Via reading this excerpt of Nick Hornby’s interview with The Wire creator, David Simon (looks like an awesome interview) in The Believer magazine, I just read, and really appreciated this full interview with primatologist Frans de Waal.
I know of de Waal’s books about bonobos and chimpanzees, and I think his work provides some interesting bilogical insights into conflict resolution, cooperation and maybe even political and moral philosophies.
Let’s see. . . here’s a good quote from the interview:
If you start from the assumption that humans are entirely competitive and that everything is regulated by selfish motives—and Americans do this more than Europeans—you end up with the conservative streak which is largely based on this kind of social Darwinist idea: let people fend for themselves, they will ultimately improve themselves or they’ll die off, which is fine also. That sort of very harsh political ideology is often sold as being congruent with how nature operates. You look at free-market capitalism as an extension of nature. Wall Street is a Darwinian jungle. But this is not how human nature actually operates. People are not completely guided by selfish motives. A lot of work coming out of behavioral economics challenges this view that humans act selfishly even in economic life, never mind social life. Even economic decision-making is not driven exclusively by selfish motives. And social life, social considerations, and behavior are even less tied purely to selfish drives. A full understanding of human nature, helped by an understanding of the nature of our closest primates, will very quickly lead you to the conclusion, as Adam Smith well understood, that free-market capitalism needs to be counterbalanced by social motives. And then you’ll get more of a mitigated type of capitalism, a softer capitalism. That doesn’t mean you eliminate the free market. But it means that you build a society in which there is care for the poor, where there is reciprocity for others.
Definitely worth reading the whole thing.