the release of a report by London-based Amnesty International about the
increase of human rights abuse around the world, just where can one go these
days to find a model for the humane treatment of others? Hint: Don't look
to the world's only remaining superpower, since US policy is a big part of
Here are excerpts [along with my comments]
from a speech on Wednesday by Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Kahn:
"The US, as the unrivaled political, military
and economic super-power, sets the tone of government behavior worldwide.
By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does
the U.S. send to repressive regimes who have little regard for the rule of
"In 2004, far from any sign of principled leadership [Did you hear that, Mr.
Bush?], what we saw was actually a new and dangerous agenda in the making.
Rewriting rules of human rights [Got that, Mr. Gonzales?], discrediting
institutions of international cooperation [Fat chance, Mr. Bolton!], and
usurping the language of justice and freedom to promote policies that create
fear and insecurity. [Why, it's your National Security Strategy, Mr.
"The US is leading this agenda, with the UK, European states, Australia, and
other states following. [The "coalition of the willing" is in on it too!]
"Under this agenda, accountability is being set aside in favor of impunity
[Touché, Mr. Rumsfeld!]; a prime example being the refusal of the US
Administration or US Congress to conduct a full and independent
investigation of the use of torture and ill treatment by US officials,
despite the public outrage over Abu Ghraib and despite the evidence,
collected by AI and others, of similar practices in Bagram, Guantanamo and
other detention centers under US control. [No, it's really not Newsweek's
fault, Mr. McClellan.]
"Guantanamo has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that
people can be detained without any recourse to the law. If Guantanamo
evokes images of Soviet repression, 'ghost detainees' -- or the
incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees -- bring back the practice
of 'disappearances' so popular with Latin American dictators in the past.
[So, who you doin' business with these days, Mr. Negroponte?]"
As despairing as man's inhumanity towards man
is these days, there is hope for a more peaceful future if you know where to
look. It can be found near a garbage dumpster in the Masai Mara Game Reserve
Last April, Robert M. Sapolsky, a neuroscientist and primatologist at
Stanford University, and his colleague Lisa Share
reported that a troop of pugnacious baboons have actually learned to be
nice to each other! I have
previously written about this troop of savanna baboons because there was
an uncanny similarity of their behavior to that of the Bush administration
after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
But much has changed since then, and I owe this particular troop of baboons
The large despotic males, in typical male baboon fashion, ruled this troop
by fear, intimidation, and violence while keeping smaller and less
aggressive baboons away from a prized source of food -- the local dumpster.
That is until fate would have it that all the dominant adult males
contracted bovine tuberculosis from discarded contaminated meat and died,
leaving behind all the females, their young, and those males of the troop
who had been too subordinate to challenge them.
This resulted in a much healthier, more relaxed social hierarchy that has
persisted for twenty years, even though the male survivors have since died
and been replaced by males from other troops (In baboon society, the females
stay with the troop while the males leave to join other troops after
reaching puberty). So the troop's resident baboons are somehow instructing
the immigrant males in their new social behavior. Sapolsky said, "We don't
yet understand the mechanism of transmittal, but the jerky new guys are
obviously learning 'we don't do things like that around here.'"
It is an entirely new, previously undocumented code of peaceful conduct for
a baboon society, and it has been learned! If only humans were that
smart . . .
Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based
evolutionary zoologist and independent scholar. He can be reached at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2005 by Harold Williamson
Articles by Harold Williamson
Improvisation From The Proscenium, Part Two
Newsweek Damage America's Image?
Improvisation From The Proscenium, Part One
Watching George Bush Trying to Pull a Rabbit Out of His Hat
Shooting the Messenger Who Reported Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan
Orange -- Thirty Years After
Missing WMD: Bush's Red Herring
Darkness in America
Spinning The Vietnam War: What Goes Around Comes Around
Dare Call It Murder
Isn't God Who is Crazy
Trust Anybody Over Thirty
Faith in the Postmodern World
Remember Who The Enemy Is
Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
Thinking Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
America's Blind Faith in Government
Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective