"One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic."
What do monkeys have to do with war, oppression, crime, racism and even e-mail spam? You'll see that all of the random ass-headed cruelty of the world will suddenly make perfect sense once we go Inside the Monkeysphere.
First, picture a monkey. A monkey dressed like a little pirate, if that helps you. We'll call him Slappy.
Imagine you have Slappy as a pet. Imagine a personality for him. Maybe you and he have little pirate monkey adventures and maybe even join up to fight crime. Think how sad you'd be if Slappy died.
Now, imagine you get four more monkeys. We'll call them Tito, Bubbles, Marcel and ShitTosser. Imagine personalities for each of them now. Maybe one is aggressive, one is affectionate, one is quiet, the other just throws shit all the time. But they're all your personal monkey friends.
Now imagine a hundred monkeys.
Not so easy now, is it? So how many monkeys would you have to own before you couldn't remember their names? At what point, in your mind, do your beloved pets become just a faceless sea of monkey? Even though each one is every bit the monkey Slappy was, there's a certain point where you will no longer really care if one of them dies.
So how many monkeys would it take before you stopped caring?That's not a rhetorical question. We actually know the number.
Uh, no. It'll become clear in a moment.
You see, monkey experts performed a monkey study a while back, and discovered that the size of the monkey's monkey brain determined the size of the monkey groups the monkeys formed. The bigger the brain, the bigger the little societies they built.
They cut up so many monkey brains, in fact, that they found they could actually take a brain they had never seen before and from it they could accurately predict what size tribes that species of creature formed.
Most monkeys operate in troupes of 50 or so. But somebody slipped them a slightly larger brain and they estimated the ideal group or society for this particular animal was about 150.
That brain, of course, was human. Probably from a homeless man they snatched off the streets.
It goes much, much deeper than that. Let's try an example.
Famous news talking guy Tim Russert tells a charming story about his father, in his book Big Russ and Me (the title referring to his on-and-off romance with actor Russell Crowe). Russert's dad used to take half an hour to carefully box up any broken glass before taking it to the trash. Why? Because "The trash guy might cut his hands."
That this was such an unusual thing to do illustrates my monkey point. None of us spend much time worrying about the garbage man's welfare even though he performs a crucial role in not forcing us to live in a cave carved from a mountain of our own filth. We don't usually consider his safety or comfort at all and if we do, it's not in the same way we would worry over our best friend or wife or girlfriend or even our dog.
People toss half-full bottles of drain cleaner right into the barrel, without a second thought of what would happen if the trash man got it splattered into his eyes. Why? Because the trash guy exists outside the Monkeysphere.
The Monkeysphere is the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people. If the monkey scientists are monkey right, it's physically impossible for this to be a number much larger than 150.
Most of us do not have room in our Monkeysphere for our friendly neighborhood sanitation worker. So, we don't think of him as a person. We think of him as The Thing That Makes The Trash Go Away.
And even if you happen to know and like your particular garbage man, at one point or another we all have limits to our sphere of monkey concern. It's the way our brains are built. We each have a certain circle of people who we think of as people, usually our own friends and family and neighbors, and then maybe some classmates or coworkers or church or suicide cult.
Those who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They're sort of one-dimensional bit characters.
Remember the first time, as a kid, you met one of your school teachers outside the classroom? Maybe you saw old Miss Puckerson at Taco Bell eating refried beans through a straw, or saw your principal walking out of a dildo shop. Do you remember that surreal feeling you had when you saw these people actually had lives outside the classroom?
I mean, they're not people. They're teachers.
Oh, not much. It's just the one single reason society doesn't work.
It's like this: which would upset you more, your best friend dying, or a dozen kids across town getting killed because their bus collided with a truck hauling killer bees? Which would hit you harder, your Mom dying, or seeing on the news that 15,000 people died in an earthquake in Iran?
They're all humans and they are all equally dead. But the closer to our Monkeysphere they are, the more it means to us. Just as your death won't mean anything to the Chinese or, for that matter, hardly anyone else more than 100 feet or so from where you're sitting right now.
Exactly. This is so ingrained that to even suggest you should feel their deaths as deeply as that of your best friend sounds a little ridiculous. We are hard-wired to have a drastic double standard for the people inside our Monkeysphere versus the 99.999% of the world's population who are on the outside.
Think about this the next time you get really pissed off in traffic, when you start throwing finger gestures and wedging your head out of the window to scream, "LEARN TO FUCKING DRIVE, FUCKER!!" Try to imagine acting like that in a smaller group. Like if you're standing in an elevator with two friends and a coworker, and the friend goes to hit a button and accidentally punches the wrong one. Would you lean over, your mouth two inches from her ear, and scream "LEARN TO OPERATE THE FUCKING ELEVATOR BUTTONS, SHITCAMEL!!"
They'd think you'd gone insane. We all go a little insane, though, when we get in a group larger than the Monkeysphere. That's why you get that weird feeling of anonymous invincibility when you're sitting in a large crowd, screaming curses at a football player you'd never dare say to his face.
Sure, you probably don't go out of your way to be mean to strangers. You don't go out of your way to be mean to stray dogs, either.
The problem is that eventually, the needs of you or those within your Monkeysphere will require screwing someone outside it (even if that need is just venting some tension and anger via exaggerated insults). This is why most of us wouldn't dream of stealing money from the pocket of the old lady next door, but don't mind stealing cable, adding a shady exemption on our tax return, or quietly celebrating when they forget to charge us for something at the restaurant.
You may have a list of rationalizations long enough to circle the Earth, but the truth is that in our monkey brains the old woman next door is a human being while the cable company is a big, cold, faceless machine. That the company is, in reality, nothing but a group of people every bit as human as the old lady, or that some kind old ladies actually work there and would lose their jobs if enough cable were stolen, rarely occurs to us.
That's one of the ingenious things about the big-time religions, by the way. The old religious writers knew it was easier to put the screws to a stranger, so they taught us to get a personal idea of a God in our heads who says, "No matter who you hurt, you're really hurting me. Also, I can crush you like a grape." You must admit that if they weren't writing words inspired by the Almighty, they at least understood the Monkeysphere.
It's everywhere. Once you grasp the concept, you can see examples all around you. You'll walk the streets in a daze, like Roddy Piper after putting on his X-ray sunglasses in They Live.
But wait, because this gets much bigger and much, much stranger...