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GAMES PRIMATES PLAY by Dario Maestripieri

GAMES PRIMATES PLAY

An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships

By Dario Maestripieri

Pub Date: April 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-02078-2
Publisher: Basic

Maestripieri (Evolutionary Biology/Univ. of Chicago; Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World, 2007, etc.) rejects the notion that “natural selection has left its mark on human mental processes but not on contemporary human behavior.”

Comparing human mental predispositions to computer algorithms, the author suggests that much of our social behavior is hardwired. He scoffs at the idea that recently evolved, uniquely human qualities such as “our new language abilities, our new ability to think and act morally, our new emotions and feelings, and our new cognitive ability” have revolutionized the way we act. Instead, Maestripieri believes that in most everyday social situations our default action is to rely on ancient solutions, shared with our primate ancestors, in dealing with problems. While not denying our “amazing artistic, scientific, and scholarly achievements,” the author writes that we “solve everyday social problems by resorting to the ancient, emotional, cognitive and behavioral algorithms that crowd our minds.” To make his radical claim plausible, Maestripieri recasts primitive society in the image of modern free-market ideology, using the analogy of cost-benefit-analysis to describe how primates trade grooming for sexual privileges. In the same vein, the author writes that dominance/submission relationships pervade our society and are in fact crucial to maintaining harmony in marriage as well as in the competitive public domain. He compares corruption in his native Italy, where nepotism is apparently key to social advancement in the army and academia, to kinship relationships among primates, and he describes a culture of cutthroat competition in American universities, where academics use peer review and tenure as weapons in the struggle for their own career advancement.

The cynicism of the author’s message is made more palatable by his lively wit.