Troops in London: why teens need grooming

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…

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4 Responses to Troops in London: why teens need grooming

  1. kapulco says:

    Interesting. I bow to your superior zoological knowledge, whilst stroking my dog’s hair (it’s ok: I’m his hairdresser).

    However, from this teacher’s perspective, I would like to add something to the mix. Humans (even Daily Mail readers) are quite intelligent. That means we need interest, activity. But youngsters also need pathways to become fully-fledged adult members of society. Those pathways are defined by encouragement, instruction, experience and correction. Thus, without proper leadership by elders (especially parents – it is probably too late by school-age, save with a massive effort, youngsters will apply their intelligence to anything which is interesting. If there is little against which to rebel (ineffective parents, teachers, Police, society) then they will take interest in anarchy. Whilst I am sure one could identify individual reasons for each and every rioter, in general, boredom and a lack of place in society probably rank highly.

    For the reasons you offer, as well as the reasons I offer, I am very drawn to compulsory national service being a very promising answer. And no I do not mean military, save for those youngsters who wish that and are competent and not otherwise dangerous. But youth corps which do largely unpaid work (maintenance subsistence) in a disciplined way and with a useful purpose. A corps which offers extended education / training / experience / discipline and – perhaps most importantly – one which offers a real sense of belonging and a society which cares about them but also expects them to be responsible. Individual pathways would be tailored to individuals but all would have discipline and responsibility instilled and know that society cared for them but, in return, they must care for society. I think that grooming would replace much of the evil group and gang grooming which currently fills what would, otherwise, be a vacuum.

    • Perry says:

      You may have read this already, but your post brought it to mind: http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/870/he-knew-he-was-right.

      • Myfanwy Fox says:

        Thanks, Perry. No, I hadn’t seen that article. However, the results mentioned are no surprise to me.

        “Socialization is a slow learning process which must occur within the correct social setting. There is no quick-fix high-tech substitute for it.”

        Let’s hope the government realise that.

    • Myfanwy Fox says:

      It’s an interesting idea, James, and one that could work as long as it is not used as a punishment but as a way forward. If it becomes punative it will be just another way society negates youngsters from poorer backgrounds.

      Since Thatcher’s 80s successive governments seem to have been wooed by American dreams. But the States is now going so far as to criminalise poverty:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/aug/10/america-poverty-criminalised

      I’d take issue with your use of the term anarchy. You’re using it in the tabloid sense of destructive nilhism. Anarchy should mean community-decisions, rather than some ruling person or state forcing decisions on those below. Most Quakers would probably, technically, be anarchists. ;-)

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