Why we did this

[Surrogate 2]

The point of Chicken Wire Mother is not an attack on cruelty to rhesus monkeys. Though it is true that animals faced extreme conditions in this experiment, we are just as cruel to ourselves and to others in our society. The point is to explore what the experiment says about its creators, not its subjects.

What we as a society consider to be important, what we invest in (through grants, tax money, status, education) reveals a great deal about our own deficiencies and extremes. In this case Harry Harlow and the institution that supported him thought it was important to reproduce in the lab (under "controlled" conditions) what anyone can observe easily in most communities. Most mothers probably understand the effects of neglect intuitively, and anyone living in a community can surely recognize those children that are raised thoughtfully and those that are not.

The research techniques described here reflect a deep distrust of such intuition and "field observation", and instead puts its faith in the scientific approach, thus creating an experiment in a lab that, with its bizarre images and brutal conditions, only reflects those features of our own society and upbringing that we want most to ignore.

Is Harry Harlow the adult child of a Chicken Wire Mother? Does this make him happier in a lab practicing "hard" science than interacting with humans in his community, observing conditions of neglect and drawing conclusions of the more "soft" intuitive kind? Granted, intuition can be hazy, but then, extrapolating experimental results from rhesus monkeys to humans is also hazy, yet this seems to be the purpose of this experiment.

I cannot say what Harry Harlow's intentions were, but only speculate. Perhaps he realized the ironic aspect of this experiment. The title of his paper "Learning to Love" (American Scientist, 1966) suggests that he was exploring the roots of a very positive human emotion. Perhaps he wanted to bring to light the effects of neglect through a scientific approach, in which case the experiment does stand as a clear warning to us about our own frantic, rushed parenting style. In any case I found the experiment both intriguing and disturbing, not to mention bizarrely amusing.

It is certainly something to think about.

(No monkeys, chickens or humans were harmed in the making of this Web site.)

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