I stumbled across and article in Smithsonian Magazine that prompted some thoughts. The article is about a young behavioral research scientist who studies chimpanzees. He has looked into the link between aggressive behavior and intelligence:
…we would not have evolved the kind of intelligence we have—the kind that allows us to use our brains together, to build things, to be mentally flexible—if we hadn’t had a shift in temperament.” That is, we had to become more like bonobos and less like chimps, which are high-strung, fearful of strangers and generally intolerant of any chimp lower on the social hierarchy. “We had to lose all those traits in order to become who we are.”
The article explains how he studied foxes at a research facility in Siberia. These foxes have been bred for compatibility with people, and nothing else. So this scientist, Brian Hare, devised tests to asses the ability of the foxes to infer what another being is thinking from social cues. The selectively bred foxes:
…performed brilliantly on tests to understand human gestures, while a control group of normal foxes did not. “The fearless foxes hadn’t been selected to be smarter,” notes Hare. “They were selected for ‘niceness,’ for being able to be handled…
So a tentative link is being drawn between the ability to get along with others and intelligence.
…some scientists have claimed that animals are more likely to survive and reproduce if they are able to read social cues…
But Hare focuses on a slightly different type of social intelligence, the ability to work with others, regardless of whether they are strangers or rank lower in the social hierarchy. Hare’s quest [is] to find the primate roots of our social tolerance—and hence, according to him, our intelligence…
He also finds that when testing chimpanzees for similar traits, the more aggressive chimps fail:
…”because of social tensions. They can’t get beyond that to work together,” Hare says. “Only those chimps that eat together are able to cooperate to solve this task.”
Cue every hedonist’s favorite primate, the bonobos:
But bonobos, close relatives of chimps, relieve social tensions quickly and enthusiastically: when two or more bonobos, of either gender, encounter each other, they have a quick bout of sex. Then they settle down and work on the problem together. Bonobos ace Hare’s tests.
This all makes me wonder if the reason they can’t find a single missing link is because there are more than one. Is it not possible that in separate parts of the world, advanced species of primates could have evolved in a parallel manner? This would explain the chasm that exists between the Right and Left in this country. And, according to this article, the species more adapted to cooperation and empathy is bound to win out in the end. If they don’t kill us all first.