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The wire mother.

"The only thing I care about is whether a monkey will turn out a property I can publish," Harry said. "I don't have any love for them. I never have. I don't really like animals. I despise cats. I hate dogs. How could you love monkeys?"--an excerpt from Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century (Norton, 2004).

Let me tell you about my precious son, Harry, who at one time occupied the body of a grown man and went to school where he was hailed as brilliant and ingenious by his peers. You should have seen my precocious little Harry writing up his laboratory protocol, selecting the best test subjects off his very own primate colony, and making speeches before the members of the American Psychological Association. Look over there: the soon-to-be hunched figure is my fine, fine boy.

See, now there's my little Harry, his arms figuratively instructing his grad students to tread lightly each time they pass by his pit of despair. And there's my little Harry before his enrapt audience. Every single member of Harry's audience is unable to wince and unable to look away as he brandishes his rape rack, the one-of-a-kind rape rack that forces monkeys--monkeys initially driven to neurosis in the isolation chamber--to mate.

Oh, Harry, Harry, my boy is such a wonder to behold. He always talks about his subjects at the dinner table, and always, the tone is the same one he uses when asking to pass the potatoes or when telling me to finish up his school homework. It is the ever-distinct tone that imposes servitude, the tone that rings of self-entitlement and pride, the tone that sets apart a man-boy from those who are able to refuse taking more than they are willing to give.

Six years ago, his wire father--bless his soul--died coughing, twisting two life-critical wires in his ribcage in an excruciating case of rust. Lou may assume that has a bearing on how my boy came out to be with his pomp and hankering for cruelty, but I don't think so. I know my boy. He is not a product of his circumstances. He is more like a creator. He creates circumstances to either entertain or to control. Everything else is just categorized under casualties.

Now, one thing you should know about American researchers is that they gravitated toward vivisecting primates. Russian scientists, however, have this thing for experimenting on dogs. As for my Harry, he works on and torments, deprives and rapes, surgically implants radioactive substances into and doses with radiation young and old Macaca mulatta or rhesus monkeys.

Harry's obsessive inquiry' as a child can be easily misconstrued as the whims of a kid fixating on his favorite toy. It has resulted in the creation of his Early Hits Album. The songs with the most airplay are "Effect of cortical implantation of radioactive cobalt on learned behavior of rhesus monkeys," "The effects of repeated doses of total-body x radiation on motivation and learning in rhesus monkeys," and Learning in monkeys after combined lesions in frontal and anterior temporal lobes."

Once upon a time, I took it upon myself to instruct my boy on how best to master the intricacies of combing hair. While I demonstrated the unattractiveness of the side part, my boy confessed to me that he had always wanted to understand the nature of love, of affection, of isolation, of depression. He said that he had already devised ways to study those things. He just needed some time, he said, plus a place where he could do his research. I was very proud of him.

Oh, I've got so much to tell you about my precious son. My boy--there was no one like him. He had a big joke he wanted to tell the world, and when he did, everyone was taken by it and then took him too seriously. He could still be laughing even as you read this.

Here, I enclosed my notes on Harry's era of torment here on earth.

Harry's Book of Love

Our first surrogate-mother-raised baby had a mother whose head was just a ball of wood since the baby was a month early and we had not had time to design a more esthetic head and face. This baby had contact with the blank-faced mother for 180 days and was then placed with two cloth mothers, one motionless and one rocking, both being endowed with painted, ornamented faces. To our surprise the animal would compulsively rotate both faces 180 degrees so that it viewed only a round, smooth face and never the painted, ornamented face. Furthermore, it would do this as long as the patience of the experimenter in reorienting the faces persisted.--an excerpt from the paper "The Nature of Love" by Harry F. Harlow.

Imagine yourself having to choose between two mothers. There s one like myself, once fondly called an iron maiden--a body made of wire, rows and columns of sharp teeth, cold, tells you truths you prefer not to hear, gives you food and milk and, perhaps, lots and lots of material things to satisfy your need for survival and superficiality. Then there's another mother out there, a flimsy, soft-spoken one called the cloth mother. And this cloth mother is made of terrycloth. She gives you no sustenance. This cloth mother also seems to hug you back the way you have always wanted to be hugged--not too tight and not too relaxed. She also maintains a characteristic flush that you associate with affection. Now, be honest. Which mother do you think is better? Better, meaning, the one you'd spend the most time with.

The one-day-old rhesus monkeys in Harry's version of his joke about the nature of love went to their wire mothers only when they were hungry and thirsty. They spent considerably more time with their cloth mother. They nuzzled her, embraced her, told her where they hurt and where they itch and slept on her fuzzy belly. Every single one of the baby monkeys pined for the comfort of the cloth mother. As for the wire mothers like myself, well, we dangled whatever sustenance we had to keep the babies from going to the cloth mother. But they never chose us in the end, never even glanced back in our direction after we allowed them to be fed. Most of the time, it was only their backs we remembered as they tottered without hesitation to their tender cloth mothers.

As for the ones forced to stay with their respective wire mothers, they all suffered from digestive problems. My little Harry attributed digestive upset as a physiological manifestation to the stress of being with wire mothers.

Do you also want to know what my Harry found out when he elicited fear among the baby monkeys? He frightened them by introducing a loudmouthed teddy bear, which was quite harmless and made me hope he simply limited himself to stressors of the teddy bear sort. Without the mother nearby, the baby monkeys cowered. Sometimes, they ended up paralyzed with fear or curled into a fetal ball, sucking their thumbs. If the mother was nearby, regardless of whether it was the wire type or the cloth one, the baby monkey would cling to her. And in the presence of the mother, the baby monkeys were stronger, braver. They made bold moves, such as approaching the noisy teddy bear and attacking it.

Harry's Book of Isolation

No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by the autistic self-clutching and rocking.... One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later, the autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia.--an excerpt from the paper total social isolation in monkeys' by H. F. Harlow, R. O. Dodsworth, and M. K. Harlow.

This time, let me show you Harry's nifty book of isolation.

It is in my boy's nature not to speculate, not to deduce from available data, and not to make use of theoretical experimentation. So, he came up with his prefabricated isolation kit, the portable editions of which were already marketed along with smartphones and wearable computing devices in stores around the world.

Harry indulged in a long, long investigation into the nature of isolation and loneliness by first fashioning a taut, unforgiving device called an isolation chamber. Constructed out of stainless steel, the isolation chamber comes in many variations. Some are customized to withhold maternal devotion. Some are intended to take away social interaction. All of them are designed to stunt emotional growth.

What came forth from a Harry-appointed period of partial isolation--as in the case of a bare wire cage that enabled baby monkeys to hear, see, and smell other monkeys--were animals that stared blankly, circled their cages repetitively and obsessively, and showed acts of self-mutilation.

Months later, with another Ivy Leaguer named Stephen, my insatiable boy made strides by unveiling the grand version of the isolation chamber: the vertical chamber apparatus, which was aptly nicknamed by my son as the pit of despair, the well of despair, and the dungeon of despair. The cramped vertical chamber apparatus suspends infant monkeys upside down and restricts their movement while in the upside-down position for up to two years. Only their mouths can move, of course, as they eat food and drink water placed at the bottom of the pit.

What Harry wanted out of his pit of despair, as he so articulated, was not only to "capture and distill the essence of depression but to invent it."

And how my boy did invent depression. He captured it perfectly, as no other precious boy in the world could.

After a year in total isolation, two monkeys refused to eat and eventually starved to death. After spending up to two years in the darkness and silence of the pit, the baby monkeys emerged from it completely deranged: clawing and attacking and screaming at everything in sight and beyond rehabilitation. Yes, my calculating boy tried to undo the mental damage. But do not mistake it for a gesture of atonement. You should understand that Harry is not that kind of person, or whatever it is that you call a creature that had been birthed and fed by a wire mother, beaten to submission by his wire father, had arms for inflicting harm onto others, had feet to crush and trample those with voices too loud to squelch. He went through the motions of attempting to rehabilitate the crazed monkeys and forced them to mingle with the normal ones in the control group only because it was a viable area to be explored in his laboratory protocol.

Sometimes, when I lie awake at night watching the motion-regulated light fixtures strewn across the ceiling, I imagine how it must have been for Harry's monkeys. I am shaped into what is supposed to be a cold and unfeeling contraption, but I realized a long time ago that I have limits: I cannot stomach torture. Torture, for me, has always been the resort of the weak, the inept, the ill-equipped. What torturers do not understand, they simplify by disassembling, by destroying the very essence and mystery of what they are trying to comprehend. What they covet, they steal and tinker with until it bores them or they discover that the tampered thing cannot be put back together again. And what they cannot subjugate, they maim--for no other reason but that they can.

What must it have been like, being suspended upside down, trapped and unable to move for years? I asked Harry one time about the pointlessness of his pit-of-despair exercise when he came to visit me in Iowa, as he was very hungry.

He said, I'm sure it wasn't very comfortable."

Then I explained that he did not really have to torture the baby monkeys, that he could have just as easily predicted they wouldn't come out all right. All sentient creatures would not come out all right in those circumstances. It was a moot point. "So, why do you keep doing it?" I could not help but ask.

And he said with the air of the unflappable, "Because I can."

Harry's Book of Rape

"[Harry Harlow] kept this going to the point where it was clear to many people that the work was really violating ordinary sensibilities, that anybody with respect for life or people would find this offensive. It's as if he sat down and said, Tm only going to be around another ten years. What I'd like to do, then, is leave a great big mess behind.' If that was his aim, he did a perfect job."--an account by William Mason, one of Harlow's students, as reported by Harlow's biographer Deborah Blum in The Monkey Wars (Oxford University Press, 1994).

George Bernard Shaw, who lives next door in a sunlit bungalow surrounded by his wild orchids and well-trimmed shrubbery, is not good friends with my precocious boy. Shaw once disdainfully described my boy's achievements this way: "Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research. And although I found myself agreeing with Shaw, I did so grudgingly, as it meant that I had failed as a proper wire mother to nurture my son to become a man of dignity and honor--two qualities that escaped my boy as he hurtled toward his great all-American dream and the pageantry that went with it.

When the humidity is just right and there is no need to worry about my teeth chattering, I find myself wondering about my Harry a lot. I wonder what goes on inside that devious, devious mind of his. My wires twitch and my imagined folds of skin wrinkle, sometimes in terror, sometimes in awe.

Each day, my little boy opens up his bag of tricks and how we howl in pain, wince with shame, dance with the thrill of man s power to cause harm.

Let me tell you about the rape rack, a crude piece of equipment my Harry designed as an adolescent. The rape rack, which Harry carried inside his alligator tote bag as he entered adulthood, was intended for disturbed monkeys finally freed from the total isolation chamber, for disturbed monkeys that had regressed so far that they refused or did not know how to mate. The rape rack secured the female monkeys in a mating posture and forced them to copulate.

As for the offspring born of the ghastly rape-rack-method, they ended up being ignored by their mothers, had their heads crushed by their mothers, or held down against the floor as their mothers bit off pieces of their feet and fingers.

I cannot stop seeing the triumphant glee in my boy's eyes when he discovered the monkeys mutilating their young. I imagine his delight, the glow in his eyes, and sometimes I feel dread constrict my nonexistent stomach, a tingling in my nonexistent knees, a weakening as the vacuum in my nonexistent throat closes in. But when the days are long and there is nothing else to do except to wait for my long-gone wire son, I dream up scenarios where I whisper to my boy as he reaches out to me for his daily ration: Coins to manic, Harry. Come forth and drink your milk. The wires are waiting, waiting, waiting to prick you with their barbs, love you to hell and damnation with their invigorating pinpricks of pain. I'll shake you and I'll shake you and I'll shake you until death does us part. And until then and because you need me, Harry, you need me to stay alive, the wounds from my love-embrace will continue to fester, to be reopened, never ever to heal. The blood from the wounds scoured afresh will taint everything you do and everything you are as off you go fashioning despair out of steel containers, irradiating and maiming and taking what you don't own, tying the unwilling ones to your rape rack, reintroducing them into the natural world after torturing them, when all this time you knew, Harry, you knew that they were irreparably damaged. Because nothing ever heals, my boy. Nothing ever really heals.
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Title Annotation:STORIES
Author:Muslim, Kristine Ong
Publication:Confrontation
Article Type:Short story
Date:Sep 22, 2014
Words:2717
Previous Article:Politics, art, and the public.
Next Article:Spoiler.

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