Monday, December 15, 2008

Baboon-tinted Glasses

There is a fascinating documentary by Robert Sapolsky where the baboons are kind of like actors, one could say, playing the role of human beings. The cast is uncommonly good, carrying out their performances to something approaching true realism, even without any director. They are a lens -- baboon-tinted glasses -- into our nature.

One of the skits begins with this chick 'boon just sitting around, minding her own business. All of a sudden, like, out of nowhere, all hell fucking breaks lose around her as two males explode into conflict. One is an alpha-male, and in the Darwinian nature of life, pretty much the projected winner. This always happens -- there are very, very few exceptions. The other baboon, smaller in size and less aggressive (we are speaking relatively, here) is statistically, the loser.

We all know what happens with the winner, so the play logically focuses on the loser -- the baboon that just got totally pounded -- thrashed -- by that brutal primate. You really have to see the performance by that actor -- it is truly heart-wrenching. Not only is his physical self so pulverized, but his soul, the poor soul, is utterly crushed. He scampers off to the side, and just sits there, licking his horrible wounds.

Over time, as realization sets in -- as the clarity of what just happened, of how it transpired in front of the entire tribe, of the shame so powerfully implied -- the depressed baboon is overwhelmed by great, great stress. He won't eat. He doesn't socialize with the rest of the tribe. Even in his sleep the poor fellow is horribly fitful, scratching away at himself, hurting his own body.

This is a very common trait amongst so many lifeforms, this 'downward spiral', so to speak. Shellfish even do it, as Robert Wright mentions in his book Nonzero. Perhaps a very literal expression of the brutal way that a species population balances itself, canceling out the 'inept'.

Of course, as humans, we are compelled to try to help the suffering baboon out, but how? What to do? It is highly inadvisable to go over and put a comforting hand around the poor fellow's shoulder. Baboons, even the emotionally crushed ones (maybe especially), will viciously scratch and bite you if you do something that ... emo. One could end up like the baboon itself, except even worse, because you just got your evolved ass kicked by a damn animal. It would be horrible if that was caught on video. Can you imagine -- the shame of it?

So how to help? You can't just feed it -- the thing is depressed and won't eat at all. Well, one possible solution could be to proactively change the environment around the baboon. The environment itself could be changed. Kind of like that virtual reality thing, you know, in Star Trek? The baboon opens its eyes and it is suddenly in this swanky baboon club, surrounded by hot virtual baboon babes that do nothing but praise him.

That is, of course, the sci-fi version. In more realistic terms, I suppose you could transport the baboon to a special facility. Not a zoo, don't put it in a zoo, but more like some special place where it's more natural and stuff. Then you could slowly introduce a girl baboon to him, over time. Yeah, I know that this kind of thing could take a while to work out, but don't give up you know? There isn't much more you could morally do. Just put the female there and ... I ... I ... I dunno.

Nudge it, or something.

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