‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 5 The Origin of Humans’ Moral Instinctive Self or Soul
Chapter 5:11 The importance of strong-willed females in developing integration
The following extract from the 1995 National Geographic documentary The New Chimpanzees provides a good example of the important role a strong matriarchy plays in the maintenance of cooperative, integrative behaviour. To quote from the narration: ‘An impressively stern [bonobo] female enters and snaps a young sapling. Once she picks herself up she does something [that would be] entirely surprising for a female chimp, she displays [the female is shown assertively dragging the sapling through the group], and the males give her sway [a male is shown cowering out of her way]. For this is the confident stride of the group’s leader, its alpha female, whom [Takayoshi] Kano has named Harloo.’
While this example is specific to bonobos, those who have studied primates will typically tell you of the presence in their study group of an extraordinarily self-assured, secure-in-self and strong-willed female. This is because all primates are trying to develop the nurturing of integrativeness but only our ape ancestors and the bonobos have had the right conditions to actually achieve it. During a trip to Kenya in 1992, my partner Annie Williams and I were invited to visit the anthropologist Shirley Strum’s ‘Pumphouse Gang’ study troop of baboons, which had been made famous through numerous articles in National Geographic magazine. During our visit I noticed that Strum kept on her desk the skull of a baboon named Peggy. Displaying a skull is a bit macabre but Strum said she did so in memory of Peggy who was an extraordinarily confident, strong-willed, authoritative, charismatic individual who successfully led the ‘Pumphouse Gang’ for many years. As Strum has written: ‘She [Peggy] was the highest-ranking female in the troop, and her presence often turned the tide in favor of the animal she sponsored. While every adult male outranked her by sheer size and physical strength, she exerted considerable social pressure on each member of the troop. Her family also outranked all the others…another reason for the contentment in this particular family was Peggy’s personality. She was a strong, calm, social animal, self-assured yet not pushy, forceful yet not tyrannical’ (Almost Human: a journey into the world of baboons, 1987, pp.38-39 of 294).
In her famous studies of gorillas, which she documented in her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, the primatologist Dian Fossey described the strength of character that had to be developed to curtail male aggression, and the centred, security of self needed to be an effective, love-indoctrinating mother, when she wrote about how the gorilla ‘Old Goat’ was ‘an exemplary parent’ and that, as a result, her son ‘Tiger’ was ‘a contented and well adjusted individual’. While gorillas have not been able to develop love-indoctrination to the same degree as bonobos—seemingly because they have lacked the necessary ideal nursery conditions—denial-free, honest studies of their behaviour, notably Fossey’s, have revealed the strong correlation between nurturing and integrativeness that is the love-indoctrination process. The following extracts from Gorillas in the Mist reveal more about Old Goat’s nurturing of Tiger: ‘Like human mothers, gorilla mothers show a great variation in the treatment of their offspring. The contrasts were particularly marked between [the gorilla mothers] Old Goat and Flossie. Flossie was very casual in the handling, grooming, and support of both of her infants, whereas Old Goat was an exemplary parent’ (p.174 of 282). The effect of Old Goat’s ‘exemplary parenting’ of Tiger is apparent in the following extract: ‘Like Digit, Tiger also was taking his place in Group 4’s growing cohesiveness. By the age of five, Tiger was surrounded by playmates his own age, a loving mother, and a protective group leader. He was a contented and well-adjusted individual whose zest for living was almost contagious for the other animals of his group. His sense of well-being was often expressed by a characteristic facial “grimace”’ (pp.186-187). The ‘growing cohesiveness’ (developing integration) brought about by ‘loving mother[s], and a protective group leader’ is love-indoctrination.
Incidentally, with regard to the ‘protective group leader[s]’, namely the male silverback gorillas, their large size is not only due to having to compete for dominance but also reflects that while bonobos depend on the safety of trees for a secure, threat-free environment, gorillas evidently selected for physical size and great strength, particularly in the males, to protect their groups from external, predatory threats—as the anthropologist Adolph H. Schultz noted, the adult male gorilla ‘is a remarkably peaceful creature, using its incredible strength merely in self-defence’ (The Life of Primates, 1969, p.34 of 281).
Fossey’s account of the love-indoctrinated Tiger later in life illustrates how nurtured love is critical in producing and maintaining the integrated group—as well as the extreme fragility of the love-indoctrination process and how any disruption to it would result in a regression back to the competitive, each-for-his-own, opportunistic, divisive, ‘animal condition’ existence. In her account, Fossey describes how the secure, integrative, loving Tiger tried to maintain integration or love in the presence of an aggressive, divisive gorilla after the group’s integrative silverback leader, Uncle Bert, was shot by poachers: ‘The newly orphaned Kweli, deprived of his mother, Macho, and his father, Uncle Bert, and bearing a bullet wound himself, came to rely only on Tiger for grooming the wound, cuddling, and sharing warmth in nightly nests. Wearing concerned facial expressions, Tiger stayed near the three-year-old, responding to his cries with comforting belch vocalizations. As Group 4’s new young leader, Tiger regulated the animals’ feeding and travel pace whenever Kweli fell behind. Despondency alone seemed to pose the most critical threat to Kweli’s survival during August 1978. Beetsme…was a significant menace to what remained of Group 4’s solidarity. The immigrant, approximately two years older than Tiger and finding himself the oldest male within the group led by a younger animal, quickly developed an unruly desire to dominate. Although still sexually immature, Beetsme took advantage of his age and size to begin severely tormenting old Flossie three days after Uncle Bert’s death. Beetsme’s aggression was particularly threatening to Uncle Bert’s last offspring, Frito [son of Flossie]. By killing Frito, Beetsme would be destroying an infant sired by a competitor, and Flossie would again become fertile. Neither young Tiger nor the aging female was any match against Beetsme. Twenty-two days after Uncle Bert’s killing, Beetsme succeeded in killing fifty-four-day-old Frito even with the unfailing efforts of Tiger and the other Group 4 members to defend the mother and infant…Frito’s death provided more evidence, however indirect, of the devastation poachers create by killing the leader of a gorilla group. Two days after Frito’s death Flossie was observed soliciting copulations from Beetsme, not for sexual or even reproductive reasons—she had not yet returned to cyclicity and Beetsme still was sexually immature. Undoubtedly her invitations were conciliatory measures aimed at reducing his continuing physical harassment. I found myself strongly disliking Beetsme as I watched his discord destroy what remained of all that Uncle Bert had succeeded in creating and defending over the past ten years…I also became increasingly concerned about Kweli, who had been, only a few months previously, Group 4’s most vivacious and frolicsome infant. The three-year-old’s lethargy and depression were increasing daily even though Tiger tried to be both mother and father to the orphan. Three months following his gunshot wound and the loss of both parents, Kweli gave up the will to survive…It was difficult to think of Beetsme as an integral member of Group 4 because of his continual abuse of the others in futile efforts to establish domination, particularly over the indomitable Tiger…Tiger helped maintain cohesiveness by “mothering” Titus and subduing Beetsme’s rowdiness. Because of Tiger’s influence and the immaturity of all three males, they remained together’ (Gorillas in the Mist, pp.218-221).
It is very clear from this account how very easily any disruption to the love-indoctrination process can cause a regression to the competitive, opportunistic, each-for-his-own, pre-love-indoctrination, ‘animal condition’ situation—and thus how utterly incredible it is that the bonobos have been able to overcome the agony of the ‘animal condition’ and be as free as they are from the tyranny of the selfish gene-based natural selection process.