It’s a common practice for a variety of different types of monkeys and apes to groom each other, picking off and eating the lice living close to the skin. It’s both a health benefit for licey monkeys, but also a social networking system for the group. Monkeys are kin to us at some genetic level, but the same sort of practice is not generally encouraged in humans. However, I do have an odd fascination with picking the dandruff out of other people’s hair. Perhaps it’s because I was born in the year of the monkey according to the Chinese year animals, which may also be the cause of some of my other more ‘nitpicky’ behavior.
There are several ways in which humans replace lice removal, primarily with other grooming activities that promote social interaction and dependence. Whether or not these actions are necessary for a healthy, cooperative group, it is interesting that they exist at all.
1) The barber shop/hair salon. While in the recent past, the barber shop was a site of community solidarity and news, that interaction has largely died. While in some areas a community barber shop no doubt still exists, the image in the mind of a male-only shave-and-a-haircut facility is no longer a reality. Still, even at my current salon, and at the stylist Mike visits regularly, a certain kind of camaraderie and discussion is expected. While that conversation might initially revolve around the style and cut, a certain amount of interaction and comfort is expected, associating the customer with a larger part of society he or she does not typically interact with. In addition, the final coiffure shoudl make or renew a statment about the individual.
2) The salon/spa. Whether this is a nail salon, day spa, massage parlor, bath, or some intermediate pampering facility, it remains a place for both men and women to relax bodily. While visitors could go individually, it is far more frequent to see groups of two or three people, typically of the same sex, going together as if on an outing. Here the purpose is both relaxation and strengthening ties. The association between visitors is renewed through casual conversation and simple time spent, with an ultimate goal of renewing the attractiveness of the individual.
3) Shopping. While the actual location or type of the store might differ between the sexes, and despite the fact that a purchase might not change the appearance of the individual at all, the relationship purpose of these types of outings is similar to that of the other mentioned behaviors. The structure is not necessarily to buy things, but to strengthen ties, and possibly image withing the group, through a shared activity.
While all three things do not necessarily make monkeys of us, I remain intrigued by their existence as relatively unnecessary. Do we need each other to such an extent that we feel we must contrive to spend time in each other’s presence? Each of these activities is also something that can be done individually at any time, but I would guess that there is no one who has not done at least one of them in a group. In addition, each activity is something that could be done with some of our more distant friends, or even acquaintances. What does this say for our need for companionship, despite a lack of true compatibility? What does it say about our instinct, that we still move in herds? And is this movement ultimately still for self-protection? If we did all of these things alone, would our lifespan be less, or not impacted at all?