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Every rose has its thorns. Review of Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals edited by A. H. Harcourt and F. B. M. de Waal. Oxford Oxford University Press 1992 + 531 pp figures and tables $87

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American Jo u r n a l of Primatology 31:147-151 (1993)
Every Rose Has Its Thorns
Review of Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals, edited by A.H.
Harcourt and F.B.M. de Waal. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992, x + 531 pp,
figures and tables, $87.00.
Adolf Hitler emerged as chancellor of the Weimer Republic in January 1933by
agreeing to establish a coalition government with Franz von Papen as vice-chancellor. The National Socialists only had three minor cabinet posts, while von Papen’s appointees occupied most of the eleven cabinet positions. Less than one
month after the coalition government was established, the Reichstag was torched.
About a dozen years later, von Papen, who had toiled more than any other single
official to assist in Hitler’s climb to power, was acquitted of all crimes at the
Nuremberg trial [Shirer, 19601.
Coalition governments and wartime alliances are commonplace in human history. One goal of Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals is to
establish a foundation for “zoologists” and “social scientists” (the co-editors’ terms)
to study this type of polyadic activity. The birth of interest in this perspective can
be dated to Robert Trivers’s [19711 publication on reciprocal altruism. Paradoxically, a recurrent theme cropping up as the basis for coalition establishment is
self-interest, and not expected future gains due to reciprocation by one’s ally.
The title of the book is something of a misnomer. Three chapters explore
human alliances, two focus on nonprimates (hyenas, dolphins), and the remainder
of the sixteen chapters concentrate on nonhuman primates. A handful of chapters
present new data (e.g., Zabel et al.; Silk), most chapters consolidate and review
multiple articles by the same individual (e.g., Datta, Chapais, Ehardt and Bernstein, de Waal), and some chapters review the literature in a more classic sense
(e.g., van Hoof and van Schaik, Harcourt). The co-editors have done a n excellent
job of cross-referencing chapters and writing introductory remarks for the volume’s
three sections. All chapters close with a numbered summary of key points and most
of the chapters are quite well written. Rather than uniformity of perspective,
different chapters evaluate either proximate or ultimate explanations and the
co-editors should be commended for pinpointing active areas of dispute within the
text and in the field.
At the outset (p. vi), the co-editors distinguish between a coalition (short-term
partnership) and a n alliance (long-term coalition), although this distinction is
sometimes lost in the subsequent chapters. The book opens with a discussion of the
history of research into coalitions and alliances (de Waal and Harcourt) and indirectly poses one of the two central contentious issues in the field (the other is raised
in Harcourt’s chapter; see below): What constitutes a coalition? De Waal and Harcourt (pp. 2-31 note that some investigators include a mother monkey supporting
her infant against aggression as evidence of coalitionary activity, while others
discard this type of activity from the definition (and refer to it as intervention). Is
“conflict intervention” of adult monkeys on behalf of offspring involved in a dispute with peers a “coalition”?
0 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
148 I Bercovitch
Part I concentrates on social structure and coalition formation. Chapais reviews his detailed analysis of rank acquisition patterns in cercopithecinces and
concludes that non-kin alliances have a profound impact on dominance hierarchies. He explains patterns of support in terms of cooperation rather than reciprocity. Datta summarizes her computer models and places rank occupancy patterns in a demographic perspective. According to her reasoning, the availability
and use of allies will be a function of whether a population is expanding or contracting and will be influenced by stochastic changes in population size. Ehardt
and Bernstein focus on conflict intervention by adult male macaques, placing the
intellectual antecedants to their analysis within the context of the “control role”
idea [see Bernstein & Sharpe, 19661. They contrast patterns of male intervention,
mostly in support of both kin and non-kin females against other males, with female
intervention, mostly in support of kin. The crux of these first three chapters highlighting macaque society is that cercopithecine social structure is inadequately
understood if considered only as a kin-based matrilineal hierarchy with daughter’s
rank dependent upon birth order and mother’s rank. Instead, non-kin alliances can
determine dominance status (Chapais), stochastic demographic patterns can alter
determinants of dominance status (Datta), and conflict intervention is both context and situation specific (Ehardt and Bernstein).
Coalition attacks among captive juvenile hyenas are explained by Zabel et al.
as a type of social facilitation, with animals joining in as others do so. The authors
open their chapter by noting that hyena social structure resembles that of many
Old World primates, but their final conclusion regarding social facilitation as an
outgrowth of selective forces favoring coordinated hunting and defense of territorial boundaries has only one potential analog among primates (ie., chimpanzees).
The subsequent chapter (Boehm) compares chimpanzee “warfare” with human
warfare, and both chapters miss the opportunity for a comparative evaluation of
hyena attack coalitions with chimpanzee border patrols. The value of Boehm’s
chapter is undermined by frequent impressions of chimpanzee thinking-for example, “[chimpanzees]share a sense of mission” (p. 161), as well as lack of rigor in
operational definitions. For example, the seeming contradiction between “pacifying interventions . . . do not exacerbate levels of agonism” and “high-ranking
individuals . . . enter into ongoing conflicts [in non-pacifying interventions] . . . and
thereby exacerbate or decide the conflict” is supposedly removed when the author
notes that the distinction between a pacifying and a non-pacifying intervention is
“evident to an experienced observer watching the overall strategy, tactics, and . . .
timing [of behavior]” (p. 145). I don’t doubt his final conclusion that human warfare and chimpanzee border patrols differ because chimpanzees lack “patriotic
ideology and negative sanctioning of cowards” (p. 170),but reading his chapter was
unnecessary to arrive at this conclusion.
Rabbie’s chapter regarding in-group cohesion and out-group hostility was often difficult to follow (“the psychodynamic approach . . . [is based upon] . . . scapegoat theory . . . derived from the frustration aggression hypothesis . . . [which
attempts] . . . to integrate the Freudian postulate about a universal aggressive
drive with constructs drawn from learning theory in order to explain the particular
circumstances in which a universal aggressive drive becomes operative” [p. 1831).
Much of the chapter is devoted to criticizing the research of one of his academic
colleagues, but his key point that levels of intergroup competition influence the
extent of intragroup cohesion can be assessed in nonhuman primates.
Part 11, on the politics of cooperation, opens with a chapter by Silk on conflict
intervention among captive male bonnet macaques. She found that males formed
coalitions about once every 39 minutes, but that the coalitions were not formed for
Every Rose Has Its Thorns I 149
access to resources, including females. Her explanation that the basis of coalition
support is to increase the probability of receiving coalition support seems to border
on the tautological.
De Waal’s chapter on Arnhem zoo chimpanzee coalitions contains two thoughtful points. First, researchers have tended to concentrate on investigating coalition
formation as a form of helpful, rather than revengeful, behavior, and, second, that
the emphasis has been on the evolutionary basis of cooperation rather than on
attempting to identify potential cognitive mechanisms underlying the establishment of coalitions. However, given that the chimpanzees at the Arnhem zoo live in
a different social structure than those in the wild, I would have preferred it if de
Waal had devoted more space to exploring the relevance of his findings on sex
differences in chimpanzee coalitions to the natural behavior of chimpanzees rather
than comparing it with human behavior.
The second chapter on human beings discusses conflict intervention in children (Grammer). Rank, defined on the basis of how often three children simultaneously look at a single individual, influenced both friendships and support networks among children. Grammer places his findings in the context of evolutionary
theory and concludes that support coalitions and social manipulations are a type of
selfish, not altruistic, behavior. Along similar lines, Noe’s chapter on baboon alliances concludes that male coalitions derive from selfish behavior. He attempts to
discredit the theoretical framework for previous analyses of baboon coalitions by
reasoning that the Prisoner’s Dilemma Model is inappropriate. His perspective
follows Datta’s perspective in trying to connect primate social behavior with demographic factors. The final chapter on human alliances discusses coalition formation between nations (Falger). The balance of power theory of geopolitical relationships is disfavored and the alternative theory that alliance formation is
premised on threat perception (not actual threat and not the extent of weaponry)
is developed based upon specific historical examples.
Part I11 is devoted to the evolutionary basis of cooperation in competition and
begins with a very thorough review from the primate ecological perspective by van
Hoof and van Schaik. They try to juggle within and between group competition
with the extent o f inter- and intrasexual bonds, given resource availability. Their
chapter reinforces Rabbie’s chapter by indicating how competition is embedded in
cooperation when one leaves the social group and scrutinizes the population.
Sex differences in alliance formation are discussed by Lee and Johnson, but,
curiously, they do not evaluate one of the earliest attempts t o unravel the evolutionary basis for sex differences in alliance formation [i.e., Western & Strum,
19833. Their chapter was one of the more dogmatic in the book, so some seemingly
apparent contradictions in explaining sex differences and social strategies are not
properly analyzed. If male rank acquisition is primarily a consequence of “size,
strength, and fighting skills” (p. 4101,then why are males so adept a t making
“complex assessments and takringl many factors into account when engaging in a
single rank-related contest” (p. 393)? Are brains or brawn the major factor responsible for male rank acquisition patterns?
Brains are the apparent key to understanding dolphin coalition activity (Conner et al.). Alliances among alliances occur in bottlenose dolphins and the potential
relationship among relative brain size, the extent of alliance formation, and social
complexity among cetaceans is explored in the chapter by Conner et al. They
concentrate on describing male alliances for access to females, but also note that
circumstantial evidence indicates that female dolphins may form alliances as protection against male harassment.
Harcourt pursues the potential interconnection between brain size and alli-
150 I Bercovitch
ance formation in his chapter. His survey of the literature ranges from barnacle
geese to gorillas and is quite thorough. (However, Melvin Laird, not Alexander
Haig, was the Secretary of Defense under President Nixon. Haig was a chief assistant to Henry Kissinger until Haldemann was fired and Haig became White
House Chief of Staff. In that position, he not only had access to Nixon, but probably
negotiated the president’s pardon with Ford.) Harcourt’s insightful chapter poses
two fundamental problems for research into coalitions and alliances. First, he
succinctly poses the second most contentious issue in the field of coalition studies:
“How does the observer detect reciprocity in a natural social group when different
currencies of different value might be exchanged with time lags of days or even
weeks among partners of differing power in a social milieu in which any two
partners probably have several other partners with whom they are also involved in
more or less unbalanced exchange of services?“ (p. 460). The other conundrum he
scrutinizes involves brain size, social complexity, and alliance formation. Although
Harcourt favors the idea that social strategies impacted the evolution of brain size,
he also points out that less than 5%of primate species use complex coalitions, and
he specifically omits New World primates from his assessment (p. 462). This is
unfortunate given that some of the New World primates have encephalization
quotients that are twice that of some apes and that little is known about coalition
activity in New World monkeys.
Boyd’s chapter attempts to refine the mathematics of reciprocity analysis, and
he closes with two predictions generated from his formula tinkering. However,
neither prediction can be tested until the two fundamental issues raised in this
volume regarding the definition of coalitions and the measurements of costs and
benefits can be resolved. Personally, I find mathematical models of complex behavioral patterns to be a bit unpalatable because they usually contain a dash of the
McNamara fallacy as an ingredient. In the early ’ ~ O SRobert
McNamara used a
plethora of quantitative measures in computer simulations and statistical analysis
to assure President John F. Kennedy that the United States could readily win the
conflict in Vietnam. His analysis did not, and could not, include factors such as the
motivation of the Vietcong, the growing disenchantment of the Buddhists with
Diem, or the zeal of Ho Chi Minh (“You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill
of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.” [see, e.g., Halberstam, 1972; Karnow, 19831). Boyd’s perspective is the antithesis of Boehm’s perspective, but the two chapters are complimentary in showing the diversity of methods used to understand coalitions and alliances.
The book closes with a final chapter by Harcourt and de Waal that not only
encapsulates the major points made in various chapters, but clearly establishes a
trajectory for future research by enumerating four crucial problems awaiting a n
Although the co-editors wanted to bridge the zoological-social scientist gap,
I’m not convinced that this volume will achieve th a t end. The co-editors deserve
praise for including so many high quality chapters in one book and for incorporating diverse opinions and various levels of analysis into their volume. Coalitions
and Alliances is an excellent springboard for launching some lively discussions in
graduate seminars.
Fred B. Bercovitch
Caribbean Primate Research Center
University of Puerto Rico
Medical Sciences Campus
P. 0. Box 1053
Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico
Every Rose Has Its Thorns / 151
Bernstein, IS.; Sharpe, L. Social roles in a
THIRD REICH. New York, Simon &
Schuster, 1960.
rhesus monkey group. BEHAVIOUR 26:
Trivers, R.L. The evolution of reciprocal alHalberstam, D. THE BEST AND THE
OGY 46:35-59,1971.
Western, J.D.; Strum, S.C. Sex, kinship, and
the evolution of social manipulation.
York, Viking Press, 1983.
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