Society on the Cayo Santiago
On the Island of Cayo Santiago, a few miles from Puerto Rico, a group of rhesus monkeys was brought from India to breed a supply of test animals, and also as a test group for social experiments. These monkeys, when they arrived, figured into American culture in an odd way; they were featured in Life magazine by an expert but less-known photojournalist, Hansel Meith. She shows a photograph of a monkey out on a reef, where the caption reads that the monkey was driven off to the reef by dominant female monkeys. Another reference states that the monkey was driven offshore by the photographer herself. Meith belonged to the famous school of photojournalists that is best represented by Dorothy Lange's photograph Migrant Mother.
Unreported at the time, was another purpose for the monkey colony: sexually related experiments. It is highly unlikely that the experiments provided any useful data about natural communities; the researcher, Carpenter, castrated some of the male monkeys obviously altering the natural behavior of the monkeys, as well as impacting the reconstruction of the monkey social environment.
Remarkable, and to the credit of the monkeys themselves, is the social recovery of the group. The animals have formed a community; it has self-actualized, and healed from the damages of disruption and abuse. The monkeys created among themselves a sense of synergy through group self-policing; they have stabilized and implemented sharing programs as successful as in any human society; possibly they are more successful. Clearly, everything Darwin tells us about the dawn of morality, what he calls social affection, can be found in nature even when both the natural environment and the community have been disrupted. The monkeys have done very well for themselves. Unfortunately, Meith's photographs of the monkeys cannot be found on any public website; but photos by researchers from a university in Oregon that studies the monkeys show something interesting; the monkeys are often gazing out on the ocean. I wonder what they are looking at, or for. Seeing how this monkey society has developed as well as it has, I would be curious to see if there are basic concepts of community that they understand. Also interesting is that since monkeys are not believed to have spindle or mirror cells as other primates do; mirror and spindle cells are therefore not necessary to help develop a sophisticated community relationships, or maybe scientists have will soon find these cells in monkeys where they have not before.
"The monkeys forage as a group and individuals often call to others when they find food, leading others to share the food. The motivation and selective context for cheating by remaining silent is clear. Cheaters are occasionally caught, however" and "cheaters that are detected receive more aggression (biting, hitting, chasing, rolling)" .. "There are significant costs to withholding information"
"These rhesus monkeys display a modest ethical system for maintaining honesty by keeping dishonesty in check" .. "the concerted action of many members of the group, each acting in their own self-interest, seems to have generated a system that dictates appropriate acts that each (other) individual monkey is obliged to follow" .. "ethics might well be an inevitable consequence of our social organization, not an extraordinary trait that begs special evolutionary explanation. Society itself, not ethics alone, requires evolutionary explanation."
When describing the benefits natural type social interaction with negative aspects of the over-sized structures of societies, as I have done, cultures that in the end lean towards the natural roots of human nature as I have tried to relate, are unquestionably the best; within nature is natural fairness.