Sunday, October 07, 2007


Scotty's post today made me think of this, though his topic was far darker and far more disturbing.

I find it fascinating that the basic truths of our society are often played out in the animal kingdom as well. It reflects the simple fact that children of all species need their parents and the boundaries for behavior that they provide.
Juvenile Delinquency Among the Elephants

I also find it interesting that this fact extends to all social species, especially those closely related to humans.

Several years ago, I lived in Branson Missouri not far from an animal park run by irresponsible people who allowed their Macaques (Snow Monkeys) to run loose throughout the park. Their territory included the area around the visitor's center. On my one visit to the park a young male parked himself on the sidewalk in front of me and wouldn't let me pass--in fact he charged me, teeth bared, snarling and only backed down when I retreated. Satisfied that he'd proven his dominance, he went on to terrorize other customers until an employeed finally came out and chased him away. I also observed a group of males terrorizing an african swan; they had it cornered and were the process of trying to pull out its feathers when I walked by. Being me, I yelled at them and they all ran away. At the time, I told my husband that this had the recipe for disaster written all over it.

Shortly after that, the locals began suffering from strange break ins. They would return from work or vacations and find their homes in shambles--furniture turned over and torn up, windows broken, children's toys smashed, cabinets and refrigerators emptied out onto the floor--some food eaten, most wasted. Cars were destroyed; roofs completely smashed, windows broken. The culprits turned out to be a band of juvenile macaques who'd found a hole in the cheap, unguarded, unelectric park fence. After doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to property, their behaviors escalated to chasing people across their yards and killing cats and dogs. The rampage lasted for weeks, because they were also smart and knew how and where to hide (they would retreat to the park and hide in the trees). The local authorities and the park owners had to destroy most of them. The biggest problem (outside of the obvious?) they were without enough real problems in an unnatural situation combined with raging hormones, with nothing to keep them in check--not predators, not fear of man, not older dominant males, or other groups of apes.

Every time I read a horrible story like the one Scotty posted, I'm reminded of this group and it reminds me of how out of balance our society is and how often our juvenile delinquents are in the same situation. They have no sense of purpose and far too much time on their hands and are in an unnatural situation combined with raging hormones.

As a society, we perpetuate our own problems with "feel good" warm fuzzy parenting (taught to us by people who often have no children of their own). We are too busy or too preoccupied to pay attention to our children's real need for consistent discipline and postive relationships with us. They don't need "positive role models" as put forth by society as much as they need undivided parents (I don't mean un-divorced--I mean parents who aren't so caught up in other things that they're missing what's going on with their children).

We've gotten so smart as a species, you'd think that we'd be able to spot the problem in our society and repair it, one family at a time. The question is: how much are we willing to sacrifice?

1 comment:

Scotty said...

Hiya Mary,

I can agree with you up to a point. Have your kids, for example, ever done something that you've asked them(or told them in no uncertain terms) not to do? Mine have. For the most part, the things they've done have been silly things, rebellious things maybe as they struggle to find themselves and assert their own authority, make their own decisions. And as parents, we work hard to keep our kids on the straight and narrow, to give them some kind of moral compass they can use for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately however, we are not the only influence in their lives, and sometimes, despite our best intentions, they run off the rails.

I've never agreed that parents are to be perpetually held accountable for the actions of their kids; in fact I have a few friends who are at their wits ends because, despite their good intentions for their kids, the children have turned feral as a consequence of other influences. It's heartbreaking to see my friends wondering where they went wrong wrong when they didn't. Groundings and timeouts and removal of things they like only works for so long.

So,what happens then when they move away from the home influence and fall in with some of the seedier influences in life? Sure, I'd agree that in some cases it's another example of trying to find themselves as they indulge in something stupid or dangerous, something that harms only themselves, and that with the right amount of care and attention, they can be put back on the right track.

But I'm afraid I can't extend that to those in society who simply can not or will not, play by societal rules, especially when the damage is now no longer confined to just themselves, but incorporates others. And when that damage moves into the area of physicality in any way such as in rape, murder, setting homeless people alight, etc, I'm afraid my ability (and even my willingness I must admit) to view that person as a contributing member of society worthy of the time, money and effort that goes into rehabilitating them, well, it just flies out of the window.

Do we discipline our young kids by sending them to a room full of toys and games, one that has a TV? Do we discipline our teenage kids by allowing them to play Playstation and hang with friends? No, we remove those privileges. So, what do we achieve by sending people to jail where they can have such privileges? Jails are too soft and as much as I know that some will strongly disagree with me, there are times when I think jails should be set up much, much differently. If, as a species, a race of people, we can't condone death penalties, then let's set up jails in such a way that the people who are being sent there are under no illusion that society isn't happy with them and they're to be punished, not to enjoy themselves. The Kurt Russell movie called Escape from New York comes to mind as does the Rutger Hauer movie called Wedlock or even the Christopher Lambert one, Fortress

But that's just my opinion, of course, and I can be a hard-ass at times.