Animals, play and morality

I have long been a happy follower of Marc Bekoff's explorations of animals at play. His compassionate, disciplined investigations of animal society have helped me understand the profundity of play and its power to transcend culture and species. Having an opportunity to meet him again at the TASP/IPUSA conference, I at last found a good excuse to resume our correspondence. He told me of an article he wrote with Jessica Pierce, "Moral in Truth and Claw," where he was able to make some clear and undeniable connections between play and morality. Here are a few:
"Although play is fun, it's also serious business. When animals play, they are constantly working to understand and follow the rules and to communicate their intentions to play fairly. They fine-tune their behavior on the run, carefully monitoring the behavior of their play partners and paying close attention to infractions of the agreed-upon rules. Four basic aspects of fair play in animals are: Ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you're wrong. When the rules of play are violated, and when fairness breaks down, so does play....

"The social dynamics of play require that players agree to play and not to eat one another or fight or try to mate. When there's a violation of those expectations, others react to the lack of fairness. For example, young coyotes and wolves react negatively to unfair play by ending the encounter or avoiding those who ask them to play and then don't follow the rules. Cheaters have a harder time finding play partners....

"When children agree, often after considerable negotiation, on the rules of a game, they implicitly consent not to arbitrarily change the rules during the heat of the game. During play, children learn the give and take of successful reciprocal exchanges (you go first this time; I get to go first next time), the importance of verbal contracts (no one can cross the white line), and the social consequences of failing to play by the rules (you're a cheater). As adults we are also constantly negotiating with others about matters of give and take, we rely daily on verbal contracts with others, and most of us, most of the time, follow myriad socially constructed rules of fairness during our daily lives."
Deep, like I said. Fun, like I implied.




from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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