Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Banana Peelers

Following up on its worldwide exclusive re the perils of avian welfarism, the Economist catches our eye again with this piece on the role of policing in primate societies.

The noble scientific pioneers of the the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, in between barroom brawls, gunfights and cattle rustling, have taken time out to study what happens to primate behaviour when the alpha males are removed from circulation. Their theory was that the role of these high-ranking individuals extended beyond simply maintaining their own primacy, to include breaking up conflicts between lower-ranking individuals even if they had no stake in the outcome, effectively acting as the local bobbies on their own beats.

Picking on a troop of previously blameless pigtailed macaques, they put this theory to the test. Sure enough, removing the coppers for just a few hours every day
“resulted in the remaining monkeys grooming fewer others, playing with fewer others and dividing up into cliques as the social network that held the troop together broke down. The number of aggressive incidents also increased”

The boffins conclude that
“the role of policing in these monkeys is to allow individuals to socialise widely at little risk and thus hold a large troop together, since the police will intervene if things get out of hand”

The relevance of this study to the human condition is self-evident when one considers the many parts of Britain’s towns and cities where the humble copper has long since become a sight unseen. Not that this is exactly a novel insight. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) says it rather well:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites... Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Given that forty years of comprehensive education and welfarism have left a significant percentage of our urban population somewhat less civilized than a pigtailed macaque, perhaps the time has come once again to draw a leaf from Mother Nature’s recipĂ© book and apply it to our high-rise Sodoms. One could of course try to winkle our current policemen out of their squad cars and diversity training seminars and back onto the streets they are paid to patrol, but they would doubtless consider that infra dig, and anyway who would then compile the quarterly hate speech statistics, replace the film in all the speed cameras, and shoot passing Brazilians?

No, if other primates can do such an effortless and effective job of policing their own societies, let’s outsource our own policing to them. Let chimps twist the heads off of shoplifters and gorillas throw muggers into the paddy wagon one limb at a time. As an added bonus, they can hardly be accused of racism, and so can strangle gangstas with their own chains and ram a certain cleric’s hooks up his arse with unimpeachable impartiality.

The sight of an adult male silverback tying some lippy chav into a pretzel will I am sure remind all other nearby undesireables of pressing business elsewhere, and the streets will once again become safe for women, children and the elderly, as they were back in that unimaginably distant past when the human police actually did their damned jobs.

Come on, boys – let’s go to work…

Did somebody say “Pig”?


R. Sherman said...

I noticed you stayed far away from any gender based conclusions based upon this research. My guess is Mrs. Terrible was standing behind you as you wrote this.


Jamie said...

Someone likes his Magilla Gorilla.

Anonymous said...

"...resulted in the remaining monkeys ... playing with fewer others and dividing up into cliques..."

That sounds like the emergence of a "multicultural' society to me. It would be interesting to see what will happen when the temporarily absent alpha dudes are reintroduced into the group--will they be able to reassert their policing functions?

My prediction is no. Vociferous monkeys from within these newly emerged groups will noisily assert their "group identity", "cultural values", and "alternative lifestyles." I pity the poor simian who will have to keep these groups together. It will be like herding cats.


Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Randall - Nonsense! I fear no mere woman in my unswerving pursuit of truth. At least not heavily pregnant and slow-moving ones. There just wasn't a gender component to this piece of research. That's Santa Fe for you - they don't pay women no mind in those parts. Just look at Brokeback mountain...

Hi Jamie - Are you suggesting that I'm some sort of sad gorilla obsessed maniac? How dare you? I call my good friend and personal favourite pin-up Gorilla Bananas to leap to my defence.

Actually, Des thought I was a whale-freak a week or two ago. See - people are always looking to pigeonhole you. So disappointing.

Speaking of Des, here you are. Good point - but fortunately they restricted the absence of the "cops" such as to eliminate the chance of alternate power structures evolving. Eight hours proved to be the limit for that. Which compares unhealthily with the thirty years since my old home in London's East End last saw a policeman on foot.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I'm waiting for the day when scientists inform the world they have discovered how to make fire with dry twigs. Their conclusions could be summed up by expression "when the cat's away....".

I think we apes have enough problems without intervening in human disputes. The solution involves the liberal use of taser guns followed suitably humiliating punishments.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi GB. Obviously I agree that this is in principle a sound plan, but I'm a little worried about the efficacy of your chosen punishment. Placing perverts into stocks and forcing them to defecate into a bucket in front of a jeering crowd might not be quite the deterrent that you anticipate. Too many of them already pay good money for that sort of attention.

happykat said...

Sadly, Ivan has a point.

Aunty Marianne said...

We had a bobby on the beat in Bridport. PC Les Cummings. He WAS an adult male silverback. I felt guilty just walking past him, and I haven't done anything illegal.

He's retired and been replaced by some young Scot. Not half the gravitas. Within two weeks there was a massive town-wide punch-up one night and someone's ear got bitten off.