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Animals ~ Humans

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Animals ~ Humans

Andrew Ryan

Today I was told that if a human touches a baby mouse, the mother will attack and eat the poor little fella. The scent of humanity on her tiny offspring will freak her out and cause her to want to get rid of it. I find this behavior fascinating and it made me start to think about the complex nature of animals living together. It’s fucking crazy. Animals are amazing.

I remember seeing an episode of “Nip/Tuck” years ago in which the plastic surgeons were asked to perform some cosmetic surgery on a gorilla. The gorilla was from a zoo, and none of the other gorillas wanted anything to do with it because it had a big scar on its face. The zookeepers hoped that by having surgery to hide the scar’s severity, the gorilla might have a better chance of mating and thus helping the threatened species to survive a little longer. The plastic surgeons did their thing, the gorilla was released back into its enclosure, and then it was attacked, and I think it might have died. The other gorillas still sensed the bad thing, and didn’t want a bar of it. Maybe he/she still stank of human. Maybe they smelt the anesthesia. Maybe they just knew he/she was too weak to be able to defend his/her face in the fight that scarred him/her, and thus wouldn’t be a good breeding partner anyway. Get the fuck out gorilla, we don’t need your weakness in our gene pool.

The same happens with every social animal, even humans, though our own responses to weakness in the gene pool are much softer. We’re concerned with niceness and equality, while equality doesn’t appear to exist in other species, and for good reason. I am all for equality amongst human beings in a moral sense, but there is no denying that our altruistic tendencies are causing some major problems for our planet.

When a member of an animal group threatens the safety of the rest, it is cast out. Pregnant meerkats will be abandoned if there is not enough food around to feed the pups. Some animal mothers will kill their own babies for the same reason, thus ensuring the survival of the pack, waiting for more plentiful resources to become available before letting their wombs go wild, popping out many tiny versions of themselves and letting them live to be functioning members of the pack. The human act of aborting a fetus is often done with this same instinctual survival reasoning, just as leaving deformed babies out in the wilderness was to ensure that tribes remained strong enough to survive a winter, or that the armies could fight off the Persians etc.

The whole “pecking order” thing is incredible too. Birds have a distinct social system in which the most powerful bird can peck and any other bird in the group without retaliation. The next one down can peck any except the top bird, and so on and so forth. Dogs have a similar system, with alpha at the top, and omega at the bottom. Every dog follows the alpha without question, and every dog gets out pent up energy and aggression on the omega. Omega is just as necessary as alpha in this social order, because the presence of this little weakling dunce that no one likes means that there is less tension amongst the others.

It’s not hard to see the way humans use these structures in their social lives. In fact, it’s incredibly obvious. Our use of language probably makes it more complex, as would the sheer number of us on the planet, but it is essentially the same. Like wild horses, we have one large herd, then many sub-herds within it. Each sub herd has the alpha mare and the stallion who dictate the movements and behaviours of their individual groups, but they will follow the movements of the main alpha mare and stallions. Human herds are much messier, more web-like, but the results of being ostracized are exactly the same.

As I mentioned earlier, when a social animal is cast out of his pack it is because his presence within it is a threat- weakness, disease, retardation, being the runt etc, they are all threatening to the survival of the whole group. When that animal is left to fend for himself, he is essentially being left to die. Pack animals cannot survive for long without a pack, just as human beings usually find it difficult to function without the presence of other humans. There are introverts, and there are loners, there are people who claim to hate other humans and have as little to do with them as possible, but there is no denying that we still require other human beings to survive. Even if a person goes out into the forest, builds his own house, grows and kills his own food, creates his own plumbing system, the intrinsic need for the company of another human, the need to interact, the need to communicate, the need to fuck, is still there. And if one doesn’t get it, one goes insane, which can lead to death unless other humans come in and help.

I suppose the point of all this is that animal behavior is amazing. When I get into these modes of thought where I am looking at it all from the outside, I am blown away by the fact that we exist at all, that life is real, that reality is different to everyone, that we deny ourselves our natural impulses for all kinds of ridiculous reasons and that we poison our bodies to forget about the fact that we do that. Blows my fucking mind.