Suzanne Fields

Not so long ago, our parents and teachers were forever admonishing us not to act like animals. Now our candidates for president are showing us how they think they can profit by imitating animals, especially the brainy ones. Like the elephants, for example.

Hillary can take heart. "Among elephants, it is the females who are the born politicians," writes Natalie Angier, a science writer, in The New York Times. An elephant typically cultivates robust and lifelong social ties with at least 100 other elephants, a task made easier because of their ability to communicate "infrasonically," in sound below the human ability to hear. (If only Hillary could laugh and shout infrasonically.)

Elephant society is organized as a matriarchy led by the oldest female. The "leading lady" gets the best food and the best place to sleep, but such status and power comes with responsibility, requiring her to lead the charge when there are conflicts with outsiders. She's the elephant in chief, with no male surrogate to take on the matriarch's battles.

Hillary may have lifted a (tree) leaf from the olive baboons, where female friends and female networks are more important to gathering political power than forging alliances with males. Her "husband" shows a greater kinship with the male rhesus monkey, the "quintessential opportunist," struggling for power to take control of everything. The rhesus males, according to one primatologist, have a "Machiavellian intelligence" and only help other monkeys who can do something for them: "They try to gain maximal benefits at minimal cost, and that's a strategy that seems to work."

The behavior of politicians, like other human behavior, is frequently compared to that of lower-order mammals. It was Aristotle who insisted that man is a "political animal." He drew on his experience from the laboratory, but the philosopher's point was to show how we were capable of rising above animals. The ability to utilize speech and reason lends us the theoretical ability to create a government to make things better for everyone. Yet every political season we're reminded how easy it is for the aggressive human animal to dominate other humans.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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