Monday, March 09, 2009

Newport, animals

My day on the coast

Crab pots

So, I stood on a pier and watched the sea lions fight it out for space on the docks. The larger animals dominated of course, driving off the small ones whom they did not like.

That’s just how it is out in the wild. No mater how uncomfortable it makes us, it’s all about dominance and submission.

Of course we westerners, those of us raised in European Judeo-Christian influenced cultures, pride ourselves on our egalitarianism. We are all the same; we are equals in the eyes of the law and in our worth before society. Or at least that is the standard that we aspire to.

It’s very different of course with sea lions, and just as different with the monkeys at work. Their lives are lived within the blunt structures of family hierarchies based on strength and lineage. Dominance and submission order their world each and everyday, and any failure to acknowledge this reality can quickly earn a monkey a mauling.

These impulses, however, predate us and our primate cousins, stretching back through the reptilian branches of evolution to our invertebrate forbearers. While on the coast, I watched a pair of Dungeness crabs battle each other over choice living space. It was a lot like sumo wrestling, with a plenty of shoving, heaving, and locked forelimbs. The loser immediately ran off and beat up the next lower-ranking crab, driving him out of his hole.

So how different are we people? Hierarchical submission and dominance are still encoded to a degree in the cultures of the Far East, and I am curious just how successful we westerners have been at vanquishing or suppressing these impulses in our day-to-day lives. Have they simply grown more subtle, or have we moved beyond these drives on our way towards some transcendence of biology.


Travis said...

always interesting alex - many human behaviors have a genetic basis that transcends spp. i think back to the scout days and how often my own drive was purely animal. i still have a few beasts residing within;) you should check out a book called sociobiology by e.o. wilson. maybe you know it? or a lighter read of his is consilience; a treatise proposing that many human activities, from economics to morality, needed to be temporarily removed from the hands of the reigning specialists and given to biologists to work out a proper evolutionary foundation. genes probably underlie generosity, moral constraints, religious behavior, not to mention propensity towards disease or deviance - they are the stage and our environment is the bukko that determines how the show is played out. small bit of irony when i saw your sea lions. my buddy called me from pier 39 in SF last night to let me listen to them bark! black, keep 'em coming

Alex said...