people do evil things, such as when they commit genocides in Bosnia
or Rwanda, we call them "animals." If people do altruistic
things, such as when they save another's life or give generously
to the poor, we attribute this to our noble human morality. We
call them "humane."
Both sides of human nature, however, are tied to our biology.
This theme of the duality of human nature, hovering between beast
and angel, is brought home in Our Inner Ape by looking
at our two closest animal relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo.
The chimpanzee has a reputation as murderous and power-hungry,
whereas the bonobo, the hippie of the primate world, seems to
prefer to "make love - not war." Both apes are equally close to
us on the primate family tree, but comparisons with chimpanzees
have thus far dominated the media and literature. This is because
until recently little was known about the bonobo. The bonobo's
female dominance, cooperative nature, and use of sex to restore
peace poses a challenge to certain male-biased theoriesthat equate
humanity's aggressiveness with progress.
the last few decades, biologists have popularized the image of
humans as driven by "selfish genes," doing only what is good for
themselves. This message fit the Reagan-Thatcher Zeitgeist
of greed as the foundation of the free-market system. Well before
Enron and the spate of corporate scandals, however, Western cultures
have been placing increasing emphasis on moral responsibility
Also within biology, the tone of the debate about human nature
has changed drastically over the last few years, from the right
of the strongest to the evolution of morality and commitment.
This seems the right time, therefore, to present a more complete
picture of human nature and human ancestry, one that tries to
accommodate both the chimpanzee and the bonobo within us.
doing so, the focus is on human behavior through the eyes of a
primatologist. I have written both Chimpanzee
Politics (on the Machiavellian tendencies of male chimpanzees)
The Forgotten Ape (on the Rousseauian tendencies of bonobos).
By using the bonobo and chimp as provocative metaphors for ourselves
and our evolutionary ancestry, we are able to see vivid mirror
images of ourselves.
book is published in the US by Riverhead, in 2005, and will soon
thereafter appear in a dozen other countries. See complete list
FINDING A TITLE
title "Our Inner Ape" was decided on an impulse early on. It was
intended as a joke, to be updated and changed later on when we
would come up with a more serious, more appropriate title. But
in fact, we never found a better one. The joke makes people smile
and immediately communicates what the book is about.
of this book's topics are close to my heart, such as conflict
resolution, power strategies, and the origins of human morality.
Since I have treated the major themes before, finding my voice
wasn't that hard. The new twist of Our Inner Ape was to
make primate behavior apply directly to human behavior.
previous books, I left the human connection open. When I wrote
Chimpanzee Politics, for example, I just assumed that readers
would see the link with human behavior. I didn't go out of my
way to point it out. I didn't mention any actual political situations
out of fear that such asides would distract from the chimp story.
In Our Inner Ape, I threw such caution aside. To make
the human connection explicit I relied on what I learn from newspapers,
Time and Newsweek, the internet, and so on. I have
an avid interest in international politics, but also in the peculiarities
of my home country, the USA. And then, of course, there are the
many psychological studies of human behavior that I could rely
on. Some human behavior is off limits to the social sciences,
which has its share of taboos - such as on power - so that I had
to feel my way based on what I see around me or read in novels
(which can be very good at analyzing people's motives). But there
is plenty of knowledge on human xenophobia, violence, desire for
fairness, and development of empathy.
write my books without much of an outline except for the chapter
titles. My main strategy is to just start writing and see what
happens. From one topic follows another, and before you know it
I have a dozen pages filled with stories and thoughts. The primate
stories are engraved in my mind like so many family dramas. I
have a very visual memory, and remember events in great detail.
I write, my desk fills up with ever higher piles of papers and
books used for reference, until it is a big mess, which is something
I cannot stand. I am very neat. So, at some point I put all that
stuff away, print out the text I've written, and sit down comfortably
with a red pen. By that time I have already gone over the text
multiple times. With pen in hand, I do a very rigorous rereading
and again change things around. I am in fact a slow writer due
to the frequent rereading and rewriting.
The second step comes when I show the text
to Catherine, my wife, who knows all the stories by now, but still
looks at the whole with a fresh eye. Her comments help me keep
the text lively and explain things that I had taken for granted.
After this, I show the text to colleagues and editors, who add
another layer of comments. I am always amazed how many modifications
a text goes through before I am satisfied. And often the process
is one of reduction, of throwing out what's unneeded. I am a big
believer in the German saying "In der Beschränkung zeigt sich
erst der Meister" (self-imposed limits characterize the master).
write mostly in the evenings and weekends. I cannot write most
of the week as I am either teaching or touring my research sites.
Those days are too busy to concentrate on writing. Most writing
is done at home in my office that looks out on our garden and
the forest around it. But I also write on trips if I have a few
hours alone in a hotel, and one entire chapter of Our Inner
Ape was written in my favorite city, Paris, alternated with
inspirational strolls in a nearby park.