Editorial: Low-status primates & chicken-manure
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1995:
In hindsight, the Oklahoma City bombing seems predictable, as a reversion of
low-status males to a form of basic animal behavior observed to varying degree among most
primates, as well as some canine, feline, avian, and fish societies:
Excluded from mating opportunities and other currency of the animal world, the
low-status males form a parallel troop of their own at the fringe of the tribe. Within that all-
male troop, obsessed by status, the low-ranking males establish and defend a superficially
rigid but fragile hierarchy of their own. Eventually, emboldened by numbers, they risk
raids on the main tribe, killing the offspring of low-status females who are not well-defend-
ed by the males of dominant and secondary rank. The vulnerability of the young is indeed
often how the low-status males determine which females may be accessible to them,
through a mating strategy amounting to psychologically coerced rape, if not overt rape.
The equation of often only momentary vulnerability with lower status is indicative
of the low-status males’ frequent inability to read more subtle social cues, which in turn
often explains why they are low-status males to begin with. Certainly there is no reason to
believe the victims in Oklahoma City were of lower status in our society in any respect
except in the eyes of their attackers, to whom their vulnerability to a truckload of refined
chicken manure signified expendability in the pursuit of power. Note that Henry Kissinger,
another enthusiastic bomber at the zenith of his own influence, once defined power as the
ultimate aphrodisiac. The only other indication of lesser status one could assign to the
Oklahoma City victims, with a certain sensitive reluctance, would be the need of many for
government-sponsored workplace daycare, since upper-rank families in our society enjoy
the luxury of being able to provide their children with in-home care. It is worth pointing out
in this regard that the daycare provided in the blast-shattered Alfred P. Murrah building was
considered to be of an elite quality, as workplace daycare goes.
Political fanaticism often covers sublimated sexual behavior, and the fanaticism of
the Oklahoma City suspects would seem to be a clear case in point. As already noted, low-
status females in many animal societies paradoxically respond to the massacre or threatened
massacre of their young at the teeth, claws, or beaks of low-status males by allowing the
low-status males some copulatory opportunities, as a means of securing the safety of sur-
viving and future offspring. The low-status males thus favored then become protectively
jealous––which is not entirely to the low-status females’ advantage. Often the low-status
females continue to surreptitiously seek the favors of the higher-status males (and, thereby,
higher status for themselves and resulting young) whenever they can slip away from the
jealous low-status males and sneak past the higher-status females. The effort is risky
because the low-status males may lose confidence in their paternity and revert to killing vul-
nerable offspring––or kill the low-status females, as a reassertion of their status within the
low-status male hierarchy, within which rank depends entirely upon ability to intimidate.
Paradoxically, if a higher-status male makes the first advances toward a lower-sta-
tus female, he may be rejected, since this would be a sign of falling status within the main
tribe. Indeed, if seen by higher-status females in the act of courting a low-status female,
the once-high status male may never again be accepted as a potential mate within high-sta-
tus circles, even though higher-status females may aggressively compete with each other
for the attentions of males who copulate prolifically with females of equal or higher rank,
and therefore appear to have some especially desirable traits.
Such sociobiological explanations indeed clarify much more than just militias and
the subculture from which the Oklahoma City bombing suspects come. But sociobiology
does not suggest, as some would have it, a fatalistic determinism about our behavior.
Rather, an accurate reading of sociobiology suggests that the most effective way to improve
human behavior lies in recognizing and honoring our own animality to the extent of making
ourselves more clearly aware of it. Such recognition must include understanding that within
most animal communities, status is now known to depend primarily upon socially appropri-
ate behavior, rather than upon sheer physical dominance. Middle-status primates, for
instance, are now known to enjoy as many or more mating opportunities, if they behave
agreeably, than upper-status primates, whose time is more occupied with the burdens of
leadership and tribal defense––both of which are often handled more through psychological
manipulation than fighting. Indeed, among gorillas and baboons, the dominant primate
may fight least, relying instead on over-the-shoulder looks, shifts in posture and position,
and acknowledging pats to maintain peaceful order. Finally, it is also known that,
resources being adequate, there is no inherent limit on admission to the middle and even
upper ranks of primate society, if individuals learn to take a useful and non-disruptive role.
The solution to many human problems may lie in nothing more complicated than
teaching improved social skills, from courting to nurturing to resolving conflicts at play.
Certainly the Dale Carnegie approach to upward mobility has proved much more effective
for millions, and much less menacing to society, than the behavior of low-status chimps
who have access to firearms––plus the ability to fling feces by detonating chicken manure.
Money & power
Men wage war, T.E. Lawrence offered in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, because
women are watching. Whether or not he was right about that, it is certain that many chari-
table projects are undertaken chiefly because donors may be watching––regardless of merit
relative to cost. Thus, as Paul Watson notes on page six, nearly $10 million has been
raised since 1992 toward the estimated $14 million price of perhaps some day freeing Willy,
a.k.a. Keiko: more than the sum of all other funds raised over the same time by groups
devoted to saving whales as species. The same $14 million, judiciously spent, whether to
sink ships or buy out whaling quotas, could perhaps terminate whaling worldwide.
It is thus with some cynicism that we receive rumors from multiple well-placed
sources––which on the record, at least, none of the principals have been willing to discuss
with us––that the Humane Society of the U.S. is negotating a possible takeover of
Washington D.C. animal control duties from the Washington Humane Society. We under-
stand WHS may have to withdraw from animal control upon expiry of its current contract
on May 17, due to the nearly bankrupt city’s inability to cover the costs. HSUS thus enjoys
the chance to perform a high-profile civic rescue, to be followed no doubt by many high-
profile animal rescues. Perhaps HSUS will even manage to create a model animal control
department, knocking down D.C. shelter intakes and euthanasias without increasing the
numbers of animals left to be helped by low-profile local rescue groups. But even if HSUS
does work wonders, one must observe that its biggest gain would be renewed credibility
with donors. Finally, after more than 40 years, HSUS could rebut critics who often charge
that while it postures as the “national” humane society, it to date hasn’t put a cent into regu-
lar hands-on animal work and in no way materially supports the thousands of local and
regional humane societies who hear in response to every appeal, “We already gave to your
national organization.” Running just one shelter will enable HSUS to more effectively
siphon gifts from all donors whose chief interest is in helping hands-on work.
HSUS is by no means the only offender. The American SPCA, which until
January 1 provided pound service to New York City, now runs just one small adoption
shelter in Manhattan, and has no programs materially assisting other shelters. The so-
alled National Humane Education Society conducts “public education” almost exclusively
through direct-mail appeals which donors often mistake for appeals from their local shelters.
NHES raises as much as $3,000 per year per animal kept at three no-kill shelters, of which
only one sixth actually goes toward animal care. The Doris Day Animal League does little
but “public education” via funding appeals. In fiscal year 1993, the most recent for which
figures are available, 96% of the DDAL budget went to direct mail and overhead.
Indeed, of all the animal groups soliciting funds nationally, only the North Shore
Animal League, via Pet Savers, provides significant funding to local humane societies. Of
the rest, only Friends of Animals, via low-cost neutering certificates, routinely provides
material aid to local hands-on efforts. The contributions of the others, when made at all,
tend to be made in high-profile single-animal cases or disaster relief situations. These
instances are important, but not so important as to attract showers of donations while local
groups tending to essential business, day in and day out, struggle to meet basic needs.
Effective charity means sending donations where they’ll do the most good. ANI-
MAL PEOPLE each December publishes the budgets, assets, and salaries paid by the 50
most prominent national animal and habitat protection groups. Save and study those charts.
(If you lost or discarded them, send $2.00 for replacements.) Save and study the solicita-
tions you receive, too. Chances are, the groups sending you the most and slickest mail are
the least efficient. Redirect your gifts from the direct-mail mills to the animal-related chari-
ties in your own community, whose work you can verify, and to those few nationals which
only ask when they have legitimate projects, meeting high standards of accountability.
Please remember ANIMAL PEOPLE while you’re at it. Our only support for
more than a year now has come from subscriptions, advertising, and individual gifts: no
big grants, bequests, or subsidies, and no grandstand plays to wring a few extra bucks out
of you. As William Randolph Hearst put it, we just comfort the afflicted, afflict the com-
fortable, print the news and raise hell––on a total budget of less than the typical salary of an
HSUS vice president. We are thankful for your help, and make it count.