Well then, what about the baboon male? How does he become dominant, and how much do inherited drives and traits enter into the process? At one time baboon dominance was thought to be almost entirely a matter of inheritance; of size, strength and aggressiveness. These qualities, it was held, dominant males passed onto their sons by a process of sexual selection. The dominant male was believed to mate with the group’s females, and to prevent his subordinates from doing so, when conception was most likely, thereby transmitting his own dominant traits to a large proportion of the group’s offspring.
However, it was later found that matters were not that simple. The work of K.R.L. Hall and Robert Wingfield observed a group of South African baboons continuously for nine days, during which time three females were in heat; the dominant male mated with only one of them. Moreover, the other two males in the group also mated with this female, as well as with the other two, though less often than the dominant male. In chimps, appears to play virtually no role in mating; when a female is receptive, all the group’s males, dominant or otherwise, take turns with her quite peaceably.
It must be obvious that if any such process of sexual selection does or did play a role in baboon and human evolution, it must have done so within very narrow limits. If inherited aggressive qualities were continually being transmitted to more and more of the group’s offspring, while submissive qualities were being eliminated, it would not take many generations before all the males were innately aggressive or even ultra aggressive. The result would be a group with all Chiefs and no Indians, group disruption and extinction. Whatever the role of inherited dominance and aggression in primate evolution, it must always have played a distant second fiddle to the basic condition of primate life which is group integrity.
More sophisticated studies show that dominance in baboons depends on many things, some inherited and some certainly not. Size, strength and intelligence are obviously important and undoubtedly inherited to a large degree. But no less important are self-assurance and what can be called the ”will to power”. Irven De Vore suspected that self-assurance was largely or entirely learned. Male infants born to subordinate females, he believed, ”will take on the attitude of subjection they perceive in their mothers,” while the offspring of a dominant female ‘,is likely to acquire the same sense of self-assurance” . the will to power too, seems to be more of an acquired characteristic than an innate one; De Vore cited cases of dominant males who voluntarily ”dropped out’, of the power structure, remaining with the group in a non-dominant, though not notably subordinate position.
As for aggressiveness, it may be inherited, but considerable evidence indicates that it is not. De Vore cites two cases of male baboons changing groups. Both animals were at the bottom of their hierarchy in their original groups, yet both quickly became top baboon in their new groups. If their original status resulted from hereditary non-aggressiveness, then what did their new status result from?
Dominance and aggressiveness are not found among all baboons, even those of the same species. In the Olive Baboon, a variety of the savannah baboon, aggressiveness and dominance hierarchy are marked among groups living in open country, but according to Thelma Rowell, of minimal importance among groups living in the forest, as is true of the forest dwelling chimps. Conceivably, of course, Rowell’s baboons might have been hereditarily non-aggressive, but she neatly disposed of this possibility. She put the animals in enclosures where, being crowded together and unable to forage freely, they had to be fed regularly; as with Goodall’s chimps, this brought them together in large, hungry groups. Bingo! the non-aggressive baboons straightwaybecame aggressive and quarrelsome, and even started to develop clearly defined dominance hierarchies.
All this evidence, can lead to a pretty obvious conclusion that the dominance-aggression-hierarchy syndrome in primates is in no sense a genetically programmed compulsion, as the ”bio-theologists” lik
bert Ardrey, Lionel Tiger and Desmond Morris, would have it, or even a strong innate preference. It is merely a potential; one way in which primates can organize themselves. Whether the potential is realized, and to what degree are matters not of heredity but of environment. Particularly it would appear, of how dangerous or safe the environment is, and how scattered or concentrated the primate population.
If some genetic tendency did exist toward dominance, it should therefore be expected to show up most conspicuously in the simplest, most primitive human societies; peoples living in regions where natural resources are sparse and life, correspondingly hard. In fact however, it is precisely in these regions that dominance and hierarchy are virtually non-existent. Harold E. Driver’s standard source book on the North American aboriginal tribes tells us that throughout the Great Basin, northeast mexico, and nearly all of Canada and Alaska, ” differences in status , other than those based on sex and age, and differences in rank were at a minimum…Leadership, weak as it was, tended to be vested in the most capable man, regardless of ancestry, and this man was followed only as long as he continued to demonstrate his superior skills and judgement”.
Perhaps the outstanding case in point is that of the Tasaday, a hitherto unknown Stone Age tribe discovered in the early 1960′s in the depths of the Philippine jungle. In the accessibility of its resources and its safety from natural enemies, their rain forest habitat resembles that of Vernon and Frances Reynolds’ forest chimps. Coincidentally or not, the Tasaday are quite as pacific as those apes. The few anthropologists who have observed them describe them as outstandingly gentle, uncompetitive, affectionate and non-violent. If as Tiger, Fox, Ardrey and gang tell us, man is inherently prone to dominate his fellows by force, somebody should inform the Eskimo, Bushman, and Tasaday.
”… Robert Ardrey published his African Genesis, popularizing Raymond Dart’s old theory that man evolved from a “killer ape” whose murderous instincts remain deeply ingrained in us, despite a veneer of civility.For many of the thousands who read the book and of the millions who heard about it, the theory remains a chilling but plausible explanation for the brutality of modern man. The theme of man’s innate depravity has been further dramatized in such works as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The idea even offers some escape from guilt: We are born this way and we can’t help it.
The killer ape hypothesis, however, is an idea whose time has gone. In fact, most of the leading scientists who study the evolution of man say the theory never was accepted. The blood drenched story that Ardrey presents as inescapable scientific truth has its roots not in evidence and not in Africa, but in Ardrey’s own emotions about Africa. Ardrey’s visit to Africa was initially to cover Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising for The Reporter Magazine. His first exposure to the fossils, upon the ambiguous features of which much of the argument rests, was mixed with hearing tales from white settlers terrified by rumors of Mau Mau murders. The black freedom fighters, it was widely held, had taken secret oaths in the dark of night and amid grisly rites of sacrifice. They had shed the European’s cloak of civilization and reverted to animals crazed by the taste of blood. It was much the same exaggerated story from which Robert Ruark spun his allegedly based-on-fact novels.
“I sampled in the terror-brightened streets of Nairobi the primal dreads of a primal continent,” Ardrey wrote in African Genesis. “I learned to fear for my life in a thousand ways, and in a thousand moments to yearn for the mortal security of civilization…. Africa scared me. If this continent had indeed been the cradle of humankind, and I had been the first man then I should have been born in fear.”
The book goes on to make the case that Homo ardreyensis could have survived only by using the deadliest weapons he could find or make to defend himself and to slay his murderous brothers lurking in the dark. The ape-men who could make the best weapons or use them most skillfully survived; those who could not perished, the direct victims of the weapons. The instinct to kill survives in its purest form, Ardrey argued, in adolescent street gangs where vibrant youth, still unfettered by the artificial restraints of culture, remains as dedicated to the switch-blade knife as its ancestors were to the bone club or the flint-edged dagger. Ardrey contended that young thugs such as those of West Side Story (“No other work of art…offers such a vivid portrayal of the natural man.”), are mentally healthier than civilized adults. This, he said, was because they lived in harmony with their animal instincts.
“Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon,” Ardrey declared. On the larger scale, this instinct reveals itself in mankind’s giant organizations and machines for making war. In fact, Ardrey argued, the histories of man and lethal weapon have been so intertwined for so long that man has become utterly dependent on weapons and cannot live without them.