Dick Fuld may have earned his nickname "the Gorilla" for the aggressive way he stalked the trading floor at Lehman Brothers but the CEO may now be recasting its meaning by holding on to the troubled investment firm and its assets, unwilling to let them go at a price would-be buyers are willing to pay. Looking at pictures of Ghana, the ll year old gorilla in a German zoo who toted around her deceased son for days before allowing zookeepers to remove the corpse, we couldn't help but think: she's just like Fuld.
The poignant pictures of Ghana and her son, Claudio, can't help but stir the human heart. Many who watched her carry the corpse were provoked to anthropomorphize: she appeared to be mourning, expressing a grasp of the finality of death and grieving at the stubborn fact at mortality.
Of course, we don't know what Ghana was feeling. And scientists suggest that perhaps she wasn't grieving at all. She may, in fact, have been displaying a kind of evolutionarily helpful optimism. Natalie Angier of the New York Times explained the idea in yesterday's science section.
Dr. Hrdy, author of "Mother Nature" and the coming "Mothers and Others," said it made adaptive sense for a primate mother to hang onto her motionless baby and keep her hopes high for a while. "If the baby wasn't dead, but temporarily comatose, because it was sick or fallen from the tree, well, it might come back to life," Dr. Hrdy said. "We're talking about primates who have singleton births after long periods of gestation. Each baby represents an enormous investment for the mother.
From an evolutionary standpoint, not abandoning a stunned baby makes sense. Remaining open to the possibility that all that was invested in bringing the child to term, in birthing and in raising the child makes sense. Gorillas, like humans, are characterized in part by the ability to look beyond the immediate, to imagine possibilities that are not yet real.
But this instinct to hold onto objects in which we have made enormous investments can go too far. After all, a dead baby is a sunk cost. It cannot actually be recovered. Some mother gorillas have been known to hold on to the corpse of their offspring even as the body rots. They'd obviously be wiser to bury, or just discard, the dead.
Could Dick Fuld be acting out a kind of primitively evolved instinct to hold on to the institution in which he has invested so much of himself? That might be going to far. But Ghana certainly suggests new meaning to the old nickname Gorilla.
About Death, Just Like Us or Pretty Much Unaware? [New York Times]