Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Of Gorillas and Men

The mountain gorilla found in Rwanda is the largest of the great apes (save for a few Americans). A silver back male often weighs in the range of 450 pounds of brute muscle. Amazing creatures these- strength of ten men, but also the most peaceful of us great apes. So why are we talking about them? Because there are roughly 790 of these mountain gorillas in existence today. Hunted by their cousins for meat and fur, their numbers dropped dramatically in less than a century.

And this is where we get relevant- not only was there a shift in populations of the mountain gorilla, but also a complete change in their social behavior. One of the most amazing observations in the social science realm was that of the familial structure changes of this primate. When these primates were being hunted, their mating strategy was  mainly one male with two to three females each bearing one or two children over the course of a lifetime. The group they existed in would have been for territorial protection and allocations of resources- the individuals acted with everyone's interest though they still pretty much left each other alone.

Yet there was a change after their slaughter- their mating strategy wasn't ensuring a future for their species. So what happened? The gorilla went from pairings to troops. A dominant silver back would take on 4-6 females and have any where between 2 and 6 children with each. The gorilla understood that they were dying out. So they made a change, which brings us to the topic of the day: Why can't humans save our own asses? Why do we resist change in social behavior?

Social sciences have a lot to say here- such as biases that we learn from psychology. System justification, false-consensus effect, and in- group biases are especially frustrating when we look at the world at large. These three illusions dictate the perception of every single person on the planet. They make us believe that others think and are in agreement with us. It makes us give preferential treatment to those like us. But worst of all they cement the status quo and inhibit social change.

In a world of seven billion people, this is dangerous. We hold not just false, but demonstrably inaccurate notions of what a solution is. As individuals we cannot fully and comprehensively asses how proper fucked we are. I am not talking about a New World Order or the Illuminati. I am talking about tangible threats to our ways of life. In a world of seven billion people, we can no longer drive SUVs out of convenience.

We can no longer stigmatize our women who decide to use birth control or obtain an abortion. Rather, we lend them support for realizing that it is wrong to add unnecessary burden to a world with 7 billion people. Our social awareness must shift- not only so we don't vilify women, but so we don't dig ourselves deeper.

We improve our situation by reevaluating our social structure- by shifting our values and needs. Though someone might not explicitly say 'I hate clean air' or 'I love human suffering'; by their actions alone can we deduce the amount of fuck they give. We cannot continue a cycle of ignorance and fall victim to tradition.

Politics and clergy kill. Our populations are not sustainable, yet human suffering is encouraged when proper reproductive care is denied to millions. Something as simple as a rubber film to cover your meat bits is denied due to archaic mind sets that sex must be punished. This contributes to human suffering and is reprehensible.

Tradition tells us that we must consume, that we must have offspring that consumes and that that offspring passes off more tarnished world to the next generation. There is a better way. Only by awareness and education can we solve these problems. Only through critical thinking and reasoning can we prepare a solution. The world is too small to run from our problems, it is high time we act.

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