We have recently finished reading A Primate’s Memoir, by Robert Sapolsky. It is an entertaining account of his time in the African jungle studying the savanna baboon. He describes his adventures as a young post graduate student becoming accustomed to the African way of life and particularly living amongst the baboons. He is studying the effect of position in the social structure on stress hormones in the body and their effect on the animals’ health. Of course he also gives insight into the ways of the baboons and describes in detail the way they interact with each other.
As a scientist he is careful to avoid anthropomorhising the baboons’ activities and trying to see human traits among them, or more dangerously, seeing baboon traits among humans. But somehow it is inevitable that the reader sees something of themselves or their acquaintances played out in the lives of the baboons.
Is that valid or is it dangerous? Of course we have far more complicated social environs than the baboons. In fact we are a part of multiple structures including family, friends, work colleagues and so on. And none of those groups would function in the same fairly one-dimensional manner that the baboons experience. And while the baboons are somehow destined to play out roles provided to them by breeding, their physical attributes and the particular circumstances of their group, we have the privilege of discernment, the ability to learn and the orientation of an in-built moral compass to affect our behaviour.
Still, it was an entertaining read and one that helped me to see that sometimes I seem to behave just like a baboon.