This is the philosophical battle of my life. I wonder who will win, or how they may become friends.
I am reading about a study done on the owl monkeys of the Argentine Gran Chaco. A group of primatologist anthropologists spent ten years studying these monkeys, recording the weather, their food, their life cycles. As I read about the collection of data, I imagined all these researchers gingerly stepping around the forest, looking hard, attentively recording their observations, writing down the appearance of a certain dispersed non-reproducing male or female roaming solitarily or reproducing in a new group. I could not help but think of how absurd this struck me as. Once again my Eastern sensibilities stepped in and I found it hard to see this meticulous process as anything other than inane. Our need to dissect, assess, analyze, trap, and interrogate every single innocuous animal in the forest to satiate our curiosity strikes me as capricious and foolish. Instead of preserving these facts for the annals of our evolutionary history, why can’t we, to quote Flight of the Conchords, “leave the monkeys alone/they’ve already got enough problems as it is.”
We’re destroying their environment, encroaching on their territory with machines and pollution of all sorts, but at least they haven’t been subjected to Jesuit evangelism. Perhaps our venturing in to study them in the name of science is but the lastest excuse for and method of trying to tame the inconquerable beast that is Nature. And though I believe that comprehending the natural world and its workings can be critical to finding the best course of action, it’s also of great importance to assess beforehand what negative outcomes may result, how important the research is, and finally to weigh the costs to the benefits prior to barging into the field and fumbling up, wreaking havok left and right, as has been done so frequently in the name of science before (eugenics, anthropology being easy examples).
In conclusion, I am inequinvocally skeptical of so-called progress, and think it merits to be met with a wary eye. But’s that just because I’m a degenerate, fact-hating hippie.
The more I read about physical anthropology, the more it strikes me that our cultural behaviours are merely fabricated explanations for the needs we have as primates, mammals, and an evolving animal species.
Altruism (religion? morality?), for instance, is mostly directed towards kin, and the closer the kin, the higher the level of altruism. Heirarchies (class, caste, stratified socioeconomic status) evolve from individuals competing with each other to best pass on and provide for their offspring. What does this mean for us? If much of how we act and what we do is biologically deterministic, what should we be doing differently? What should the purpose and goals of our lives be?
According to the view that life is inevitably nasty and brutish, the answer would be to do for oneself and one’s own as best as one can, leading a life that is ultimately Machiavellian. And yet I have next to the window that I type this in the face of Che Guevara, looking resolute next to his words: “If you tremble indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” I simply refuse to attempt to cast aside my years of cultivating the notions that it is important to struggle for change, for growth, for better; that the disadvantaged deserve assistance; that our lives, communities and world should be challenged and ameliorated at the cost of personal sacrifice, as categorically erroneous. Yet Christine’s argument that her work for the private sector has been concretely more productive and helpful than that for the public is validated and perhaps even supported by this reasoning. As is Dave’s claim that capitalism, though destroying indigenous cultures, is the most fluid and therefore best agent of modernization available.
Even as the bleeding heart that I tend to be, yesterday while looking through some pictures of some upper class Buenos Aires homes, I caught myself thinking that if I ever had a chance at being a part of this cultured, educated elite, I would do my damnedest to make it.
So how will I reconcile these conflicting ideologies that motivate me—that of the highly educated aristocrat and that of the self-sacrificing populist revolutionary? I wonder…
“Selection will favor mothers that provide less investment than their infants desire, and selection will favor children that demand more investment than their mothers are willing to give.” Thus, in nature we find that ecological balance lies somewhere in the range of conflict of individual’s interests (even within the nucleic family). Likewise, ecological balance lies in the range of the conflict of interest among species, as with predators and their prey. Moral of the story: conflict inherent in nature. So let the Israelis and Palestinians continue, and may the fittest win and pass on their superior genes.
I’m a deeply confused and conflicted person, learning being the primarily source of my torment.
Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy does Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a cheap vegan meal every Thursday afternoon, and coming up will be presenting on Noah’s pudding (“a sweet dessert that is at once a tasty treat and symbol of diversity. An ancient Turkish tradition, the making and serving of the pudding is meant to bring people of different faiths together”). I very much like the idea of highlighting food in a religious context and space. It speaks to the immediacy, and basic need and nourishing qualities of both.
Indigenous peoples live in cyclical timeframe; Westerns in a linear one. The former are sustainable while the latter are not. How can we live our lives more in tune with the cyclical? How can we conceive of time and the world more cyclically?
In an empire, all points are held together by the hub. In order for an empire to remain strong, these points must not make contact with each other except through the hub first. Decentralization would lead to more autonomy for the individual points, more resistence, more independence. Aha!
“Like humans, chimpanzees laugh, make up after a quarrel, support each other in times of trouble, medicate themselves with chemical and physical remedies, stop each other from eating poisonous foods, collaborate in the hunt, help each other over physical obstacles, raid neighboring groups, lose their tempers, get excited by dramatic weather, invent ways to show off, have family traditions and group traditions, make tools, devise plans, deceive, play tricks, grieve, and are cruel and are kind.” Richard Wrangham, primatologist // What does this mean for us as humans? What does this mean about all the things we’ve come to associate with these behaviours? The idea of what’s our biology and what is our culture faces new challenge. Given this, are morality and deviance just weird names for cultural explanations for what we naturally already do? How ought this to affect how we as individuals decide to pass on culture to our own children? What do we teach them? How do we explain human behaviour? Perhaps we stop worrying less and quit being so paranoically self-reflexive and… and what? What do we do? How do we make a living? What is a good life? Arg! So many questions.
In order to ensure their genes get passed on,
gorillas: beat other males up
chimps: have sex with everyone and compete through testicular size (“cojones!” says Prof. Hess)
humans: subject females to patriarchy?
Harry Harlow’s monkey experiments: no mothering leads to an inability to mate later in life. Freud would have had a field day if he had known, the sick bastard.