Carlos Francisco A. Mendoza
Reaction Paper 1: The Life of Mammals
The documentaries we watched (Social Climbers and Food for Thought aired in BBC’s Life of Animals) showed the life of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Different types of primates were shown possessing varied skills using their body parts such as spider monkeys using their tails to attach to branches and howler monkeys making distinct loud noises to scare off strangers in their territory. However, the films focused on the primates evolutionary traits which helped them survive and dominate. Apes were described as innately inquisitive; they observe everything around them in detail. Research suggests that the emergence of grass as a result of climate change several million of years ago led to bipedalism which freed up the primates’ use of hands for walking. The use of hands for grasping and feeling objects in the environment was an additional sensory input which led to the evolution of bigger brains. Apes developed techniques and abilities to use tools to aid them in food gathering. The ability to imitate, shown by an orangutan hand-paddling a canoe and using a saw, ensured that these abilities can be passed on to younger animals for the survival of their species. Language eventually came because of the need to convey information.
The documentaries emphasize the fact that these primates were highly organizational, a characteristic attributed to having big brains. Observing their personalities within groups show the presence of social status, class rankings and a political system. Apes and humans come from the same family tree; they share common movement patterns and social interactions, only that apes have less brain size and understanding. Through apes, it is possible to view fundamental human social interactions at its most basic. Traditional evolutionary biologists say that self-interest stimulates actions for survival. In an ape group, an alpha male is determined through age and strength. Being on top of the social hierarchy will certainly ensure survival as it provides the first pick in food and mating partner for the propagation of his genes. A female ape will then want to be impregnated by the alpha male as it assures her that the alpha male will favorably look after her and her children. This is one of the easiest ways to climb the social ladder in the ape community.
In the human society, being on one of the higher social classes also assures survival; one has the money to access food and other resources. People do want to be on top of the social hierarchy and would do anything to achieve it. In the Philippines, there is an increasing trend of marrying rich foreigners. One may abhor this practice as social climbing where a person does not work hard for his/her riches. But how can they be judged when they are merely taking action for self-preservation? When the conditions of their birth do not provide for them an opportunity to obtain skills and education? They are only being practical, taking advantage of chances that appear to safeguard their and their family’s survival.