Monday, July 27, 2009

"Monkey what?" by Ivan Phillips

Monkey what?, originally uploaded by theta_sigma.

This alarming shot by Phoole Friend and GENIUS Ivan Phillips, who engaged me in a spine-jangling conversation about Dario Maestripieri's theories of the Most Successful Monkeys, namely humans and rhesus macacques, and their use of Machiavellian intelligence, which you can read all about in Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World.

This chance encounter installed dormers in my skull, because for the past several years, I've spent a great deal of time observing people who live, struggle, toil, lie, steal, sicken themselves and/or gamble everything in the hope of attaining higher social status, within a wide variety of frameworks: family, peers, career, cliques, any group of more than two people. Ivan shared with me that he'd attended one of Maestripieri's talks about the qualities that make humans and rhesus macacques such successful primates, and, from what I recall Ivan telling me, Maestripieri finds that these two successful monkeys structure their cultures hierarchically, and then distribute resources according to the hierarchy, with the top levels of the hierarchy getting all of the resources first, and then the lower levels getting what's left according to the whims of the topmost level.

I'm intrigued and horrified at exactly the same time, which has always been my gut reaction to all things Niccolo Macchiavelli -- the idealist in me hopes kindness and altruism will save us all, but experience shows Macchiavelli's postulates ringing true again and again. So I'm looking forward to receiving and devouring this book. My strolling chat with Ivan yesterday collided two spheres: my love of monkeys and my fascination with human motivations, and I really didn't see that coming. Cheers, Ivan!

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