THE NEWLY PUBLISHED
In the late 1970s, I began writing Chimpanzee
Politics, a popular account of the power struggles among
the Arnhem males. The chimps had conveniently waited to challenge
the existing order until about one year into my study, when I had
acquired a good grasp of their personalities and behavior.
thirty-two years old, I was risking my career ascribing Machiavellian
tactics to animals. I had been trained to avoid any talk of intentions
or emotions in my subjects. Animals were to be described as soul-less
machines. Obviously, no one follows this rule with regards to human
behavior, and I questioned the wisdom of different standards for
species with so much shared evolutionary history. If two closely
related species show similar behavior, it is far more parsimonious
to come up with one explanation for both.
Morris greatly facilitated the publication of Chimpanzee Politics,
translated into English from my Dutch original. It first appeared
in London, in 1982. The Dutch edition was presented the same year
at the Arnhem Zoo, where I stood in front of the ape island flanked
by the van Hooff brothers. A copy of the book was thrown across
the moat to its leading characters, who acted as if they were going
to read it.
book was a great success, and remains on the market today. Some
of my colleagues may have grumbled, but many others welcomed Chimpanzee
Politics. It introduced the term "Machiavellian" to the vocabulary
of primatologists. In retrospect, it is clear that the time for
this was ripe. Donald Griffin had just published Animal Awareness.
Cognitive psychology was on the rise, and cognitive ethology was
sure to follow.
U.S. Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, put the Arnhem political
saga on the recommended reading list for freshmen Congressmen, in
1994. But the German edition came out under the condescending title
Unsere Haarigen Vettern ("Our Hairy Nephews"), while the
French publisher decided to make fun of Mitterrand
and Chirac by putting them on the cover with a chimp between
them. Both publishers held out for the opposite of what I tried
to achieve: to instill respect for the apes. Nowadays, book contracts
give me veto rights over cover image and title translation.
to Catherine, I knew French attitudes well since I spent considerable
time in France, where Charles Darwin still lingers in the shadow
of René Descartes. Photo
13 shows me with a Spanish friend, Alejandro Arribas, in Paris.
We spent hours debating the cultural side of human biology, reflected
in Alejandro's later books on the topic (photo
14) and my own The
Ape and the Sushi Master (2001).