First thing we do is kill all the jerks

There a fascinating article in today's New York Times on a troop of baboons which went pacifist:

... researchers describe the drastic temperamental and tonal shift that occurred in a troop of 62 baboons when its most belligerent members vanished from the scene. The victims were all dominant adult males that had been strong and snarly enough to fight with a neighboring baboon troop over the spoils at a tourist lodge garbage dump, and were exposed there to meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis, which soon killed them. Left behind... were the 50 percent of males that had been too subordinate to try dump brawling, as well as all the females and their young. With that change in demographics came a cultural swing toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.

It has been twenty years since this cataclysmic event and the amicable atmosphere persists even though none of the original male survivors is still around.

"We don't yet understand the mechanism of transmittal... but the jerky new guys are obviously learning, ‘We don't do things like that around here.’"

Of course, baboons will be baboons.

The new-fashioned Forest Troop is no United Nations, or even the average frat house. Its citizens remain highly aggressive and argumentative, and the males still obsess over hierarchy. "We're talking about baboons here," said Dr. Sapolsky.

Sounds a lot like the real United Nations to me.

Comments (38)
  1. Steve Sheppard says:


    What a load of liberal spew! Obviously bad for the individual and the group? Seemed to work pretty well for the Romans the Huns the Germans and the Baathists. In the Natual World the biggest, baddest, S.O.B gets what he wants and the rest get the leftovers. Pacifism, like most liberal ideas, only works if EVERYONE plays by the rules, which they inevitbly don’t.

  2. Sherrod says:

    Natural selection only cares about traits that increase continuing replication of the genes in question. Selection doesn’t care if a trait is beneficial to the group or individual unless it helps spread the genes through replication.

    Side topic: Because intelligence is related to responsibility, the introduction of contraceptives has made intelligence an evolutionary disadvantage in most human societies. (Smart people reproduce less.)

    Joke: I vote for allowing Steve the spoils of the tourist lodge.

  3. Fletch says:

    Aggression without intelligence is no good for the long-term. Too many aggresive ‘youngsters’ end up the wrong-side of living (aggressive, dangerous driving for example).

    You need a mixed range of ‘abilities’ for said group to prosper – so it can react to changes in the environment and for mutation to be effective.

    Evolution is not pretty. And I fear humans are devolving now…

  4. Jeremy Bloath says:

    In fact, it seems likely that the artificial interference in evolution has been humanity itself. A reasonable assumption would be that the interference dates from the emergence of the pathologically violent, male-dominated caucasians in Europe a few tens of thousands of years ago. Much as the United States has since 1945 transformed the entire world into a blood-soaked war zone after its own image, these early caucasians would have imposed their own compulsive aggression and racism on all the species around them. This explains why European animal and plant species have tended to displace native flora and fauna in places like Australia, an entire continent which had never known violence until the racist, capital-hungry empire-builders moved in to stay in 1788.

    Oh, and Steve Sheppard: A little objective critical analysis won’t hurt you. Indeed, it may even open your mind.

  5. Steve Sheppard says:

    Ahhh, another liberal standard: If I don’t agree with you then I either don’t understand because I didn’t think about it enough for the light to dawn or my IQ is simply too low to comprehend the simple but elegant point of your "obvious" conjecture.

    And I can tell from the rest of your post that you’re also a commie tree hugger.

    Well, let’s get it over with then. Come on over here so I can use my evil caucasian hands to rip your silly commie-piko-lib head off and shove it up your rectum after beating you senseless with my evil capitalist wallet while trying to formulate a new plan for taking over the whole world through the murder and subornation of children. After all, according to your reasonable assumptions I’m doomed to behave this way anyway :)

  6. Jeremy Bloath says:

    Steve Sheppard: If you’re too brainwashed by right-wing lies to see how the mere presence of white people must necessarily induce racist behavior in a cactus, I wash my hands of you.

  7. Steve Sheppard says:

    Quitter! :)

  8. asdf says:

    Dr. Sapolsky? I didn’t know Joel got a Ph.D.

  9. Claw says:

    like Australia, an entire continent which had never known violence until the racist, capital-hungry empire-builders moved in to stay in 1788.

    Au contraire Jeremy… the notion of "the noble savage" has been disproved in study after study. Violence has always been a part of every human society ever studied, even the aboriginal tribes in Australia (though I do agree that the colonizers did not help matters at all). A study of the northern Australian Murngin tribe showed that tribal warfare routinely killed 30% of their adult male populations, compared with 1% for modern Europe/U.S.

    Of course, this does not justify any acts of force by the U.S., but at least puts it into perspective. At the very least, you should be looking at the data… use some of that objective critical analysis that you espouse.

  10. Søren Sandmann says:

    Actually, there is a good evolutionary explanation for generosity and the strong feeling people have that they should return a favor or a gift.

    Clearly a society where people are helping each other, where everyone plays by the rules, has an advantage over one where they don’t. But inevitably freeloaders and parasites that don’t play by rules show up and appear to have an evolutionary advantage. And it’s true, if you are naively, unconditionally generous and sharing, a freeloader will have an advantage over you.

    But suppose your strategy is instead to "be generous, but always return in kind", then a freeloader would only be able to take advantage of you once. After that you’d behave just like the parasite and the parasite’s advantage would be minimal.

    However when you meet one of your own generous kind, both of you would be helping each other and returning the favors, which would make both of you keep up the good spirit, and give both of you a huge advantage over the freeloaders who don’t trust each other.

    If you are the only generous indvidual in a community of egocentric freeloaders, you would have a slight disadvantage (you would get burned the first time you interacted with each freeloader), but as soon as just a few more of your own kind exist, playing by the rules will start paying off for all the good guys.

  11. Jeremy Bloath says:

    It’s peculiar that aggression, which is so obviously bad for the survival of the individual AND the group, should not have been selected out long ago, both in the culture and in individuals.

    It would seem that the presence of aggressive behavior artificially influences natural selection. Since aggression is so common, we can conclude that evolution in the "natural" world is in fact quite *un*-natural. Given a level playing field, with mature species spared artificial interference from non-natural behavior, we’d see results more in line with logic and common sense.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Is aggression obviously bad for the individual? It gets you more food, more territory, better mating opportunities…

  13. Mat says:

    Wasn’t the Times the paper that had the guy that completely made stuff up? The guy that sat at home and wrote crap because he could get away with it?

    The Times isn’t a science rag. It’s a lot closer to the Nat Enquirer and Star than Popular Sci.

    What does this prove, anyhow? Baboons aren’t smart enough to fill a power vacuum? La-ti-frickin-da! Call me when they have opposable thumbs…

  14. Mat says:

    Please don’t forget that it’s not just the US killing people. I’m not trying to get in a pissing match, but you can’t simply take a cheap shot like that. More than just the US are involved, so be fair.

  15. Eric Lippert says:

    Indeed! If we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that those who feed trolls are condemned to repetitive conversations. Or something like that.

  16. Zirakzigil says:


    The original article is very interesting. A social order that’s not almost entirely genetically derived is something we don’t typically think of non-humans as having. I’ll have to crack open The Selfish Gene (again, after all these years) and see what Dawkins had to say.

  17. Mat says:

    Your comment hardly deserves the respect of a response, but here goes…

    You are wrong.

    You are so far wrong, it’s sad.

    Europe has been a dominating influence yes. History has been filled with brutality, yes.

    "Much as the United States has since 1945 transformed the entire world into a blood-soaked war zone after its own image…"

    That’s pathetic. I defy you to compare death and damage numbers from all US conflicts of WWII to now versus *just* the Rowandan conflict. I think if you take a look at the numbers, your rhetoric is pathetic when confronted by actual facts.

    Grow up. Read history. The truth, while ugly, is still much more favorable in comparison to anti-factual instigating trash.

    -Mat Chavez


  18. Mat Hall says:

    According to game theory, there’s a critical balance between generous and selfish members of a population; too many selfish members, and the whole thing comes crashing down. The "best" scenario is that everyone is generous, but human nature ain’t like that.

    Unfortunately it seems that the balance is shifting more towards the selfish end of the spectrum, but this isn’t a political or sociological discussion, so I won’t say any more on the subject. :)

  19. quanta says:

    Sounds like a good case for open source!


  20. Jeremy Bloath says:

    Mat: I stated, correctly, that all conflicts since 1945 can be traced to direct US militaropolitical intervention (CIA coups, US-funded terrorist groups, etc.), or to US corporatist economic intervention. That may sound like a rather sweeping statement, but there simply is not a single case where the causes, when properly understood, cannot be traced back to something in which the US was involved. This has been researched extensively by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and others. They’ve got their ducks in a row. It’s a fact.

    The Rwandan conflict (I assume that’s the one you mean) is no exception (though as I recall the death toll was around 800,000, far less than Vietnam or Iraq alone, much less the cumulative total of US massacres, the casualties of which (including Rwanda), number somewhere in the range of eighty or ninety million dead). It’s to be expected that racist US apologists will attempt to hold America’s victims responsible for the actions which they may, in some limited and immediate sense, have "performed", but the fact is, the so-called massacres in Rwanda were a regrettable but perfectly understandable response to the devastating effects of American influence on that unfortunate nation.

    To summarize:

    There can be no effect without a cause.

    In any conflict, the chain of causality ultimately intersects the United States.

    To suggest that this is a "coincidence" is evidence of self-deception on a scale that beggars the imagination.

    I repeat: There can be no effect without a cause. If the root cause of conflict were removed, there would be no conflict.

  21. Gene Hamilton says:

    My dad once proved mathematically to me that the Vietnam War was my fault. (even though I was born 5 years after its end.) So "that all conflicts since 1945 can be traced to direct US militaropolitical intervention" sounds possible to certain types of people.

  22. Raymond Chen says:

    There was the time I got into a fight with my younger brother, which happened after 1945, and I was punished for it. Can I blame US militaropolitical intervention?

  23. Jeremy Bloath says:

    Mr. Chen: That is correct.

    Your little brother owes you considerable reparations for the awful crime that Congress and the CIA made you perpetrate against him.

  24. Cooney says:

    There is, for example, NO evidence, physical, archaeological, or anthropological, for any inter-tribal violence in the New Guinea highlands before the white Australians arrived to exploit them.

    On the flip side, I remember reading someone’s vacation log from Hawaii, where a tour guide takes her group to a beautiful mountain/hilltop with a steep drop on one side. She then relates the story of how one Hawaiian king gathered his defeated foes in this spot, then drove them over the side.

    Hah! My anecdote contradicts your anecdote!

    Ever notice how most of the really rabid anti-white lunatic fringers are white?

  25. Claw says:

    Jeremy: You say there is no evidence, and then say any evidence that points to the contrary is made up. However, you don’t point to any evidence backing up your view; you just assert what you say is right.

    But the fact is, evidence of human violence has been rife, stretching back to the beginnings of human civilization. There is plenty of archeological evidence of weapons and weapons being used against other humans (gash marks in bones, etc.). Even in northern Australia, there are 10,000 year old rock art drawings depicting duels between individuals. There is evidence of defensive walls being put up in Pakistan about 6,000 years ago. What was the purpose of wasting resources on these walls if not for the defense against wars? In addition, there are plenty of 4,000 year old skeletons in China showing signs of scalping and decapitation. The list continues…

    Just because this contradicts your stance doesn’t make it right-wing propaganda. I actually consider myself a liberal because of the positions that I support, but I also consider myself a realist. You have to look at all the evidence in order to make an informed judgement. Violence is never right, but ignoring the fact that it has been a part of human societies just hurts your cause. The goal is to understand the real motivations and address them. If you ignore the evidence, you won’t get anywhere.

  26. Jeremy Bloath says:

    Claw: I’ve explained the real motivations again and again. You don’t appear to be parsing the simple fact that IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT. ALL of it.

    Am I contradicted by the fact that Pakistanis 6,000 years ago anticipated Bush’s apocalyptic war against Islam and got a head start preparing their defenses? Hardly. Once again, your "counterexamples" merely serve to illustrate my point.

  27. Gene Hamilton says:

    That’s the hallmark of a fool, all right: "My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with the facts".

  28. Claw says:

    Claw: I’ve explained the real motivations

    > again and again. You don’t appear to be

    > parsing the simple fact that IT IS ALL YOUR

    > FAULT. ALL of it.

    Ha! I find it funny that you seem to automatically assume that I am caucasian and therefore am at fault for all the violence in the world, when in fact both assertions are untrue.

    You’ve stated what you think are the "real" motivations again and again, and I think that has been made obvious to all of us here, but you never once cited any proof that these are the real motivations. Even if it was the case that there was no archeological evidence of human violence, the absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence.

  29. Jeremy Bloath says:

    "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"?

    I seem to recall hearing those words not so long ago from somebody in the government… just who might that have been, I wonder?

    Ah, yes, it was Donald Rumsfeld. He was talking about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And he was as wrong as you are: Absence of evidence is certainly not evidence of PRESENCE, is it? If there’s no evidence that something happened, there’s no reason to assume that it did. The reasonable assumption is that it didn’t.

    As for proof, I referred you to authors who have proven who the guilty party is many times, in far more detail with far more comprehensive factual support than I could possibly provide in this limited forum. If a proposition is proven irrefutably once, there’s no need to reiterate. It is as established as the law of gravitation that the United States is by many orders of magnitude the most evil, destructive, repressive, murderous, and immoral state in the history of the human race. It’s a proven fact. Just like gravity, or the power of acupuncture to remove warts.

  30. OK, I’m done. He’s just talking to niggle a response.

    BTW, my guess is he’s French. Any takers?

  31. Claw says:


    Say no more. The wart-removing power of acupuncture has made me seen the light.

    I relent. Historical wrongs must be addressed. I am abandoning the swinish, abusive, materialistic, and admittedly racist mentality that I have developed in my capacity as a software engineer. No more can I stomach living in these Fascist Ununionized States of AmeriKKKa.

    I am off to show my solidarity with the browner peoples of the Earth by joining the burgeoning, indigenously-run, cannibalism-free :) agro-Proletarian movement in Papua New Guinea, where the workers still labor under that capitalist construct we call "gravity" (it exists, after all, only to break the backs of farmers with hoes and miners with picks).

    May all of you see the errors of your ways, as I have.

    Vive la revolution!

  32. Raymond Chen says:

    Remember when we were talking about baboons?

  33. Gene Hamilton says:

    Yes, I remember those days… That all stopped after the first response to this blog entry.

  34. Jeremy Bloath says:

    Claw says:

    > A study of the northern Australian Murngin

    > tribe showed that tribal warfare routinely

    > killed 30% of their adult male populations,

    > compared with 1% for modern Europe/U.S.

    Yes, I’ve heard of such "studies". There’s a big market for that sort of "history" in the KKK/Republicrat edutainment system of the USA.

    The bottom line is very simple: When alleged "history" is so much at odds with *principles*, when somebody hands you some alleged "facts" which cannot be reconciled with what you know to be true, remember that history is always written by the conquerors. Remember that the corporatist publishers who package those lies have no interest in the truth. Remember that you are at WAR with their class and its genocidal policies.

    Western apologists often claim that so-called "primitive" people are inherently violent, but when you look closely, it turns out that all of this violence is a purely modern phenomenon. The sole violence in which the "primitive" people engage is the liberational struggle against the colonialist West. There is, for example, NO evidence, physical, archaeological, or anthropological, for any inter-tribal violence in the New Guinea highlands before the white Australians arrived to exploit them. In the New Guinea highlands, the concepts of "murder" and "revenge" were simply unknown before the arrival of Western influence. Those cultures are tens of thousands of years old.

    NOW can you begin to understand what your racist expansionism has destroyed?

  35. Norman Diamond says:

    Well, despite the trolls being trolls, the base note did say this:

    > Sounds a lot like the real United Nations to me.

    Sometimes this blog does too ^_^

  36. Eric Lippert says:

    Remember when we were talking about baboons?

    As far as I can tell, we still are.

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