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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Light Reading: How Bow Responds to Different Styles of Writing

Incarceration can be difficult for the soul. Solitary confinement wears us down over time. If you try to imagine what it would be like to be locked up in a cage, without access to other people, maybe you would think first about the loss of conversation, friendship and love. But the truth is that all forms of social contact, even strife, are very much missed. We all have the inborn desire to find worthy adversaries and to fight against our fellow man, in order to test our strength and challenge our mind. If you don't believe this, and you're not into heavy reading, perhaps you should watch Megamind. It illustrates the same principle.

Bow is not in solitary confinement, but he has no access to companions of his own kind, and those of us who spend time with him have to go in one by one, because having more than one person in at a time brings out Bow's innate interest in social hierarchies. He longs to fight against others, and he wants his friends to fight, too, to see just which one ends up on top. If Bow ever did get to meet face to face with another chimpanzee, I doubt very much that friendship would be the first order of business. It would be more like this: a fight to establish supremacy, followed by friendship, if anybody happened to survive.

Are human beings any different? When a prisoner is placed in solitary confinement, of course that is a very big deprivation. But is the loss of human contact to be mourned primarily because of the loss of affectionate companionship, or because it makes hand-to-hand combat a complete impossibility?

Edward Livingston (May 28, 1764 – May 23, 1836) was a famous American jurist who advocated prison reform. One of his ideas was that upon admission to the penitentiary, all prisoners should be placed in solitary confinement until such time as they showed a genuine desire to interact in a positive way with others. Gradually, the privilege to socialize, and even to do productive work, would be restored to the prisoner, but each such privilege would have to be earned. It sounds good on paper, but what if the chief reason an individual regrets a solitary existence is because it deprives him of sparring partners and the chance to engage in a fight to the death? In such a case, how would the reward of companionship not immediately result in a return to violence?

Bow is sometimes restless and bored. When not in an aggressive mood, he broods. With Lawrence, he has a wrestling partner, but I am more given to literary and cerebral pursuits. How do we bridge that gap? Sometimes I share my reading with Bow. Sometimes, he even listens.

Notice that Bow pays the most attention to the verse toward the end of the reading selection. His interest in the prose is less intense.

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