The Hundredth Monkey?

I have been musing about the phenomenon, whether real or a popular culture myth, of the 100th Monkey scenario.  An observer of some macaques on the island of Kojima around 1952 reported that after a few female macaques started innovatively washing their fruit in water before eating or sharing it, very quickly all macaques within a wide region also changed their normal habits and started washing their fruit, too. Now when I read further it seems this could most likely be accounted for as a case of rapid but ground-level social transmission, rather than as a psychical ‘quantum leap’ in macaque consciousness after a critical mass of macaques had changed their behavior.  But what interests me is to contrast this sort of collective fortuitous adaptation with how we humans generally do not learn positive lessons en masse.

I can just hear the backlash:

“Wash our fruit? Not for me or my tribe! Fruit washers are fruity! Mind your own fruit!”

Human societies, to be clear, do undergo transformative adaptive change over time, as when societies might transform from Band to Tribe to Chiefdom to State social organization. This sort of collective adaptation stems largely from shifting subsistence modes (from hunter-gathering to more and more complex modes of horticulture, intensive agriculture, and industrialism), as they adjust to increases in population density in relation to pressure on available resources.  But if, say, a group of horticulturists in the Amazon used to defending their lands and raiding their enemies were to suddenly one day—without external coercion—decide to put down their weapons (as the 6 Iroquois tribes once did in ‘burying the hatchet under a tree of peace) and make lasting peace with all of their enemies, this truce would not likely lead all other tribes in the region to likewise opt for peace, no matter how successful, or not, this local truce might be (e,g, the Huron Iroquois, who did not join the Iroquois confederacy themselves).

Okay so this is my anthropological conundrum.  Wouldn’t it be just wonderful (and of obvious evolutionary advantage) if our species or even one nation or subcultural community or local city neighborhood even would one day agree, for example, to relinquish all military weapons of mass destruction (e.g. AK 49‘s) for the sake of the greater good, and for this local adaptation to suddenly or rapidly become a universal human adaptation, leading to the total eradication of mass murder events perpetrated by unbalanced citizens?

But no. Our “advanced” (complex, state level) societies have become so fractional, so internally divisive, that it would appear such collectively adaptive, massive cultural change is no longer feasible.  What I am asking is, Why?  What is the logic or value of the sort of constant school of hard knocks and violence to which we modern humans regularly subject ourselves and others?

What I arrive at in pondering this conundrum comes down to recognizing the essential individuality of human experience—so-called free will—along with the factionalism of social structures. In fact, the more “advanced” (i.e. stratified, centralized and specialized) human societies become, the more internally divisive and bellicose against ‘the Other’ we have generally become.

But I want to add a spiritual perspective to these basic anthropological and sociological observations.  Whatever the society, family or culture an individual might incarnate within, as human beings we are faced with choices—more or less constrained, of course—that allow us to navigate the human condition and to glean values and insights for our own spiritual growth and development (or, perhaps not). It is unlikely that our life lessons will affect the collective whole, yet we strive to learn and to share what we have learned with others in our family, community, nation, or world.  Wonderful it is if we might be so fortunate as to have some modest degree of positive influence within our social sphere by the time we transition out of the human frame to continue our Soul’s journey.  But primarily, we are each here to carve out our own path of possible learning and growth. 

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As a foundational optimist I believe that eventually (based on my own acceptance of the twin principles of reincarnation and karma), each Soul—and not only humans but other animals or life-inspired forms—will return Home to our original Source to become truly advanced, conscious coworkers as vehicles of divine love and awareness.

Such as it is—and I certainly do not expect or suggest for others to adopt my acquired point of view—the MyStories we each live and reflect upon can yield positive lessons by which to live and grow. And as we go, perhaps we may share of our greatest life lessons with those we love.

So then: Do you wash your fruit?