Robert Sapolsky has an extremely interesting interview in Edge where he covers a lot of fascinating stuff. The whole interview is well worth a careful read, but the bits that really caught my interest and that I’ve quoted at length, begins:
“For the humans who would like to know what it takes to be an alpha man?if I were 25 and asked that question I would certainly say competitive prowess is important?balls, translated into the more abstractly demanding social realm of humans. What’s clear to me now at 45 is, screw the alpha male stuff. Go for an alternative strategy. Go for the social affiliation, build relationships with females, don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to be the most adept socially cagy male-male competitor. Amazingly enough that’s not what pays off in that system. Go for the affiliative stuff and bypass the male crap. I could not have said that when I was 25.”
He goes on to explain:
“The typical male baboon career trajectory is to fight your way to the top while building some good coalitional skills. When you’re relatively high-ranking and if you’re going to stay up there, you switch from physical prowess to psychological intimidation and social skills. But eventually it catches up with you and you finally get into a key fight and get killed or crippled or are utterly defeated and you crash way down. However, every decade you’ll get some guy who’s fought his way up, and six months into his ascendancy suddenly decides, “Who needs this?” and voluntarily walks away from it. They seem to have some sort of epiphanal mid-life crisis and go on to spend the rest of their lives hanging out with infants and forming social attachments with females.
Ten years ago the evolutionary community would have had a derisive response to this, saying that while this may be terrific, it’s not a very successful adaptive strategy because this guy is walking away from the competitive world of maximizing his reproductive success. Now, however, genetic studies are beginning to show that these guys out-reproduce the slash-and-burn competitive guys, because they last for years afterward without getting seriously injured and form this female affiliate…”
“According to an unexpected finding called female choice it turns out that females have a hell of a lot of control over who they’re mating with, and, irrationally enough, they like to mate with guys that are nice to them! You see this dynamic when some guy from the male-male competitive world pops out and is supposed to be her mate. She wants to run off to the bushes with Alan Alda, and manipulates the social situation to pull this off.
A handful of these guys simply walked away from it over the years.(…) They had the lowest stress hormone levels you’ve ever seen in male baboons, and outlived their cohorts. The fact that this alternative strategy is actually the more adaptive one is one of the good bits of news to come out of primatology in quite some time. If that’s the future of primates, this planet is going to be in great shape in a couple of million years.”