Written by LW user lukeprog.
This is part of LessWrong for EA, a LessWrong repost & low-commitment discussion group (inspired by this comment). Each week I will revive a highly upvoted, EA-relevant post from the LessWrong Archives, more or less at random
Excerpt from the post:
Scientists have never observed a baboon troupe that wasn't highly aggressive, and they have compelling reasons to think this is simply baboon nature, written into their genes. Inescapable.
Or at least, that was true until the 1980s, when Kenya experienced a tourism boom.
Sapolsky was a grad student, studying his first baboon troupe. A new tourist lodge was built at the edge of the forest where his baboons lived. The owners of the lodge dug a hole behind the lodge and dumped their trash there every morning, after which the males of several baboon troupes — including Sapolsky's — would fight over this pungent bounty.
Before too long, someone noticed the baboons didn't look too good. It turned out they had eaten some infected meat and developed tuberculosis, which kills baboons in weeks. Their hands rotted away, so they hobbled around on their elbows. Half the males in Sapolsky's troupe died.
This had a surprising effect. There was now almost no violence in the troupe. Males often reciprocated when females groomed them, and males even groomed other males. To a baboonologist, this was like watching Mike Tyson suddenly stop swinging in a heavyweight fight to start nuzzling Evander Holyfield. It never happened.
This was interesting, but Sapolsky moved to the other side of the park and began studying other baboons. His first troupe was "scientifically ruined" by such a non-natural event. But really, he was just heartbroken. He never visited.
Six years later, Sapolsky wanted to show his girlfriend where he had studied his first troupe, and found that they were still there, and still surprisingly violence-free. This one troupe had apparently been so transformed by their unusual experience — and the continued availability of easy food — that they were now basically non-violent. (Full Post on LW)
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