What fools we are to assume that nepotism is a function of human sociology, particularly the province of the rich, white and male of our wondrous species. UCLA anthropology professor and primatologist Susan Perry spent approximately 79,000 hours observing 444 Capuchin monkeys that make up 11 social groups in Costa Rica’s Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve, and noticed that the male offspring benefit from a similar form of nepotism.
“Offspring, especially male offspring, raised in a group in which their father is the alpha male, throughout their juvenile phase enjoy a host of advantages over less fortunate monkeys,” said Perry, a UCLA anthropology professor who has studied capuchins for 22 years. “A stable, peaceful family environment may have been important to the well-being and future success of children among our remote ancestors, just as it is to children today.”
Capuchins, incidentally, were taught in a series of experiments to adopt a medium of exchange (currency).
”The capuchin has a small brain, and it’s pretty much focused on food and sex,” says Keith Chen, the Yale economist who conducted the research on Capuchins and currency. “‘You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want.” (Side note: damn Chen for visiting the terror of currency on those poor little creatures. What beauty it must be to be free of such shackles.)
While they may have small brains, they have a very high brain-to-body ratio, which Chen seems to have ignored, rendering the creatures highly intelligent.
“There are a lot of reasons to suspect that the same selective forces that shaped humans also shaped capuchins, causing both species to share features such as complex political behavior and culturally transmitted social rituals,” Perry said.
According to the research, Capuchins organize themselves into groups of approximately 19 monkeys with an alpha male. Various contenders vie for the position of power, and ally themselves with others to fend off would-be kings (good thing they haven’t yet devised something akin to Citizens United, and don’t have a compliant Supreme Court that okays bribery).
UCLA anthropologist and primatologist Susan Perry
And, in a maneuver reminiscent of Machiavelli’s prototypical Prince, newly-minted alpha males go about killing all infants that have not been weaned, which Perry calls “chaos.” It seems rather like something political conservatives would enjoy if they had their way. Then the new alpha male starts fucking. No joke. Death. Sex. Void. Creation. With this in mind, Thomas Pynchon captured this monkey-like death and sex drive quite well in “Gravity’s Rainbow.”
“A marauding male doesn’t know how long he’s going to be in the alpha position,” said Perry. “So he really needs to hurry up and start producing babies if he is going to have any hope of protecting them long enough to see them into adulthood.”
And Capuchin alpha males maintain power not so much through of fighting ability but because they are able to socially manipulate others and manage their allies. Sounds familiar: Koch brothers, ALEC, Karl Rove, Fox News? Those on the Left could learn a thing or two from z’monkeys.
According to Perry, any male Capuchin raised in a stable alpha male regime has “a better chance of surviving to migration age and they have more choices of those to migrate with, so they’re much better prepared for adult life” and “stand a better chance of becoming among the few males that are extraordinarily successful in reproducing.”
Conclusion: If one’s father is successful, one has a better shot at a cushy life and better sex.
And, for what’s it worth, Capuchins like to trip balls on hallucinogenic millipedes. Groovy.
Perry research appears in a study published in the current issue of the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Advances in the Study of Behavior.