Letters from our readers.
June 27 1997 3:30 AM

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Authoritarian Dictationship

Now that you have published the "Diary" jottings of Benazir Bhutto, regarded by many Pakistanis as the most corrupt politician that unfortunate nation has ever seen, I wonder whose diary you will publish next. How about Mobutu Sese Seko, or perhaps Baby Doc Duvalier?

--Joachim FernandesSanta Monica, Calif.

Stroman Polanski


Thanks so much to David Plotz for pointing out the true characters and legacies of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in "The Old Carolinians." As Plotz so ably demonstrates, that great line from the film Chinatown is absolutely on the mark: "Politicians, whores, and buildings--if they get old enough, they get respectable." Of course, both Thurmond and Helms fit into at least two of those categories ...

--Roger SimonAustin, Texas

Battle of the Sexes

In "Gorilla Warfare," Robert Wright has misconstrued what gorillas can teach us. It's certainly a striking fact that male gorillas are twice the size of females; but looking from gorillas to humans, what should strike us is not that men are somewhat bigger than women, but that they are nowhere near twice as big. What evolution is trying to tell us here is that male aggression is much less important for human beings than it is for gorillas. Wright's argument against women in the infantry depends also on the assertion that what men in fact fight about is women. That's debatable. At least as good an explanation is that men fight about Lebensraum. Wright is no doubt familiar with the wars of the chimpanzees at Gombe, which are much better interpreted as fights over territory than fights over females. As for things getting "more primitive, not less" when soldiers go to war, this is also a fairly careless argument. Actual combat could just as well make things better, not worse, for women. It might be easier to build solidarity when your life depends on it, rather than back home in camp; and men might find it easier to believe that women can fight if they could see them doing it.


--Mark RosenfelderOak Park, Ill.

Robert Wright replies: Anyone who doubts that male chimpanzees spend lots of time fighting over females should read Frans de Waal's book Chimpanzee Politics. Though the chimp colony de Waal studied was not in a purely natural setting, as were the chimps at Gombe studied by Jane Goodall, de Waal, for that very reason, got a clearer look at daily life within a colony than Goodall did. His exacting minute-by-minute account of hostile encounters and sexual encounters leaves no doubt about what was ultimately at stake when males fought (often coalitionally). And, actually, Goodall's own data, as synthesized in her magnum opus The Chimpanzees of Gombe, also support the idea that males fight over access to fertile females. This isn't to say that territoriality couldn't also in theory be a cause of aggressive tendencies in humans and/or chimps. But it is to say that females--an inherently scarce sexual resource, in Darwinian terms--are in both species a big part of the impetus for the evolution of aggressive tendencies in males.

Where the Boys Are

Garance Franke-Ruta's response to Herbert Stein's "Watching the Couples Go By" is amusing, but ridiculous. Stein's piece was simply light musings. How anyone could work up an angry, sweat-laden combat attack over Stein's reverie, which I think is quite lovely, is beyond me. And that part about "erotic confessionals" was too funny to be real! If Franke-Ruta actually believes for a sane moment that Stein's cafe reflections are "erotic confessionals," if this is the frustration she experiences from "Watching the Couples Go By," then she had better not read anything at all. And finally, the idea that the editors could have spared her the injury of having to read Stein's piece had they listed it under the title of "Diary" takes the prize for "most ludicrous statement thus far expressed in the history of Slate's publication." I suppose Franke-Ruta was compelled to read every single line without really wanting to at all? Alas, blame it on the boys! Too many male editors at Slate!


--Mike GreySan Francisco

It's Going to Be All White

Being Afro-American and reading Eric Liu's "The Unbearable Being of Whiteness" was like finding a kindred soul. It has been my feeling for some years that all the talk about race is in fact just one word: assimilation.

--James R. Hurd

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