This week I want to reach out to all of you who feel that you can no longer trust people. Imagine a world where your worst fears have come true, a world where everyone over the age of 15 is a sociopath. What would it be like to live in that world?
If you only read one book this summer, I strongly urge you to read Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes by Frans de Waal. I have said before that I think the social-brain of sociopaths is similar to that of chimps. Now having read that book I am even more convinced.
Chimpanzee Politics is the true life story of the relationships between individuals of the Arnhem Chimp Colony. Scientists carefully observed, photographed, filmed and recorded every interaction between troop members over several years. I don’t want to give away the story, because it is shocking, and you should read it for yourself. The chimps’ story is presented as a very readable narrative that brings to life all of their individual personalities.
I want to outline here the major findings that help us to understand ourselves and sociopaths.
1) Chimpanzees practice deception extensively. Take this example given on page 36:
Dandy is the youngest and lowest ranking of the four grown males. The other three, and in particular the alpha male, do not tolerate any sexual intercourse between Dandy and the adult females. Nevertheless, every now and again he does succeed in mating with them after having made a “date.” When this happens Dandy and the female pretend to be walking in the same direction by chance, and if all goes well they meet behind a few tree trunks. These dates take place after the exchange of a few glances and in some case a brief nudge.
This kind of mating is frequently associated with signal suppression and concealment. ..Dandy and a female were courting each other surreptitiously. Dandy began to make advances to the female, while at the same time restlessly looking around to see if any of the other males were watching. Male chimpanzees start their advances by sitting with their legs wide apart revealing their erection. Precisely at the point when Dandy was exhibiting his sexual urge in this way Luit, one of the older males, unexpectedly came around the corner. Dandy immediately dropped his hands over his penis concealing it from view.
2) Chimpanzees manipulate and instigate.
3) Chimpanzees fake emotions to get attention and influence others.
4) Chimpanzees hurt one another and only care about the hurt because of what others will think. There is an awareness that hurting is wrong and those who hurt are punished, but they do not appear to care unless someone else sees it.
5) A male chimpanzee will use a “friend” to form a coalition to achieve his aims, then soon after turn on the friend. Male chimps have no problem killing their “friends.”
6) Most interestingly, chimpanzees remember each other and recognize individuals but only females take that a step further and maintain a slightly loyal relationship with another individual. All of the chimps’ loyalties are temporary. Their loyalties are based on exchange. Touch which feels good, sex, food and protection are part of the exchange. They have incredible memories for who they have done favors for, and who has done favors for them. The pleasure they receive due to another’s actions is not lasting and if a coalition is to be maintained, it has to be continually reinforced, with touch, food, sex or some other favor.
7) For chimps, affectionate touching is part of dominance coalition development as opposed to meaningful friendship. In other words, my dog comes to get a caress and kiss me because I am special and he loves me. A chimp engages in the same behavior because he knows it will get him something.
I am very interested in the idea that affection and touching can be part of either love or power motives in humans. It is my observation that many of the worst sociopaths/psychopaths enjoy giving and receiving a touch and a hug. If they are incapable of love how can this be? Is it really all fake? I do not think so. I wrote one of the country’s leading chimpanzee experts about the idea that touching is linked to dominance and power motivation. This is what he replied:
Your recent email was very interesting. Indeed there has been a considerable amount of research on grooming in chimpanzees and it appears that much of male grooming does conform to your hypothesis about grooming being related to dominance status. The grooming is clearly related to achieving or maintaining status and usually does not indicate anything close to affection.
A related phenomenon is the role of grooming in all male patrols in wild chimpanzees. Chimpanzees live in large groups that are highly territorial. All male coalitions sometime form and engage intense grooming among themselves. They proceed in single file towards the territorial boundary, remaining uncharacteristically silent (as if on radio silence). If they then encounter a single male from the adjoining troop they attack him usually killing or severely injuring him. Females or infants from the adjoining population are also sometimes killed.
So grooming in the first case is simply part of a political strategy involving status. In the second case, it seems to solidify group coherence to achieve a rather nasty result.
I offer you this to help you in your recovery: next time you are daydreaming of that wonderful touch from the sociopath you loved, picture the person with the face of a chimp! Get it through your head, the touch was not about love. It was about power and control over you. Like chimps, sociopaths can only retain the pleasure of what you bring them for a short time. The minute you no longer serve a purpose you risk being discarded or worse.
Now go back to imagining a world consumed with deception, fake emotion, manipulation, power and violence. That is the world of the chimpanzee NOT the world of homo sapiens. The majority of our species has the capacity for bonds of affection. Furthermore, for many, many people, real affection and genuine caring even extends to strangers. After reading deWaal’s account, I feel very optimistic about us.
DeWaal drew some interesting conclusions of his own:
Politicians, for example, are vociferous about their ideas and promises but are careful not to disclose personal aspirations for power. This is not meant to be a reproach, because after all everyone plays the same game. I would go further and say that we are largely unaware that we are playing a game and hide our motives not only from others but also underestimate the immense effect they have on our own behavior. Chimpanzees, on the other hand are quite blatant about their “baser” motives. Their interest in power is not greater than that of humanity; it is just more obvious…Humans should regard it as an honor to be classified as political animals.
I agree that humans as a species are preoccupied with power and that the preoccupation is no less than that of the chimpanzee. However, balancing that power motive for most of us is an equally strong love motive. The love motive, not our political cunning is our true claim to greatness and honor. Thankfully, for humans, unbalanced power motives, egocentricity and the incapacity for love constitute a disorder and not our way of life.