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Ch. 2: Power 
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Post Ch. 2: Power
Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 2: Power. :x


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I find chapter 2, about power, to be fascinating.

De Waal begins by relating an example of power struggle between male chimpanzees he observed at the Arnhem Zoo in Holland and concludes that "Power is the prime mover of the male chimpanzee. It's a constant
tant obsession, offering great benefits if obatained and intense bitterness if lost."

Later he writes: that "it's not unusual for high-ranking primates to develop the ulcers and heart attacks also common in corporate CEOs."

p 49: "For males, power is the absolute aphrodisiac, and an addictive one at that."

Yesterday, President Camacho and I discussed chapter 7 of Cannibals and Kings, by Marvin Harris.
The author discusses studies by anthropologists which describe some traditional societies in Melanesia and New Guinea.
In such groups , the "big man" or mumi is one who redistributes food among his followers, sometimes keeping nothing for himself.
I wondered how this could happen, and what the benefits of "mumihood" could be that bring about such seflessness. I thought perhaps status and power in themselves could be enough of a driving force, even in the absense of material gain.
Anyway, this was given as an example of what could have happened between what Harris describes as egalitarian primitive groups in prehistorical times and the emergence of nation states.

Now, after the reference to the apparent exception, back to the norm, and what De Waal calls the "obvious will to power" of the human race, and "the enormous energy put into its expression".

The author raises a question I find extremely interesting:
p 51: (An Archaic Tendency).
"I'm puzzled by the taboo with which our society surrounds this issue.
"Most psychology textbooks do not even mention power and dominance, except in relation to abusive relationships. Everyone seems to be in denial."
(emphasis mine.)

De Waal then mentions that in a study about power motive, businessmen state that lust for power does exist, but only in other businessmen, and the same with politicians, who describe themselves as "public servants".

I thought I would take De Waal up on this, and I looked at what books had been published on power, in English and in French.
What I found is always about extremes of power, such as : power in autocratic states such as Myanmar and North Korea, abusive use of power in some familes, or extreme cases like perverse narcissists. It seems that concerning democracies, nobody feels like writing about the everyday use of power that will not make newspaper headlines or take the power seeker to jail.
I did find quite a few books about psychological manipulation.
Does this mean that there is no interest in describing the everyday use or struggle for power in democracies? Does it mean that things are so smooth that power is no longer sought and used? Things have certainly got more subtle than they used to be-- or for example intimidation is not carried out by thumping one's chest, as apes do.

De Waal writes: " it's refreshing to work with chimpanzees: they are the honest politicians we all look for."


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Tue Jun 03, 2008 11:15 am
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Ophelia, I've just finished Our Inner Ape and am so pleased that Booktalk has recommended this. De Waal is full of basic insight. I think this book holds a very useful mirror up to human psychology, without all the stupid behaviourist experiments and preconceptions, but just looking at how apes live to see where we came from.

In my day job I work for the Australian Agency for International Development, and have spent more than a decade working on Papua New Guinea. I have never heard of this 'selfless' behaviour of the big man. Rather, their efforts are to obtain as much as possible for themself, using ostentatious distribution as a way of buying support. Their small clan social structure is closer to our ape origins than is our industrial civilization, and reading of the cooperation between apes reminded me that big men in PNG need to be excellent negotiators and speakers to stay on top of their clan. Perhaps they sometimes make a show of taking nothing, but I would expect it is with the expectation of getting more later. PNG is a fascinating country, with intact language, land and cultural traditions. In saying they are in some ways closer to apes I am paying them a compliment, as I think a big point de Waal makes is how much our modern world has lost through loneliness and alienation and forgetfulness of our primate origins.

The power chapter has interesting comments on Machiavelli on page 58
Quote:
power is all around us, continually confirmed and contested, and perceived with great accuracy. But social scientists, politicians and even laypeople treat it like a hot potato. We prefer to cover up underlying motives. Anyone who, like Machiavelli, breaks the spell by calling it like it is, risks his reputation. No one wants to be called 'Machiavellian' even though most of us are.



Tue Jun 03, 2008 4:19 pm
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Ophelia wrote:
you confirm that my instinct about being doubful about selfless behaviour on the part of big men was justified. And what you say about their needing to be good at talking...yes, I can imagine.
Actually, getting what you want through persuasion would be a link between ancient civilizations like PNG and the second half of the twentieth century in the west.

It is interesting to see you describe PNG as an ancient civilization. In the 'cannibals and kings' context, emergence of monarchy is often seen as a precursor of civilization, so PNG has traditionally been classed as uncivilised. This is unfair on PNG, as they have a lot to teach the rest of the world about social organisation in small groups. There are more than one thousand languages on the island of New Guinea, with adjacent languages often as different from each other as English is from Chinese. Jared Diamond's book Guns Germs and Steel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel, and also Tim Flannery's Throwim way leg - http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/flannery-leg.html have some good views on where PNG fits in the order of things. I made some comments at http://peb.anu.edu.au/pdf/Tulip-Histori ... rogram.pdf



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Robert Tulip wrote:
I think a big point de Waal makes is how much our modern world has lost through loneliness and alienation and forgetfulness of our primate origins.

He does find things to admire about chimps, but I find his attitude is also one of wariness of their violent ways. His eyes are open to the cruelities as well as the saneness of chimp society. We have no cause for lording anything over them, but De Waal knows that in chimp society, brutality is legitimized in a way that it isn't in ours. For what it may be worth, we have a cultural recognition that brutality is to be sanctioned only under certain conditions. Might makes right seems to apply to chimps more than to us. This may be a more frank use of power, but is not what most of us want.
DWill


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Thu Jun 12, 2008 11:53 am
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DWill wrote:
]He does find things to admire about chimps, but I find his attitude is also one of wariness of their violent ways. His eyes are open to the cruelties as well as the saneness of chimp society. We have no cause for lording anything over them, but De Waal knows that in chimp society, brutality is legitimized in a way that it isn't in ours. For what it may be worth, we have a cultural recognition that brutality is to be sanctioned only under certain conditions. Might makes right seems to apply to chimps more than to us. This may be a more frank use of power, but is not what most of us want. DWill


Yet, the beautiful story about the bonobo is that since their split from the chimps some millions of years ago, they have evolved (or retained) quite separate and different behaviour patterns with much lower levels of violence. De Waal speculates that the abundant food source in the safe environment of the Congo jungle enabled bonobos to maintain a much more friendly and caring manner than chimpanzees, including much greater power for females.

I can't imagine anyone advocating the informal anarchy of chimpanzee power politics as a model for humans, but the bonobo are a different story. If we are able to use technology to produce abundance for all, then the genetic story suggests the cooperative model of the bonobo would come to increasingly characterise human life.

I think of this in terms of an essay on global warming I just read by Freeman Dyson in the New York Review of Books http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21494 in which he discusses "a "low-cost backstop," a policy based on a hypothetical low-cost technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or for producing energy without carbon dioxide emission, assuming that such a technology will become available at some specified future date. According to Nordhaus, this technology might include "low-cost solar power, geothermal energy, some nonintrusive climatic engineering, or genetically engineered carbon-eating trees.""

My view is that this low cost technology requires large scale algae farms in the ocean, able to produce energy and food and capture carbon in such enormous abundance that the current scarcity model of the world economy will be replaced by much more cooperative behaviour, like the bonobos in the fruit trees of the Congo. The ocean is 71% of the land mass of our planet. Covering one percent of it with algae carbon farms would rapidly remove anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere.



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Don't you find it awful to contemplate the fate that De Waal says may be in store for the apes by 2040--no remaining natural habitat? I can't think of a greater indictment of our own primate species.

Yes, the example of the bonobos is encouraging if it leads us away from thinking that our evolutionary lineage commits us to the social ways typical of the chimps and us. We don't lack the genes necessary to become more humane.

I know Dyson is a visionary, but I'm not confident about so-called unlimited sources of energy. Any source will have big drawbacks if we look at it as potentially unlimited, although we might not be able to see the drawbacks now. To me, the realization of limits in the supply and adjustment of our behavior accordingly is the only real answer.
DWill


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DWill wrote:
Don't you find it awful to contemplate the fate that De Waal says may be in store for the apes by 2040--no remaining natural habitat? I can't think of a greater indictment of our own primate species.
That is why we need to find replacements for the products now taken from the rainforest. In my opinion, it is technically feasible to shift most land-based activity to the ocean, especially using algae to grow fuel, food and carbon products. I wrote a short story on this at http://www.ascm.org.au/jgOnline/jg2007Autumn.pdf

Quote:
Yes, the example of the bonobos is encouraging if it leads us away from thinking that our evolutionary lineage commits us to the social ways typical of the chimps and us. We don't lack the genes necessary to become more humane.
This to me is the key argument of the whole book. If we can engineer abundance we can enable a friendly society.

Quote:
I know Dyson is a visionary, but I'm not confident about so-called unlimited sources of energy. Any source will have big drawbacks if we look at it as potentially unlimited, although we might not be able to see the drawbacks now. To me, the realization of limits in the supply and adjustment of our behavior accordingly is the only real answer.
DWill
Dyson's 'carbon eating trees' is a vision that I would support as the basis of 'carbon eating algae farms' bringing nutrient from below the thermocline to build blooms on large reflective sheets floating one metre below the sea surface. Energy is unlimited. Only one ten billionth of the energy pumped out each moment by the sun hits the earth, and we use hardly any of that. Earth could support twenty billion people in harmony with nature if we used energy well.



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Robert, the idea of using algae is intriguing, and I had a look at samples of what has been written on the web in French and in English. The idea is attracting attention.
I have seen one reader voicing a suspicion I had: could we control the development and possible negative sides of an alga we introduced in the ocean?

Anyway, here is one source about the research being done in Japan:

http://www.nni.nikkei.co.jp/FR/TNKS/Nni20080520D20HH027.htm

I've read that the technology is being used in Italy and the Netherlands, and here is an articles from the (London) Times:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/camilla_cavendish/article4069159.ece

Quote:
Earth could support twenty billion people in harmony with nature if we used energy well.


Robert, now I'm worried. :(
You may have just written this as an example to make a point, but if people start thinking along those lines even before the technology is usable, what will happen if it works and we get cheap energy?
Won't people begin thinking that this is a great chance to stop all those bothering schemes about population control, let's have three times as many people as before, three times as many cars-- but with cheap energy, who wants only one car per person? So let's run looking for a new idea to help the algae...


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