THFWS&TTM’s: Mark’s Remarks

Mark’s Remarks

Because Mark was in charge of the project to teach ASL to the primates at the center, it was inevitable that his testimony would be required.

Frederick’s translations had been monitored by Mark on behalf of the plaintiffs. He was by then the most senior member of the facility since Sebastian Galbraith Lodge had replaced his director.

He had been with the center when it was just a commercial tourist attraction featuring a wide range of African Animals in a savanna landscape that closely mimicked their natural habitat called “African Adventures”, where the visitors would drive their cars through marked trails and were instructed not to leave their vehicles in the interest of their safety.

His baccalaureate degree had been in Zoology and he worked at the center as a handler while he was earning his degree. Because he had a sister who was deaf, he had learned ASL, many years before, as had his parents.

Because of the interest generated in the early seventies regarding teaching sign language to chimps and gorillas, he began to experiment with teaching it to several of the more trainable chimps and bonobos on his own whenever he had the opportunity.

A word of two here and there quickly progressed to dozens of signs mostly related to items of interest to his charges among those inclined to learn it.

One of the things that occurred to Mark that was unique to his experiences was that instead of a single primate being assigned to isolated study either in a lab or in a more familial environment among humans, he was teaching it to several apes in a setting that closely resembled their natural environment.

What most fascinated him was the fact that, left to their own devices, several of the primates began to teach other uninitiated members of their own volition.

Once they discovered that they would get rewards and treats as well as affection and attention for the use of certain hand signals, he had his own hands full with communications from almost all the primates.

Mark went back to school to study linguistics and further develop his own vocabulary in ASL while working for African Adventures.

It was shortly after that when African Adventures began to sell off some of the more expensive and dangerous animals like the elephants, rhinos, and hippos to zoos, due to financial needs. The deer and antelopes and other hoofed animals, like the zebras and wildebeests were much cheaper to maintain, but business dropped off drastically once the Big Game animals were no longer visible.

Soon buyers were located for the four-legged hoofed creatures as well, but the birds, monkeys and apes seemed to generate the most interest in the dwindling venture and they were the least dangerous and easiest to maintain.

When African Adventures was about to go chapter eleven, PharmaCorp’s parent company, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm bought it to use as a research facility and immediately sold the remaining birds, until there were only monkeys, Chimps and Bonobos left.

That was just about the time that there was a great movement to ban all medical research using higher primates like chimps worldwide.  Eventually, the remaining monkeys died or were vivisected during drug testing.

Shortly after that, the courts ruled that it was violation of the antitrust acts for a pharmaceutical manufacturer to own a distribution company that operated as a pharmacy network.

About that same time, someone at PharmaCorp (allegedly at the “very strong encouragement” from somewhere either way up in the corporate structure or possibly even outside of it) offered to buy what became dubbed The Center for Primate Research from their parent company in a move that was labeled “diversification”.

Someone at PharmaCorp had decided the best way to identify what appeals to human perceptions of basic needs was to study their ancestors and their motivations as a part of a revitalization of their marketing strategies.

They had initially tried to use pharmacists and nurses to market home delivery of prescription medications, but found that they were paying premium hourly rates for very disappointing returns on their investments, but quickly learned that sufficiently trained telemarketers could produce results far beyond their initial expectations.

Some believed that to be a ruse to disguise other motives implied earlier, but whatever prompted them to follow that course, it soon became very clear that PhamaCorp was quite interested in an opportunity to reduce the costs paid in salaries to their telemarketers for two reasons.

The first being that many of the Sales Force members, like Charles, were making upwards of one hundred thousand dollars annually, due to huge commissions being paid each month in performance incentives. He had been part of the initial team assigned to revamp PharmaCorp’s marketing strategies.

It didn’t take too long for the bean counters to put a very jealous bug in a number of ears of directors and corporate heads who could not let themselves allow the company to pay more to these salespeople than they were making.

Forget the fact that the initial pilot project involving about a dozen top performers was what turned a lackluster telemarketing operation into a hugely thriving success.

Forget that Management still sucked up the lion’s share of the salaries, and was top-heavy with overpaid vice-presidents.

Forget that PharmaCorp’s profits totaled over two hundred sixty thousand dollars last year as it rose to a Fortune Twenty company.

Once the strategies were developed, it was jokingly stated in a high-level staff meeting that now “…even a monkey could do it, if they could only talk….”

At about that point, the commissions and reimbursement scales were restructured down to about sixty percent of what it had been.

Over the next two years, two more restructurings left them making less than forty per-cent of what they had previously earned as less and less qualified or intelligent associates were hired right off the street with literally no previous experiences or skills. (In)Human Resources was jokingly referred to as having a revolving door as people quickly came and left.

But one of the members of the staff meeting that day was the head of the marketing research division, and a brainstorm occurred that resulted in the misnomer Talking Monkeys Project.

It was generally believed that anyone who would answer an unsolicited phone call from an unknown source and continue to hold a conversation with a total stranger long enough to let themselves be convinced to agree to accept products and services from them and even give credit card information away in good faith was either of diminished mental capacity, senile, under the influence of legal or illegal drugs, drunk, stupid, naive, crazy, or any number of combinations of the above.

At this point in America, that is a very large percent of the population. Forget the so-called qualified, informed consumers…the world is filled with rubes just waiting to be picked like ripe, low-hanging fruit.

(Excerpts of Mark’s testimony follows.)

(Plaintiff’s attorney): “Please state your name.”

(Mark): “My Name is Mark Hoffner.”

(Plaintiff’s attorney): “Please state your qualifications and describe your role at The Center for Primate Studies.”

(Mark): “I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Zoology from Florida Atlantic University. My Master’s degree is in Linguistics with a minor in Psychology, specializing in Learning, Perception, and Behavior Modification . I also am qualified to translate American Sign Language, which I eventually taught to all the Chimps and Bonobos. “

(Plaintiff’s attorney): “Please describe your roles and duties at the Center.”

(Mark): “It was my job to identify and teach the most qualified Chimpanzees and Bonobos how to communicate with humans, as well as each other via American Sign Language. I also designed a primate-friendly computer keyboard that would allow them to trigger pre-recorded specifically identified messages to sound as if they were answering questions from the callers by identifying “buzz words” that indicated the underlying motivations of the callers.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “That sounds rather generic and non-specific; how effective were the initial trials?”

(Mark): “Extremely. The primates acted as buffers to isolate truly motivated potential customers until certain perimeters were met before routing them to the first available human ‘Closer’. A certain percentage hung up on their own if they weren’t interested in enrolling, but it proved far superior to the automated message queues to which most callers had become accustomed, because they believed that they were in fact being answered by a living human being in real-time.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “I can’t imagine how well pre-recorded answers could be used to respond to specific questions.”

(Mark): “It has more to do with identifying specific words that betray the real underlying emotions, feelings and perceived needs being expressed by the targeted members, and responding with a pre-recorded message that was more than sufficient to appear to address their questions, and then pivoting from that point so as to direct them in the way that we wanted the conversation to go.”

“The research clearly indicated that Reason or focused discriminatory skills had little bearing on the decisions of the targeted members…it’s a little like jingling your car keys to distract a crying baby.”

“I taught the Chimps and Bonobos how to recognize those key words…keep in mind, that Recognition is a much lower-level learning skill, compared to Recall.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “Could you please give us some examples?”

(Mark): “Words like ‘Safety’ …’Reliability’ …’Protection’…’Value’ …’Security’…’Piece of Mind’…’Trust’…all play upon psychological triggers that tend to diminish the more acute and fine discriminatory powers of many individuals.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “Please forgive me, but that sounds a bit cynical as well as manipulative. Can you explain a bit further please?”

(Mark): “There are a number of theories as to the causative agents responsible, ranging from the effects of television, or the poor quality of American public schools, or even the deleterious effects of many of the additives in processed foods, and even the growing proliferation of legally prescribed medications like Xanax, but most of the general population has a very short attention span, a poor understanding of logic or reason, shallow interests mostly related to programmed consumerism, and they are easily distracted by words that play upon their most common neurosis and insecurities.”

“It was my job to effectively communicate and program the proper responses to those identified triggers. Primates are capable of understanding many verbal commands or cues from humans, but the use of ASL enabled two-way communications between Man and the primates, and this enabled much more effective teaching and behavior modification, essentially utilizing Socratic method.”

“The training became increasingly intensive as the program progressed. During that time, I began to notice the appearance of cognitive responses from the chimps and bonobos that indicated a much higher level of sentience and intelligence than had been previously documented.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): Could you give me an example?”

(Mark): “Certainly…one of the first major breakthroughs that I noticed was when Frederick asked me a question. Previous behavioral experiments with any of the Great Apes had never documented a primate posing a question to any human. Negotiating, bartering and making deals with the researchers had been noted in previous studies…but no questions.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “That sounds interesting enough, but what is so significant about simply asking a question?”

(Mark): “Because it signifies that the questioner comprehends an interrelationship between cause and effect. Frederick’s first questions involved first-person interrogatories about his own relationship to me, for instance, and later came questions about why he should do a particular action on command. It didn’t happen until I first found myself asking him questions that he grasped the concept of the hand gestures that asked ‘Why?’, but once he discovered the power of the word ‘Why?’…well, it was like having a four-year old human child under my care.”

“During that time, I began to record many of Frederick’s conversations with me on my laptop computer. They are one of the exhibits entered as evidence that was subpoenaed when the trial began.”

“If you consider the fact that Frederick’s questions implied self-awareness, then it may well be that the only significant difference between Man and the Great Apes would be their level of intelligence.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “What about the Human Soul?”

(Mark): “Any scientist will tell you, there is no empirical evidence that a Human Soul exists, or for that matter, that animals do not possess souls as well.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “Mr. Hoffner, you do realize that the United States is a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture with deeply rooted beliefs in the Human Soul, do you not?”

(Mark): “Of course…but even if you do believe in the uniqueness of Man’s solitary franchise on possession of a soul, is it not even that much more of an obligation to respect the desire for self-determination…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when expressed by any other sentient being capable of communicating those needs and desires?…especially if they never get to go to heaven?”

“I might also add that many other religions ascribe to the belief in the presence of a soul in animals, but to me, the issue is one of sentience…and of self-awareness that presents ethical dilemmas regarding indiscriminate medical testing, vivisection or ownership and forced captivity of any sentient being without its consent.”

“And of course, there is the issue of not being fairly compensated for their labors. Chimps have no need of money and few consumer goods hold any appeal to them, so they possess little motivation to do anything not directly related to their well-being and entertainment.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “So how was it possible to get them to perform for so long against their will? What was their motivation?”

(Mark): “I began to wonder about that myself, especially because they were exhibiting signs of a stress disorder that we have labeled Repetitive Thought Injury…if you will, something like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, only involving the brain. Sometime later, we jokingly nick-named it ‘Cerebral Tunnel Syndrome’…but it is no joke…in fact, I plan on doing my doctoral thesis on the subject. It is highly likely that many humans already suffer from it.”

(Plaintiff’s attorney): “And what else did you find?”

(Mark): ” I had blood samples drawn from the Chimps, and discovered that they had become addicted to amphetamines, which prompted me to analyze the reward pellets that they were being given to them after the successful completion of specific tasks.”

“In addition to a sort of fruit-flavored gummy-bear that also had a little vitamin C added, we found the presence of mixed amphetamine salts…a generic version of Adderal, a drug prescribed for narcolepsy and Attention Deficit Disorder…at night, they gave them Ambien to make them sleep before they left the Center to return to their homes.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “What did you do after your discovery?”

(Mark): “I asked a friend of mine who is a research pharmacist to design a series of placebo substitutes that would slowly wean them off their addiction,  treat their anxiety and help them sleep without addictive medications.  And I believe he said he simply substituted melatonin for the Ambien.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “How well did it work?”

(Mark): “In terms of freeing them of their addictions, fine…but shortly after that, they rebelled…if you stop to think about it, it was a natural course of events, although I failed to recognize that it would be the inevitable result.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney) “What do you mean by that? 

(Mark): “Their exhibition of the desire for self-determination as demonstrated  by an organized, planned rebellion, and escape involving even the driving of company vehicles and successful navigation to a known place of safety  to request Asylum is also strong evidence of their self-awareness, and suggests previously undocumented cognitive and discriminatory skills not observed in Primate behaviors…but then, of course…whenever I asked Frederick why he waited so long to demonstrate a particular skill, he would just laugh and say…’You never asked me before’.”

“In other words…we just never found a way to motivate them to utilize those gifts before because we assumed they did not possess them.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “Who taught them to drive?”

(Mark): “At first, just my wife Darcy and I taught Frederick to drive our Jeep on some of the back roads of the property…he became very skilled quite quickly, by the way.”

(Plaintiff’s Attorney): “Was it Frederick that taught the other primates how to drive?”

At this point the attorneys that represented (but were never specifically identified as) SAIC/Leidos’ interests requested a meeting with the Judge in his chambers, and once again “Top-Secret Information” and “Classified National Security interests” were invoked, causing the judge to instruct the jurors to disregard the question, as it was not directly related to the case, and court was immediately adjourned for the day.

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