“But That’s Just the Way it’s Always Been”


Whenever a massive shift in behavior is suggested, the prevailing attitude by the bulk of humanity is a stubborn resistance coupled with a dismissive “it’s always been like this, so it’s not going to change” or “that’s just the way it’s always been” response.

I hear it often said: “man has always eaten meat”, implying that that’s somehow justification for the exploitation of animals and that humans are powerless to change it.

It’s sometimes tempting to just simply give up when history clearly presents us with a bloody, violent and cruel past (and present) of the treatment humans have shown other sentient beings (not to mention  members of their own species).

But then I think of the Baboon story.

It’s about a society of animals changing their treatment of one another, a shift from an aggressive, bullying hierarchy to one of a more peaceful and nurturing society.

I took the following story from author Bob Sutton’s website, an excerpt from his book, “The No Asshole Rule” (how awesome is that title? And why aren’t we applying it to the workplace?) 😀

“Biologists Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share have followed a troop of wild baboons in Kenya for over 20 years, starting in 1978.  Sapolsky and Share called them “The Garbage Dump Troop” because they got much of their food from a garbage pit at a tourist lodge. 

But not every baboon was allowed to eat from the pit in the early 1980s:  The aggressive, high status males in the troop refused to allow lower status males, or any females, to eat the garbage.

Between 1983 and 1986, infected meat from the dump led to the deaths of 46% of the adult males in the troop. The biggest and meanest males died off.  As in other baboon troops studied, before they died, these top-ranking males routinely bit, bullied, and chased males of similar and lower status, and occasionally directed their aggression at females.

But when the top ranking males died-off in the mid-1980s, aggression by the (new) top baboons dropped dramatically, with most aggression occurring between baboons of similar rank, and little of it directed toward lower-status males, and none at all directed at females.

Troop members also spent a larger percentage of the time grooming, sat closer together than in the past, and hormone samples indicated that the lowest status males experienced less stress than underlings in other baboon troops.

Most interestingly, these effects persisted at least through the late 1990’s, well after all the original “kinder” males had died-off.  Not only that, when adolescent males who grew up in other troops joined the “Garbage Dump Troop,” they too engaged in less aggressive behavior than in other baboon troops. 

As Sapolsky put it “We don’t understand the mechanism of transmission… but the jerky new guys are obviously learning: We don’t do things like that around here.”  So, at least by baboon standards, the garbage dump troop developed and enforced what I would call a “no asshole rule.”

The biologists were absolutely stunned at the shift in the baboons’ behavior and even moreso that this shift outlasted the initial group and became a “new normal”, so to speak.

They simply could not have imagined that a shift in basic baboon behavior could ever happen.

Baboons have always been aggressive and violent, that’s just the way it’s always been.

Humans have always been violent and have always used animals, that‘s just the way it’s always been.

We just often don’t realize that it’s not the way it has to be.

A new attitude of compassion for animals: that’s just the way it’s POSSIBLE to be. 🙂




Posted on January 4, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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