Well, we know how this report will be digested, don\’t we?

Monkeys enjoy performing charitable acts and are capable of empathising with members of their own species, according to US researchers.

The team taught capuchin monkeys a game involving food handouts in which players could adopt a selfish or helpful strategy. They found that even when the monkeys were paired with individuals they had never come across before they frequently adopted the helpful or "prosocial" option.

If monkeys are pro-social then so must shaved apes be and let\’s get on with building that glorious Nordic welfare state!

You can just see it, can\’t you?

The important details, the caveats, will be overlooked of course.

In the experiment a researcher offered a monkey one of two tokens. If it chose the selfish token it received a slice of apple but another monkey paired with it received nothing. If it chose the helpful token it got the same reward, but its partner also received food. Whatever the pairing, the animals chose the non-selfish option more frequently, but if the partner was a relative or a member of its group it chose that option even more frequently. De Waal points out that this is not strictly altruistic behaviour because the monkeys do not suffer a cost from adopting the helpful strategy.

Aha, see, it\’s not in fact altruism at all. Rather more it\’s, if I get mine then why should I care if he also gets his? Further:

When the non-selfish option changed so that the other monkey received a more desirable reward – a grape – the monkeys chose to be helpful far less often.

But if he gets more than me then fuck him. This really ain\’t altruism at all now, is it? Even more:

Whatever the pairing, the animals chose the non-selfish option more frequently, but if the partner was a relative or a member of its group it chose that option even more frequently.

And the altruism described was much stronger within family groups, then troops, than it was with strangers.

So what we\’ve actually got, far from a model which supports more Nordicity, is one which tells us that such sharing caring behaviour exists best in small groups, where connections to others are both visible and acknowledged, that at least so far we\’ve only tested it when there is no cost to the individual, so we\’ve most certainly not seen evidence that this supports higher tax rates to aid others and finally, that the monkeys really don\’t like people taking the piss (getting the grape that is) and will deliberately prevent them from doing so. Indeed, we seem to have just proved the existence of spite and envy.

No, not much support there for the idea of a high tax all caring all sharing social democracy there then, not in a nation of 60 million where those personal bonds are weak.

But that ain\’t the way it will play in The Guardian, is it?

 

4 thoughts on “Well, we know how this report will be digested, don\’t we?”

  1. Years ago, at a girls’ summer camp in the western U.S., a group of us were introduced to the altruistic, communal way of life.

    We were told to use our penknives to make skewers on which to impale sausages for a barbecue. Like several others, I took care in making mine straight, smooth, sausage-friendly, etc.

    Finally, to everyone’s surprise, we were told to put our finished sticks into a central container from which, subsequently, we took turns picking a new stick out. Needless to say, the best ones went first, mostly picked by those who hadn’t taken any trouble with their own.

    The lesson I learned was not the one intended!

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