Homo sapiens: primate species. All the knee-jerk talk of “feral children” made me think of our wild, genetic inheritance. Our ancestors foraged for fruits, roots and grubs in much the same way as modern chimpanzees (apes: close relatives) or baboons (monkeys: more distant relatives).
Brief paragraph of zoology: Social grooming plays a vital role in primate group cohesiveness; it takes time (when a monkey could be feeding) and energy but they do it a lot: it matters. The optimum group size is one where every member can fit in a bit of grooming time with the other members. When a group becomes too large a section will break away to form a new troop. Neighbouring troops may, thus, be related but they are likely to compete aggressively for resources (food, water, safe resting places).
Humans don’t behave like that, do we? We chat rather than picking for fleas; we buy a round rather than de-louse our friends’ bottoms. Physical proximity is hedged with social constraints: my husband, daughter and hairdresser may stroke my hair; it would be creepy if my neighbour tried to. But, hang on a moment, think of how many people you know: there’ll be a core of close friends (who may or may not be family; we treat them as such in our socially mobile world), then there are the others – extended family we’d rather ignore; neighbours; co-workers; the chap in the corner shop – who we chat to but don’t know very well. And then there are the people we cross paths with daily but ignore; we can’t be friends with everyone and, statistically, some of them are going to be Daily Mail readers or Tory local councillors.
In the same way that hundreds of gelada baboons co-exist in the Ethiopian highlands, by maintaining discrete troops within the overall group, people troops pile up in towns and cities. That’s fine: that’s how we can manage to fit so many people into such a small space. We do it by ignoring most of them as “not my troop”. But there has to be contact between the groups, there has to be that extended social connectivity allowing groups to live side by side. There has to be something in it for each group. If the only tribal fellowship people feel is for a gang, we are in trouble.
Baboons at the bottom of the social pile eventually move away to found new troops. There’s no space for that in our crowded world. We have to work out how we can re-include disadvantaged families, groom them to be part of society and groom other people to accept them – because grooming isn’t one-way, it’s EVERYBODY.
I never imagined I’d blog in favour of grooming yongsters…