Across the board, our "recieved wisdom" about dominance behavior in wolf packs has been terribly, terribly skewed and misleading. The so-called "alpha roll" is but one example. We have fundamentally projected our own civilized hierarchies onto the wolf pack.
The first studies of social relationships within a wolf pack were based on unrelated captive wolves, because wolves in an enclosure are far easier to observe than wild free-living wolves.
In a captive group of unrelated wolves there is a tendency for a social-or 'dominance'-hierarchy to emerge. The idea of a hierarchy was first described for captive wolves in 1947 and tended to overshadow other attempts to understand the social interactions within a pack. This early view of a wolf pack is that the wolves are forever struggling to get further up the social hierarchy, ultimately to the alpha position, while holding in check everyone else.
The problem with this early view of wolf pack society is that it is based almost entirely on observations of captive wolves. … It is a bit like observing only the inmates of prisons when you are trying to understand human society, then extrapolating your findings to free-living people.5
Dr. David Mech is one of the most respected wolf researchers in the world. He has a very different view of what makes wolf packs work. In the wild, wolf packs are generally made up of a single monogamous breeding pair, and their offspring. Very rarely, large wolf packs may include more than one breeding pair. When the children become old enough, they go off to start their own pack, with their own territory. In other words, a wolf pack is not a rigid hierarchy, but a family.(snip)
"The State"-an undying, immortal abstraction-is our eternal alpha. It will never grow old, it will never step aside and allow the young to have their day. Even the most revered elder is still a child, a ward of the state. We never have a family of our own. Civilization takes a Hobbesian view of human nature that is at all odds with reality, and treats us as if it were true. It makes us calmly submissive with learned helplessness. Civilization does to us, and for much the same reason, as Cesar Millano does to dogs.
so, i'd say the purpose of prison, the real purpose, is to reinforce learned helplessness among the people ruled by a given heirarchy.
in the case of the United States today, we also conveniently make a *lot* of money for some corporations via privatized prisons...it is very big business. and what good capitalist would not want a literally captive labor force? yes, such slaves must be fed & housed, but i bet they get tax money to help cover that cost.
it's the perfect Big Stick, really: be a good little cog in the wheel and do the work i assign to you for whatever i tell you is the fair amount of pay and do as you are told and keep your mouth shut and your head down and don't even think about running away, or we'll show you the true nature of our relationship--Owners and Slaves--in a way you can't mistake, by putting you in prison for a while. THAT is the purpose of prisons today.