Share and Share Alike

After meeting the changeable tattletale/conspirator Thorin yesterday, it seems appropriate to consider more about animals and sharing today.

We care about fairness. Sometimes.
Chimpanzees do too. Perhaps.

Playing something called “The Ultimatum Game,” chimpanzees demonstrated a sense of fair play on about the same level as a group of 2 to 7 year olds, according to a paper published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Although there is some disagreement among researchers. The authors of an earlier study where chimps played “The Ultimatum Game” concluded the opposite – that our primate relatives really do not care about fairness at all.

And so there is a back-and-forth. Authors of the latest study defend their work.
Critics cast doubt.

I’m sure it’s all in the interests of gaining a greater understanding of our world, but when will the poop flinging start? That’s what I want to see. Don’t I get a reward too?

Here’s another primate experiment where Capuchin Monkeys demonstrated a visceral reaction to unequal distribution of the goods, seen on a bi-weekly basis among humans when women and men receive their paychecks for doing the same work.

The Capuchin in the video is doing something the chimps in the more recent study did not do – rejecting a reward because it is inadequate compared to what the other monkey is getting. Is that so very different from feeling bitter about the quality of someone else’s car, house, lawn or life?

I would like to see a study where Chimpanzees are given the chance to buy wedding dresses and flat screen televisions along with the mechanism to flaunt these purchases in front of the other chimps, who would, of course, fling poop. I’m guessing my study would have absolutely no scientific value, but the videos would have wonderful ratings.

How keen is your sense of fairness?

58 thoughts on “Share and Share Alike”

  1. Good morning. Fairness is a big issue in the world today. I had better stick to the small issues of fairness in my own life because dealing with the big issues is a very dark subject that can spoil your whole day if you think too much about them.

    We sometimes have boxes of chocolate candy or other treats sitting out at our house. I could easily consume all of the treats in one of those boxes in a day or two and leave none for others. I try to only eat my share of these treats up to a point. If I have finished my share and there is still a lot remaining I will probably end up eating more than my share, but I will leave at least two pieces. Then we will finish off the box when I say there are only two pieces left, do you want one of these? That’s fair, isn’t it?

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  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    My sister calls me the family “Crusader” because of my childhood practice of launching crusades to fight parental unfairness. And when I launched a crusade, I was relentless. Some of these crusades were based on what I viewed as my mother’s unfair labor practices. Mom was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, the 7th of 8 children on a farm near Pipestone, MN. Family legend has it that Gypsies came begging at the house near the end of Grandma’s 8th month of pregnancy, scaring her so badly she went into labor. Mom was born 4 weeks early at a weight of 3 pounds. From that perilous beginning of her life, she grew up working hard on the farm. The kids in their family did not get to participate in school activities because the farm work and lack of transportation precluded that.

    When she became a parent she planted her family in town and wanted her children to participate in school activities and to work hard both at home and in school. Cartoons on TV, comic books, and arcades were off limits to us kids. I found this unfair and organized a labor union of my siblings and I to fight back. On Saturday mornings when mom was grocery shopping, we would watch cartoons, posting one of us at the window to watch for the car so we could turn off the TV then quickly resume our Saturday morning chores. On Sunday nights Dad wanted to watch “The Real McCoys” which was aired in the same time slot as our “Bonanza.” I launched a major Crusade which was pro Bonanza and anti McCoys. Once dad actually SAW Bonanza, the fight was over. He loved it and we watched it every Sunday night ever after.

    Thus my first Crusade was successful and resulted in TV fairness. We crusaded for my brother being allowed to grow his hair a bit instead of enduring an old fashioned butch haircut, trying spaghetti with meat sauce, and shopping in Sioux City for clothes (instead of our little town).
    All successful fairness campaigns.

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        1. That deficit in the nurturing department never goes away, does it? We learn to live with it, but at some fundamental level it pains us for a very long time.

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  3. Fairness is a real issue with me at work, as I have a coworker who seems to be able to flaunt all the rules and do far less work than the rest of us and seems to intimidate supervisors and administrators. This left me pretty steamed, since it has been going on for 8 years. The anger I had over this was eating me up. I made a point of leaving my anger behind in this matter, and that has helped me see the situation more clearly, and is also better for my health and well being. My coworker seems to be doing more and more dumb things that are finally catching the eyes of the higher-ups. I just have to take deep breaths and be patient.

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      1. Not only is this situation unfair, but the coworker also treated me with scorn and contempt and was often malicious in ways I could never prove. My solution may sound sort of odd, but I every time i found I was angry, I prayed that the coworker in question would find inner peace. I am a very quietly religious person and I don’t talk about my faith very much at all with others and I don’t intend to be preachy on the blog, but this really worked. I didn’t feel it necessary to forgive or turn the other cheek or be a martyr. It just helped me step back and see my coworker as a damaged person (which they truly are). The unsettling thing about this is that as I prayed over the weeks, my coworker changed, stopped being malicious to me, and decided I was a person who could be a friend. I still have no trust in them and don’t consider what we have a friendship, but the situation is better and anger isn’t eating my lunch anymore.

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  4. This is a troublesome issue for me. Yesterday I wrote that I did not have a robust sense of right and wrong conduct, particularly as that applies to others. Today I want to write that I have a strong sense of fairness, but I wonder if that can be reconciled with my squishy sense of right and wrong. How can you champion fairness if you lack a crisp sense of what is right or wrong?

    Looking back on my childhood, I cannot remember waging a campaign for fairness for myself. When I was a kid, the world treated me well. When I was older, it often did not, but by that time I had come to accept the fact that life is often unfair. Young Steve, old Steve – both have felt comfortable with the relative fairness or unfairness of life.

    And yet both young Steve and old Steve have frequently gone to battle to correct unfairness dished out on others. I was a fervent feminist before I was old enough to know what that word meant. My decades of work for wolves has been based on a sense that wolves have been treated unfairly for centuries.

    Do you see my problem? If you are unfair to me, it is about what I expect and what I might secretly think I deserve. If you are unfair to some distressed minority, expect milquetoast Steve to grab the sword of righteousness and give you a whack, if only with the flat of the blade. If it sounds like I am boasting about this, you entirely missed my meaning.

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    1. yup. same here.

      I can always rationalize that when something occurs to my disadvantage, it is perfectly fair and exactly what I have coming, but I will do my level best to dole out good things to others in the name of “fairness”

      I totally get that this is not boasting Steve, it is a really bad habit and one I wish I could break.

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  5. I guess fairness in TV show selection was a bigger issue in the days when there was only one TV in most homes. We could have solved some struggles over TV show selection at our house by getting a TV to put in our daughter’s bedroom, but we didn’t want her to have the option of spending long hours in her bed room watching TV alone. We thought that wouldn’t be good for her.

    I’m the only one in our house that likes sports. I can get the use of our main TV to watch sports, but I will have to watch sports by myself. Some times I skip watching a game on TV because I want company in the evening when the games I watch are usually showing. I don’t know if this is a fairness issue. I don’t come out ahead no matter how I do it. I don’t like watching TV by myself and I also don’t like missing a game in order to have someone for company while watching TV.

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  6. Morning all. Most of my growing up time was spent with a younger sister – 2 1/2 years (my baby sister came along much much later). As a result, everything about my childhood was about “fair”. If I got a new pair of pajamas, she got a new pair of pajamas (she always got blue, I always got pink). If she got candy at the grocery store, I got candy at the grocery store. Since I had piano lessons, she got art lessons; if she got to go to a birthday party, I got to go to the ice skating rink.

    For some reason, the two of us turned out completely different in regards to fairness. I have pretty much abandoned “fairness” as a way of life; I have many times said to the Child/Now Teenager “who says life is fair?” Truth be told, I’m almost “anti-fair”. And my sister suffered severely (still suffers occasionally if you ask me) from the lack of fairness in the real world. She told me once that it was hard for her to make friends because she was often jealous when her friends had more stuff or what she perceived as a better life. Sad.

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    1. Your post reminds me of all the tension about fairness that prevailed at mealtimes. Our family always ate together at noon and at night. My sister, two years younger than I, often scrapped with me about the fair division of desirable food. My parents had a smart system that must have been used in countless families to reduce fighting: one kid would divide the pie or last cookie or whatever and then the other would get to choose. If Nancy had to divide for one meal, I would have to do it the next time. What excruciatingly accurate little scientists we became when we knew the other would get to choose the piece that seemed a tiny bit larger!

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  7. I have a sense of fairness similar to Jacque’s, although I can only dream of forming my own labor union! 🙂

    One of the rules in my upbringing is that “Life is not fair,” and that one must endeavor daily to make it work in your favor. Those who don’t try, or are unable to try, are out of luck. Too bad. I have mine. Life is not fair.

    I absolutely despise that attitude and have rebelled against it since I was old enough to understand what it really means. That attitude is the basis for my brothers being staunch Republicans. I’ve written about this ideological divide in my family before but it’s something I live with and can’t reconcile. I, like most people, am willing to work and support myself – I’m not asking anyone else for help, but if I ever do need help I expect our society to be fair enough, just enough, and economically stable enough to do the right thing.

    I hope I’m not “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses” as my St. Olaf English professor declared. I have to believe that we can make the world a fair place.

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    1. To be clear, I did not think of it as a labor union as a child. I just understood that if the 3of us approached our parents as a unit the crusades were far more successful!

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      1. Are you close to your siblings, Jacque? I have a sense that much trouble in sibling relationships, both early on and later in life, is based on perceived unfairness during childhood. I know that to be the case with my sister and I. She’s 2-/12 years younger than me, but for whatever reasons my mother always insisted that we be treated as twins. I found it particularly unfair that I had to go to bed when she did.

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        1. Thankfully we are close. That ability to work together for each other has remained through our lives. Now we try to work together to support mom as she deals with Alzheimers. My sister and I do what we can to support my brother and his wife, because she lives with them (very happily!). My dad, who was quite a guy, contracted MS at a young age. The constant awareness of his decline and the suffering the disease caused probably changed all of us.

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  8. OT: I keep hearing rumors about something wrong with Java and have disable Java on my browser. I can’t see the videos and I’ve noticed that WP is not recognizing me without quite a bit of prompting. Anybody else?

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    1. Yes, disabling Java cuts out 1/2 or 3/4’s of what you can see on the internet. Especially in regard to videos. (I know just enough computer stuff to get us all in trouble).
      I heard there was a fix (and some computers might update automatically and some you might have to look for the update and tell it to install.)
      I hadn’t heard it wasn’t good enough yet. Thanks Steve…

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  9. First thing I thought of was a quote from the 1986 David Bowie movie ‘Labyrinth’:
    “Sarah: That’s not fair!
    Jareth: You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is? ”

    Yep, life isn’t fair. It’s not fair I got chicken poop on my pants this morning. It’s not fair I dropped my cold pizza on the front step this morning. It’s not fair one dog got cold pizza and the other didn’t. It’s not fair one student went to Florida and her brothers didn’t. It’s not fair the boyfriend has more money than she does. It’s not fair how hard life is for some of these kids that really are so nice. It’s not fair I yelled at that kid before I really got to know him.
    Is ‘fairness’ the same as ‘balance’? Life isn’t fair but I try to balance it out in other ways.
    Much to ponder this morning.

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      1. We’re almost done with the series ‘Dead Like Me’ on Netflix with Many Patinkin. He has such a neat role in that show. A great character.

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        1. love Mandy Patenkin and think he is a very fine actor. Loved him in Yentl, but really screamed with laughter at his performance in Elmo in Grouchland-(I really should see that again, even if the s&h is “too old” for it).

          One of the favorite games in our household is when I ask the s&h to figure out which other movie we have seen an actor in, just so he can observe their versitility. Trying to decide if he is old enough to see Gandalf play Richard III yet……

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    1. I care about fairness a great deal, and like others have strong emotions about it. Like Ben, I recognize that life isn’t fair, although I don’t see the chicken poop on your pants or dropping your cold pizza as unfair; unfortunate for sure, but not unfair. We don’t all get the same capabilities and privileges at birth, but I have always felt, and still do, that as a society we need to make the playing field as level as possible.

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  10. It is hard to howl about unfairness when you have observed how many people claim unfairness when they live in such a way as to invite trouble. Back when winters were mean, anyone who didn’t get a tuneup and a change to lighter (winter) oil was going to get no sympathy when his car didn’t start. If you avoid the dentist for years, you can’t complain it is unfair when your teeth go.

    One of my vices is watching “Survivor.” Most folks who get voted off the island feel they were treated unfairly. In almost all cases, you could see that decision coming for days because those self-identified victims were obnoxious, untrustworthy or divisive.

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    1. As Hans and I will often say to each other, it’s expensive to be poor. Perhaps the preventive maintenance that could save you a bundle later on is beyond your means. I remember full well what it was like when even the slightest “emergency” constituted a financial disaster. So grateful to not be living quite that close to the edge anymore.

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      1. Yes – and the single mom who needs to pay for day care and get to work with a car that’s running on one cylinder and its last brake, and who has no health care insurance but gets sick because of the virus circulating through the aforementioned day care, then loses her job because her employer doesn’t allow people to stay home when they’re ill. I can’t help but see a lot of unfairness there. The deck is really stacked against some people in our society and we need to level the playing field, as PJ said.

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      2. I see I have expressed myself badly. My point was just that some people who complain about unfairness are actually responsible for getting themselves in an unfortunate position. Some people . . . not all!

        Life is truly unfair for the poor. Being a single mom is terribly difficult under the best circumstances. I often think the most badly treated group in our society is the single mom who is also one of the working poor. I wish our political system were vastly more responsive to the needs of those folks.

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        1. Every now and then you see some study about how poorly children of single mothers do. Really ticks me off, because as you’ve said Steve, it’s the poor part that hurts the most, not the single parent part. IMHO.

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        2. I will also say that the same can usually be applied to studies that show the “achievement gap” between Caucasian children and children of “color”. Until we as a society decide that the income gap is something to be overcome, and that no one “deserves” to be brought up in poverty, we will not see this change, regardless of how many consultants and experts implement endless policy changes.

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  11. One aspect of being an only child in the home in which I grew up is that things were usually quite fair for me (if fairness means that things almost always went the way I wanted them to go) without much effort on my part. The rest of the world certainly wasn’t like that, but it really didn’t matter, since things usually worked out for me once I got home. This meant I was really good at letting other people have the first turn, the bigger slice of cake, the nicer view, etc. I am relly tired of being so accomodating, but it is hard to stop.

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    1. The s&h is also an only child, and was stymied by a composition question that was something on the order of “When did you first realize that life is not fair”. My boy, not unlike Steve and myself, tends to think he is pretty much getting what he deserves, but the blank had to be filled in.

      I advised him to think of the first time he realized the opposite of what most of us think of in these cases (when we were unjustly treated badly), and instead think of the time he realized that he had received mercy, rather than retribution.

      Life is not always fair and we don’t always get what we “deserve”, and I for one find this reason to be thankful.

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      1. Hi Cb, I was about to ask if you were off on your cruise since we hadn’t heard from you in a few days. Guess not yet.

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  12. I thnk there is something about not taking unfairness personally. As several have posted above, life is not always fair. The world/the universe/”central casting”/God is just there, and don’t think you are being singled out. When Joel died, it took about a year for me to realize: I didn’t have to take this personally – God didn’t want us to be sad for the rest of our lives. It is what it is. And the older you get, the more you realize everyone experiences some kind of unfairness somewhere along the way.

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    1. BiR, I agree that everyone has experienced unfairness somewhere along the line. But I’m wondering if I’m defining unfairness differently than at least some people on the trail? I certainly don’t view every misfortune that befalls me as unfair; I simply don’t have the expectation that the universe has any special regard for how I or anyone else is treated. Some of my trials and tribulations have certainly been the direct result of poor choices on my part, others have not, and I think that’s true for most of us. You often hear people who believe in God say something like “God never gives you a burden you can’t bear,” which to me implies that they attribute their trials and tribulations to God; that makes no sense to me at all.

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      1. I think it’s meant to be reassuring, fatuous as it seems to sound to me. The trouble is, people are confronted with burdens bigger than they can bear all the time. A statement like that implies that it’s their fault, their weakness, if they can’t bear it. Talk about blaming the victim!

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        1. I guess I have never found that statement to be blaming but rather encouraging-a sort of affirmation that one is stronger than one knows.

          I can look back on many times in my life that were challenging and think to myself, “if someone had told me I would get through _______, I would have said, no way!”

          Thomas Mann says something similar in Magic Mountain, IIRC, where the TB patient has all sorts of bravery ascribed to her coping with the disease, and the observation is made that really, what else could she do. For the most part, one can really only not cope for so long before some sort of survival instinct kicks in and one manages to “keep calm and carry on”.

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        2. One is indeed stronger than one knows, but not invulnerable. the idea that “god” never gives you a burden you can’t bear leaves no room for the possibility of asking for help. It’s not a matter of the strength of one’s faith. Some burdens are just too big for any one person.

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  13. Nor to me, PJ. I do believe, however, that adversity is a great character-builder. I’m in a monthly breakfast club made up of a dozen or so high school classmates. A few of them have lead such relatively charmed lives lacking in the usual divorces, financial hardships, and other assorted human troubles that I find them quite boring. Put me in front of people who’ve struggled mightily and evolved greater consciousness as a result, and I’m grateful for the interaction every time. The statement, “It’s not fair” strikes me as coming from a victim position. Of course the Universe (notice how I capitalize that but not “god”?) hands us challenges, any one of which could be defined as “unfair”, but that’s the spice in the stew of Life!! Whenever a bout with unfairness appears, I try to quickly assess my own complicity in the situation, then change that up and see if the situation resolves itself. Regardless of how unfair a life-situation may truly be, I’ve learned that I am still100% responsible for how I respond and take care of myself. Perhaps in the end, “fairness” is simply the concept of the child’s inability to nuance yet?

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  14. All of the baboons have done my boss a favor today. She was leaving early to spend the afternoon with her oldest college-age daughter. She commented as we were walking together toward the exit that she was worried about being fair to her younger daughter. Thinking about the comments that you all have made today I said to her “Don’t worry about fair – you get a lot of special time with your youngest now the the oldest is in college.” She brightened up appreciably and said that was a wonderful reminder. I didn’t tell her it came from you all – quickly explaining the trail isn’t all that easy!

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  15. There is nothing fair about the world you must depend on yourself for your own response to the cards you are dealt and how you deal with others. It may be less than ideal but heck if it was easy everyone could pat themselves on the back. If it don’t kill ya it makes ya stronger is a mantra for the off times. Be poised for greatness when it beckons.
    Late day today early day tomorrow but I’ve been thinking blog without being here. I’ll read responses tomorrow. Early to bed early to rise for me, like dale early !!!

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