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May 08, 2008


On good days, politics is 95% primate screeching and hooting. On bad days it's 100%. This is why I hate and fear politics so deeply.

In any case, the New York Times Freakonomics blogg has an interesting interview with Frans "Bonobo" de Waal that touches on primate politics:

If both monkeys got the same reward, there never was a problem. Grapes are by far preferred (as real primates, like us, they go for sugar content), but even if both received cucumber, they’d perform the task many times in a row.

However, if they received different rewards, the one who got the short end of the stick would begin to waver in its responses, and very soon start a rebellion by either refusing to perform the task or refusing to eat the cucumber.

This is an “irrational” response in the sense that if profit-maximizing is what life (and economics) is about, one should always take what one can get. Monkeys will always accept and eat a piece of cucumber whenever we give it to them, but apparently not when their partner is getting a better deal. In humans, this reaction is known as “inequity aversion.”

I actually don’t think the response is irrational at all, but related to the fact that in a cooperative system, one needs to watch what kind of investment one makes and what one gets in return. If your partners always ends up getting a greater share, this means that you’re being taken advantage of. So, the rational thing to do is withhold cooperation until the reward division improves.

This holds an important message for American society which is becoming less fair by the day.

De Waal also points out other species besides humans have a sense of rhythm; for instance, cockatoos. Watching the below video, I'm seized with the desire to tape myself mimicking this dancing bird as closely as possible. I'd like to get a white suit and white headdress and then put them on and try to reproduce his moves exactly. Among other things, I'd have to keep my hands clasped behind my back and not bend at the knees.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at May 8, 2008 03:21 PM

Who said white boirds can't dance?

Posted by: john in california at May 8, 2008 04:24 PM

Where am I? Did I turn on the disney channel by mistake?

Posted by: buermann at May 8, 2008 05:08 PM

Freddie Mercury LIVES!

Posted by: darrelplant at May 8, 2008 05:10 PM

2 for 2. Totally hilarious. F the haters.

Posted by: Guest at May 8, 2008 08:41 PM

i can picture the bird going and having a nice lie down after that performance!


Posted by: karen marie at May 8, 2008 11:40 PM

A friend of mine in Houston claims there's a costume shop there that used to rent a David Byrne oversized white suit a few years ago, but I'm guessing there's a lot less demand for it nowadays, so maybe they've sold it.

FWIW Jon S., I think you should do a video of yourself aping the cockatoo, but in a bear suit. You'd go viral, dude.

Or, speaking of the Talking Heads, how about you in a bear suit accompanying "Life During Wartime"?

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at May 9, 2008 06:01 AM

The hooting and screeching is bad enough, but the feces flinging inherent in modern U.S. politics is enough to make one run for cover even without the hooting and screeching.

One of the most important things that any mangy bad-fur monkey could do would be to investigate primate behavior. After all, civilization is only some 16,000 years old, and is a thin gloss on top of millions of years of being, well, monkeys.

Posted by: Badtux at May 11, 2008 09:15 PM

I want to imitate this tv show:

Posted by: hedgehog at May 14, 2008 01:00 AM