I am so unbelievably sick of the “just-so” stories that are propagated as means of justifying the crappy things we either do or allow to be done. From the Catholic Church and its “original sin” to the lunatic right and its “invisible hand of the market.”
This below, about what happened when the “natural” order shifted, is delightful and inspiring. Unless you’re one of the dickhead alpha males, that is…
In 2004, PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed journal, published “Emergence of Peaceful Culture in Baboons,” [DT: hyperlink to the said article] documenting the field work of neurologist Robert Sapolsky and neuropsychologist Lisa Share.
Sapolsky remarked, as a young researcher in Kenya, that while he studied baboons – in his case, using baboons to study the effects of stress – he found the animals to be highly disagreeable.
When he and Lisa Share published their article, they described what happened to a troop of baboons that Sapolsky had long observed, at the very point where he’d cut off his former research. A catastrophe had befallen “Forest Troop” that led Sapolsky to cut off contact and return home. The troop was scavenging food from a tourist facility, where it contracted bovine tuberculosis. The plague wiped out most of the males in the troop.
The reason the males died was that Forest Troop was run by the males who were most successful at violence. A pecking order was established, and the smaller females were not permitted to feed until the males had their fill. The contaminated food was meat, prized by baboons, and so the males hogged down the meat, and accidentally saved their female counterparts. As Sapolsky had said, they were highly disagreeable. The troop had a culture of bullying that ensured – as we said in the army – that the shit always ran downhill. You took it from the more dominant, and you dished it out to those who were weaker than you.
In 1993, Sapolsky and Share returned to Kenya and rejoined the Forest Troop. What they found was that, while the ratio of female to male was more than two to one after the dominant male dieoff, the ratio had returned to approximately half and half. That was no particular surprise. Pubescent male baboons migrate into new troops. What was surprising was how pacific the troop remained, long after the loss of the former dominant males. The troop was highly cooperative and generally non-aggressive. It was even moreso than another troop they observed during this period – as a kind of control group that hadn’t undergone the mass death of males.