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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Manipulation versus Direct Orders

The other day, Bow received a gift of two peaches from a friend. The peaches were not quite ripe, but they had been picked off the friend's tree to keep other animals from eating them first. After the friend left, Bow asked for a peach. I decided to try an experiment, and I put the peach on a support bar in the outer pen and told Bow that he would have to get it himself. The floor of the pen was still a little damp from rain. I wanted to see if I could induce Bow to step on the wet floor by doing this. Bow found another way around.

Bow did not have to walk on the wet floor. He had other options, and given his preferences, he used them. You can see how easily he did this in the video below.

I am not much of a manipulator. Instead, I favor respecting the other person's mind when it comes to things he has a choice about, and using direct force or threat of force about the things that he does not have a choice about. This was the way I was raised, and this is my idea of what it means to be an upright person. It's people who cloak a direct order in the words of a request that have always earned my disdain.

I remember once, when away from home as a child, I was asked whether I wanted to wash my hands before dinner. I said that I did not, and you should have seen the chaos that ensued! It took about three hours before they were able to get across to me that this had been their way of telling me to wash my hands, rather than asking about my wishes. At which point, I washed my hands, because I had no objection to following orders -- I just misunderstood. Back home, when I was required to do something, my parents just used the imperative to order me to do it. I always was very obedient. It's just reading between the lines that has been difficult. On the other hand, at home when I did have a choice, I was asked, and I felt free to express my true wishes, and not what I thought somebody else expected me to say. To me, making it clear when something is a choice and when it isn't is the respect we all owe to every person we interact with. But to other people, avoiding even the verbal mention of force is the height of  politeness.

There are people who studiously avoid giving orders, but use social consensus and manipulation in order to get others to do what they want. They are the sort of people who like to tell the anecdote about the tribe somewhere in the jungle where, if a person commits a crime, rather than punishing him, the whole tribe gets together, they stand in a circle, and they hug the wrongdoer, and they take turns talking about all the good things he may have done in his life, and then after a constant repetition of all this, the culprit just bows his head and becomes ashamed of having done wrong and vows to do better in the future, and then they all go back to living a merry collective life and the consensus about how everybody should behave is re-established, without any violence being done to anyone -- except. of course, the victim of the crime.

I bristle at this story for two reasons. The first is there does not seem to be any consideration of the rights of the victim. I believe that there are no victimless crimes. So how is this going to help the victim, if we rehabilitate the wrongdoer? Punitive measures are supposed to assuage the suffering of victims. Revenge is not wrong. It's part of the tit for tat that is built into nature. But secondly, let's imagine this was actually a victimless crime -- then I feel bad for the culprit! Because maybe he was following his heart. Maybe he was doing what he thought was right. And to have him brainwashed in an act of social manipulation to change his mind in order to please all the other members of his tribe is very close to mind-rape. And supposing it doesn't work? Supposing he still insists that what he did was right? What do they do then? Do they banish him? Do they try to break his spirit by giving him the cold shoulder until he capitulates and adopts the values of the collective?

There are people who believe that solitary confinement -- or a solitary life -- are the worst possible punishment. Those people think that separating an individual from peers is the height of cruelty, and they try to harness this particular brand of cruelty to enforce social order. "But everyone else is doing it," for them is a good argument for a parent to use against a child. "Everybody knows that..." is an argument that seeks to enforce a scientific consensus about something like global warming. If you don't agree with their views. they will socially shame you into submission, while pretending to deeply care about you.

There are other people who just as firmly believe that being confined in a cell with peers who are about to rape you is the worst possible punishment -- and solitary confinement is a safe haven. They enforce rules by direct threats of force. They realize that being able to walk away from a conflict is the surest way to maintain personal freedom. They are the kind of parents who, when the child says: "But everybody else is doing it," answer back "You are not everybody else." And when a child says "But everybody else says this is true" are not afraid to answer "Everybody else is wrong."

How do social people react when they are banished from the tribe? Is it harder for them than it is for people who have lived solitary lives since infancy? Have you ever read Island of the Blue Dolphins?

Yesterday, on my walk, I was hoping to film some more butterflies, but came across a robin's nest instead. When I got home,  I almost forgot that I had picked some blackberries on my walk, but Bow reminded me, and I hurried to give them to him, still in the plastic bag that I used to gather them.

Bow found retrieving the blackberries from the bag to be more challenging than eating them from a bowl with a spoon.

This reminded me of the "enrichment" that is recommended for animals in confinement. I saw an article about elephants yesterday that said that it was not the amount of space they were given in zoos that was important to their happiness, but rather the complexity of the social relationships that they had and the lack of ease with which food could be gathered. The upshot was that challenges in food gathering were good for elephants, as were complex social groups in which they had to find themselves a niche.

I am not sure that any of these studies on enrichment and sociability take into account the built-in tension between the right to be free of the group and the desire to belong to a group. I cannot tell you how many people have spoken to me about what Bow is missing in not living with other chimpanzees, but I seem to be the only one who is worried that he might not be able to escape from other chimpanzees and their collective will if he were confined in a concentration camp for chimps  that is self-governing and is run by the inmates.

In order to understand my concerns, you need to read Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way. 

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