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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Social Isolation

Everybody needs warmth. Everybody needs companionship. Everybody needs love. To lock somebody away and never let them experience those things would be very bad. But must that affection, that warmth and that touching come from our own kind, necessarily? And, for that matter, what exactly defines "our own kind"?

Some people are fixated on skin color or facial features or some other biological marker of same/different. Some people are against interracial or interspecies adoptions, because they prevent the child from being socialized exactly like his same race/species peers. But did you know that socialization is a cultural, not a genetic thing? Did you know that different groups of chimpanzees that are not in contact with one another behave differently? Did you know that they have different customs and different social rules? Did you know that chimpanzees treat strangers -- even of their own species -- with suspicion and animosity, while they treat family members, even of a different species, with love and affection?

Bow is living with family. Yes, we have our disagreements, our small misunderstandings and our moments of disharmony, but doesn't every family have those? Bow is quicker to anger, but also quicker to forgive, warmer than I am. He's just not very honest, as warm people tend to be. My human acquaintances who have a warmer disposition than I do also lie more often. It seems to come with the territory. Warm-hearted people are naturally dishonest. Honest people are more dispassionate. But as different as our dispositions are, we do love each other and we are a family.

Do I want Bow to have other companions besides family members? Of course, I do. That's why I invite interns every summer. That's why I have tried to make contact with other primatologists and other chimpanzee people to find friends for Bow who might come over to visit. That is why I am planning in the long run to find him a mate.

"Don't get him a wife until I am twenty," Sword counsels me.

"We'll see..."

"Mommy, get me a wife fast!" Bow insists.

He's eight years old. Does he need a wife right now? He thinks so. But in reality, if he were with his own kind, it is quite doubtful that the Alpha male would let him mate.

I am working toward raising money to make Bow's dream come true. In the meanwhile, wouldn't it be nice if he were allowed to talk to other chimpanzees over the phone or on Skype? True friendship isn't just about physical touching. Bow has a mind, and he is perfectly capable of sharing his feelings and his thoughts with others in more abstract, non-physical ways. What possible harm would come of letting him try?


  1. I didn't really think that warm-hearted people tend to be dishonest. But I thought about people I have known. I think you are right.

    When is Bow going to send me an email?

  2. June, writing an email requires forethought, editing and composition. Bow's more an instant message kind of guy!

  3. Instant message? One of the things that I couldn't catch up with the young generation.