Friendship Practices of the Secret-Sharing Plain Speech Valley Squirrels

In the days of auld lang syne on Earth-that-was, in the Valley of Plain Speech in the hinterlands beyond the Lake of Ambiguous Fortune, there lived a population of pre-intelligent squirrels. Historical mammologists have classified them into two main subspecies: the west-valley ground squirrels and the east-valley tree squirrels—numbers 9792 and 9794 in Umi's grand encyclopædia of Plain Speech creatures, but not necessarily respectively: I remember the numbers, but I can never remember which one is which.

Like many pre-intelligent creatures, both subspecies of Plain Speech Valley squirrels were highly social animals, with adaptations for entering stable repeated-cooperation relations with conspecifics: friendships being the technical term. Much of the squirrels' lives concerned the sharing of information about how to survive: how to fashion simple tools for digging up nuts, the best running patterns for fleeing predators, what kind of hole or tree offered the best shelter, &c. Possession of such information was valuable, and closely guarded: squirrels would only share secrets with their closest friends and family. Maneuvering to be told secrets, and occasionally to spread fake secrets to rivals, was the subject of much drama and intrigue in their lives.

At this, some novice students of historical mammology inquire: why be secretive? Surely if the squirrels were to pool their knowledge together, and build on each other's successes, they could accumulate ever-greater mastery over their environment, and possibly even spark their world's ascension?!

To which it is replied: evolution wouldn't necessarily select for that. Survival-relevant opportunities are often rivalrous: two squirrels can't both eat the same nut, or hide in the same one-squirrel-width hole. As it was put in a joke popular amongst the west-valley ground squirrels (according to Harrod's post-habilitation thesis on pre-intelligence in the days of auld lang syne): I don't need to outrun the predator, I just need to outrun my conspecifics. Thus, secrecy instincts turned out to be adaptive: a squirrel keeping a valuable secret to itself and its friends would gain more fitness than a squirrel who shared its knowledge freely with anysquirrel who could listen.

A few students inquire further: but that's a contingent fact about the distribution of squirrel-survival-relevant opportunities in the Valley of of Plain Speech in the days of auld lang syne, right? A different distribution of adaptive problems might induce a less secretive psychology?

To which it is replied: yes, well, there's a reason the ascension of Earth-that-was would be sparked by the H. sapiens line of hominids some millions of years later, rather than by the Plain Speech subspecies 9792 and 9794.

Another adaptive information-processing instinct in subspecies 9792 and 9794 was a taste for novelty. Not all information is equally valuable. A slight variation on a known secret was less valuable than a completely original secret the likes of which had never been hitherto suspected. Among pre-intelligent creatures generally, novelty-seeking instincts are more convergent than secrecy instincts, but with considerable variation in strength depending on the partial-derivative matrix of the landscape of adaptive problems; Dripler's Pre-Intelligent Novelty-Seeking Scale puts subspecies 9792 and 9794 in the 76th percentile on this dimension.

The coincidental conjunction of a friendship-forming instinct, a novel-secret-seeking instinct, and a nearby distinct subspecies with similar properties, led to some unusual behavior patterns. Given the different survival-relevant opportunities in their respective habitats, each subspecies predominantly hoarded different secrets: the secret of how to jump and land on the thinner branches of the reedy pilot tree was of little relevance to the daily activity of a west-valley ground squirrel, but the secret of how to bury nuts without making it obvious that the ground had been upturned was of little import to an east-valley tree squirrel.

But the squirrels' novelty-seeking instincts didn't track such distinctions. Secrets from one subspecies thus functioned as a superstimulus to the other subspecies on account of being so exotic, thus making cross-subspecies friendships particularly desirable and sought-after—although not without difficulties.

Particular squirrels had a subspace of their behavior that characterized them as different from other individuals of the same age and sex: personality being the technical term (coined in Dunbar's volume on social systems). The friendship-forming instinct was most stimulated between squirrels with similar personalities, and the two subspecies had different personality distributions that resulted in frequent incompatibilities: for example, west-valley ground squirrels tended to have a more anxious disposition (reflecting the need to be alert to predators on open terrain), whereas east-valley tree squirrels tended to have a more rambunctious nature (as was useful for ritual leaf fights, but which tended to put west-valley ground squirrels on edge).

Really, the typical west-valley ground squirrel and the typical east-valley tree squirrel wouldn't have been friends at all, if not for the tantalizing allure of exotic secrets. Thus, cross-subspecies friendships tended to be successfully forged much less often than they were desired.

And so, many, many times in the days of auld lang syne, a squirrel in a burrow or a tree would sadly settle down to rest for the night, lamenting, "I wish I had a special friend. Someone who understood me. Someone to share my secrets with."

And beside them, a friend or a mate would attempt to comfort them, saying, "But I'm your friend. I understand you. You can share your secrets with me."

"That's not what I meant."

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