Tag Archives: monkeysphere

Dog Joins the Monkeysphere

This is just another instance wherein an animal which comes to community attention as an individual (rather than as an anonymous member of a group) suddenly joins the Monkeysphere and becomes worthy of a social bond.

Nobody wanted to adopt an anonymous beagle when he was one of hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats at a shelter in Alabama.  “Hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats” is a huge, vague concept, and it’s hard to form a social bond with, or feel one is personally able to help, “hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats”.  However, once he was brought to national consciousness as an individual dog with a name, people fought over the right to adopt him and a home was almost immediately found.

This is, by the way, why savvy shelters post individual web pages for each animal, with a little story about each, and a name for everybody.  It’s hard to open your heart to “181406M”, but it’s easy to find a soft spot for “Daniel”.

(Daniel, by the way, now has his own blog, and is working to abolish the use of gas chambers for euthanasia of pets in Pennsylvania via Daniel’s Law.  See what you can do when you have a name?)

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Cow Enters Rescue Group’s Monkeysphere

A little while ago I posted about the Monkeysphere, and how there is a maximum number (Dunbar’s number) of social relationships that social animals (including humans) can simultaneously maintain.  If a person (or animal) is outside your monkeysphere, you do not view him/her/it as a social companion, and may find it difficult to generate empathy for him/her/it.

Here’s an example of that happening now.  Bavaria (like other countries) sends, probably, hundreds of thousands of cows to the slaughterhouse annually, but here’s a group frantically trying to save one loose, wandering cow.

It’s not that I disagree with the idea — and, from a fundraising point of view, it makes a lot of sense.  Having a name and a face on your campaign will definitely help raise money.  “We’re trying to save Yvonne!” will get more people interested in your cause than “We’re trying to save 100,000 anonymous cows!”  It’s just a fascinating example of the Monkeysphere in action.  Yvonne entered these people’s monkeysphere, and suddenly they can see her as a social companion, and suddenly it becomes worth purchasing not only her, but a former “stall mate” of hers, as well as mobilizing search and rescue units on all-terrain vehicles, to rescue her.

The other cows in Yvonne’s herd?  Too many faces — won’t fit in the monkeysphere.  Off they go.

(Not saying anything bad or good here.  We all do our best with what we have.  The rescue certainly cannot take in 100,000 cows every year, and Yvonne will definitely help them with their mission, benefiting the other cows indirectly by being their “ambassador”.  There’s no right or wrong here.  Just…pausing to look at the world as it goes by.)

(On  a similar note, this article “introducing you to the truck driver you just flipped off” is trying to get you to add truck drivers, in general, to your monkeysphere in order to get you to empathize with them and reduce incidents of road rage.  Did it work?)

The Monkeysphere

The online magazine Cracked, which is primarily known for cramming the maximum amount of four-letter words into the minimum amount of space but still occasionally tosses out some utter brilliance, in 2007 put out an article called “What is the Monkeysphere?”  The article presented the concept of Dunbar’s number, the theoretical maximum number of social relationships any given animal (including humans) can form and maintain at any given time.

The theory goes: Think about having a pet.  A dog, for example.  Your dog has a name (“Gozer the Magnificent”) and wears a funny hat and likes eating frozen rhubarb.  Now imagine you have five dogs.  Their names and personalities are a little harder to remember, but you can still keep them straight.  Now try to picture owning a hundred dogs.  Likely, you can’t even picture that many dogs, much less think of individual names or personalities for each.  The maximum number of dogs (or people, etc) with whom you can form caring social relationships is somewhere between five and one hundred.  That’s Dunbar’s number.  That’s the biggest social sphere we, as “monkeys”, can create.  That’s our monkeysphere.

Dunbar’s number varies from person to person and from species to species, but the basic principle is the same.  Where animal research, farming, zoos, and the pet industry — animal industry in general — goes wrong is about the point where the number of animals being cared for by any one person becomes greater than Dunbar’s number.

If a lab tech is told to care for ten mice, they all get names, personalities and individual identities.  A lab tech caring for a room full of 500 mouse cages, each containing between one and five mice, barely has time to count the mice as they blur past during each daily check.  A slaughter worker tasked with “stunning” four cows an hour can move slowly and patiently, properly aim the “stunning” device, and make sure each animal is dead before the rendering process begins.  A slaughter worker tasked with “stunning” one hundred cows an hour — as many currently are — is “processing” something like one cow every thirty seconds.  There is no time for patience or proper aim.  A zoo or wildlife park worker who cares for ten to fifteen animals has names for each one, and the animals are often treated as personal friends.  A zoo director, overseeing a collection of five hundred to two thousand animals, starts to see them as “units” rather than social companions.

Other factors — primarily money — come into it as well, but there is something about reaching Dunbar’s number that really damages the structure.  Once the humans can’t form social relationships with the individual animals anymore, they stop treating the animals as beings with which you might form social relationships — and that starts the whole downward spiral, where “what we should be doing” begins to look more and more different from “what we are actually doing”.

Just a thought.