CHEATING MONKEYS AND CITIZEN BEES by Lee Dugatkin Free Press 208 pp., $25
Much of the cynicism some people feel about working for the common good may be traced to the influence of Darwinism. To many, the "moral" of Darwin's theory of evolution was that the universe was fundamentally amoral, carnivorous, and governed by the "law of the jungle," in which only the fittest and the most selfish survived.
Yet, even as Darwin was developing his theory, other naturalists studying the process of evolution and adaptation were noticing quite a different natural phenomenon: the survival of individuals, groups, and species that practiced cooperative behavior. This other side of evolutionary thinking is explained in Lee Dugatkin's erudite and diverting book "Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees."
A frequent contributor to academic and popular science journals, Dugatkin does research in animal behavior at the University of Louisville, Ky. Unlike some scientists who study animal behavior, he does not make the mistake of supposing that all the complexities of human behavior can be "explained" by extrapolation from the behavior of animals. But he does believe there are important clues to be found from examining the lives of animals.
Dugatkin suggests that cooperation is natural to animals and to people. He looks at several kinds of cooperation: based on kinship, on the sense of reciprocity, and on the sense of group loyalty.
From impalas pairing off to remove each other's ticks (a kind of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement) to civic-minded guppies volunteering for dangerous "guard duty" to warn their fellows against predators, Dugatkin provides many fascinating accounts of the varieties of animal behavior. He writes clearly, crisply, and with an engaging sense of humor.