Monday, October 08, 2007

Monkey's Inhumanity to Monkey

Every once in a while, you come across a bit of media that so accurately reflects your view of the world, it's a bit startling. The media resonates so much that it seems as if you, yourself, were responsible for the media, were you more energized to write lengthy blog posts NOT praising Superman.

Thanks to Randy, I've come across just that sort of thing. And, of course, the media I refer to is an article in the online version of the semi-defunct humor magazine, "Cracked". Such is my fate.

The article is based upon research published in the 90's surrounding "Dunbar's Number", and, I guess, the research is pretty well assimilated into primate anthropology (which means that research into good 'ol human anthropology is applied).

The story in "Cracked" describes how our brains are really only capable of caring about 150 people or so at any given time. Through some evolutionary survival instinct, or perhaps because of the limited capacity of our noodle, we seem to be hard wired to find emotional connection to only a limited number of people. This wiring, coupled with how homo sapien has set up societies across the globe is probably responsible for many of our ills as a species.

Fairly serious stuff for Cracked, I'd say, but, of course, its written in the current, abso-ludicrous Cracked fashion, and so it's a highly digestible read.

Anyway, check out the article. It's worth a read.


Anonymous said...

I hate how you can summarize my postings better than me. From now on, you're also writing for my blog.

J.S. said...

Kind of interesting, but not really a revelation, is it? I think it's clear that we all get more upset when bad stuff happens to people we know rather than to strangers. That's why journalists always try to "humanize" the victims of tragedies (by telling you the details of their personal stories) when they cover events like tsunamis, floods, or wars or the like- they know that people don't care about other people in the abstract, but if they get to know the victims as people, the horrific event will have much more emotional resonance. But that's why we people need to use logic and reason when considering how to interact with people outside "the monkeysphere"- because relying on the pure, emotional responses that our brains are hardwired to produce won't necessarily lead us to doing the right thing (and our sympathies for and allegiances with people within our monkeysphere may lead us to doing the wrong thing as well). I think that the biggest thing to come out of this article (unless I'm missing something) is that they're trying to put an actual, concrete number on the group of people that we "personally" care about. This article says that society shouldn't work because of this monkeysphere concept, but that's too much of a leap- the more logical conclusion is that people need to rely on logic and reason in dealing with other people (with the end goal being the creation of a world that's better to live in) rather than just acting on the basis of their emotions. Social contract, you dig? Of course, some people don't want to make a better world and shortsightedly believe that they will make lives better for themselves without regard for the welfare of others (herein lies the theory that you can be personally happy while making the rest of the world go to hell). We call these people Republicans. Anyway, no- you can't just rely on emotional reactions and sentiment if you want people to support and care for other people who might be halfway around the world (or even in the car next to you).

The League said...

I think I found the significance of the article to be that there is scientific evidence that points to the reasons why we may behave as we do. Small monkey troops.

I think the article is intending to highlight that the Monkeysphere concept can assist in explaining why, despite the best of our intentions, we invariably lapse into a level of apathy regarding other humans. Without casting this is Red vs. Blue terms (thanks for that, btw), I think the scientific findings which you're sort of dismissive of are what I find enlightening. Whether this leads to a lack of funding for food aid to Africa, or whether it means we feel okay about wishing we could scrub the Middle East free of humanity and just get at the oil... there's a reason why we don't care about other people when we're a total sweetheart to our Grandma.

If you get to the end, it actually suggests that, hey... now that you may have thought about this from a scientific standpoint, what can you do...?

As with anything, the first step is awareness. Being AWARE that you're wired not to care about other people is probably a step toward overcoming your hardwiring and trying to not just give in to the instinct to ignore people you don't know.

The difference between man and chimp, if you will, is our ability to try to overcome our limitations with reasoned thought.

Further, it illuminates a bit about understanding how others see us. Which is, understandably, as a bit of a cardboard cut out.

I guess the article gives me hope partially because the knowledge is there today, and will gradually find its way into fields beyond primate anthropology, into psychology, and eventually into an understanding of the makeup of our astronaut chimp brains. If we KNOW we should question the tendency to see others as caricatures and cutouts, then we know we should distrust people who ask us to see other people exactly that way.

If it can lead to a greater method of understanding one another, then that's less opportunity for us to choose to believe in leaders who tell us to beware the grim spectre of some faceless nation, some minority or us versus them.

When, really, if Them were in your monkeysphere, you'd probably find a way to get along just fine. Provided they accepted you as one of their monkeysphere and did not try to blow you up.

J.S. said...

Well, it may or may not be a leap to say you would get along just fine with people people from the other side of the world if they were within your monkeysphere. What if you were in prison and your monkeysphere included a bunch of sociopaths who wanted to stab you for your rice-a-roni? And there are abusers out there who seem pretty happy to beat up on the people close to them within their monkeysphere. I think that mostly the monkeysphere just demarcates the line (suggested here at about 150 people) beyond which we begin to see people as abstractions.

The League said...


However, while the article doesn't go into it, its possible that sociopaths have no working monkeysphere at all. Clearly I'm no scientician, and I am not pretending that this is a catch all for every societal issue. But sociopaths supposedly have no feeling of the value of others at all.