THE WELL OF DESPAIR….
‘Man’s inhumanity to man,’ is a phrase often used to describe the abject cruelty that people seem to inflict on each other with impunity.
But mankind, I hesitate to say humanity given the context of this article, does not restrict his pathological need to inflict pain and horror on his own species alone.
For example, our primate cousins get to have the tops of their heads removed to induce strokes and are taught to self-inject cocaine and morphine until they become totally dependent on narcotics.
Mice are forced to bully each other until they’re despondent enough to serve as subjects in clinical trials for antidepressants.
The list of these ‘experiments’ seems endless, but you get the idea from those listed above.
As bad as most lab animals have it, one group of rhesus macaque monkeys (the same kind that serve as helper monkeys for the disabled) had been singled out for one of the cruellest ‘experiments’ I have ever had the misfortune to read about.
In the 1960s and 70s Harry Harlow, a Stanford educated psychologist wanted to understand the meaning of love and its role in forming societies, by examining what happens to monkeys that are kept from their mothers.
To make sure his process wasn’t flawed, Harlow waited until the baby monkeys he used were firmly attached to their mothers, before separating them.
Instead of their mothers, they were attached to metal wire contraptions, complete with a bottle for milk, and were covered with spikes and had fitted cold air jets to simulate abuse.
Harlow discovered the baby monkeys still grew to love what he called “Iron Maidens” in the absence of their real mothers.
But his need to push the issue further took an altogether darker turn.
He also wanted to see what happened to young monkeys that lived in isolation.
He had designed and had built a device he named the ‘Well of Despair’, which was a stainless-steel trough with sides that sloped to a rounded bottom and a covered top, equipped with a food box and a water-bottle holder.
Into this box he placed juvenile monkeys between the ages of three months and three years, who had already bonded with their mothers for up to ten weeks, and left them alone.
The aim of the ‘research’ was to produce an animal model of clinical depression.
Unsurprisingly it worked only too well.
The monkeys would spend the first day or two trying to climb up the slippery sides.
After a few days, they gave up.
They stopped moving about and spent most of their time huddled in the bottom.
They were found to be dangerously psychotic when removed from the devices.
Most did not ever recover.
At least a few lived a further 15 years in total isolation, having been completely broken by the experiment.
But, nobody cared, because after all they were just monkeys, right?
Who cares if they were taken from their mothers and driven crazy with despair and enforced isolation?
Or, as the man himself once announced, “How could you love monkeys?”
Harlow’s maltreatment of his monkey subjects however, is generally credited with inadvertently creating the animal rights movement in America.