In New Orleans in 1811, 200 slave rebels were killed by an armed force.  In Virginia in 1831, Nat Turner's Rebellion was suppressed in a few hours.  From 1832 to 1865, there were no slave revolts at all.  Most amazingly, even during the Civil War, when the turbulence of the war created a great opportunity for slaves in the South to launch an insurrection, they failed to do so.  Individual slaves did run away, seeking the protection of Union troops, and many became Union soldiers, but most of the four million slaves in the South did nothing to initiate a general uprising, although many people North and South expected a slave insurrection.  Marques concludes that "the level of rebelliousness was generally low" (46).

Not only does Berlin fail to refute Marques's arguments, Berlin even restates Marques's assessment of slave psychology without admitting that he has do so.  In one long passage, Berlin writes:
"Collaborators were the least of the many problems stemming from black indifference to black freedom struggles.  The very circumstances that stoked black opposition to slavery often impeded the ability of black people to work in support of abolition.  Acting from the same bedrock opposition to slavery, slave and free black protestors might well settle for less, as they confronted the brutal on-the-ground realities of the slave masters' power.  While malingering, tool breaking, flight, arson, sabotage, poisonings, and rebellion spoke of the desire to smash the chains of bondage, most slaves grudgingly accepted--and sometimes welcomed--improvements in their lives in lieu of the risks entailed in reaching for complete freedom. . . . Faced with unpleasant choices, the vast majority--judging rebellion to be futile and perhaps suicidal--found an accommodation that would ameliorate slavery's harsh conditions and open a more certain path to a better life, at least in the short run.  Why risk all, when a small gain could be safely achieved?"
"Enslaved men and women hated their confinement and sought every opportunity to break the shackles that bound them, but opposition to their own enslavement--or even the enslavement of others--did not automatically make them abolitionists.  For much of their history--indeed, for much of human history--the notion of a world purged of slavery was simply unimaginable.  Abolition, like any other social movement, was rooted in history and confined in time and space.  Prior to the American Revolution and its ideology of universal equality, there were few movements to contemplate, let alone join."
"Even as the notion of a slaveless world slowly emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, not all slaves embraced it, either because they judged it--as did most Americans--theoretically unlikely or because, practically, they could not fit it into their understanding of how the world worked.  Many slaves, carefully calculating how they might best improve their own condition, stood at their master's side and, in some cases, gained their freedom by informing on slave conspirators, assisting in the capture of slave fugitives, and serving as their owner's ears in the slave quarters." (35-37).
Through most of our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers, in which our human nature was shaped, slavery did not exist, and human adults lived as free and equal individuals.  But then with the establishment of agrarian societies and formal bureaucratic governments, slavery arose and became so deeply established that a "slaveless world" seemed so unimaginable that even while slaves sought every opportunity to liberate themselves, they could not conceive of a world without some being enslaved to others.  It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the Liberal Enlightenment--from John Locke to Adam Smith--introduced the rhetoric of bourgeois equality and liberty that was expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which gradually, in the nineteenth century, led to the abolition of slavery, which was a return to the equality and liberty of the evolutionary state of nature. 

That evolutionary anthropology supports this Lockean and Smithian history has been the theme of some previous posts (here and here).