Everything I ever needed to understand human nature, I learned from chickens.
Humans accept the emotional depth of animals, but we tend to acknowledge deep human nature in animals more than we do the casual animal in human. We think because we've evolved to make cities and Yoga pants that we've gone past crude, everyday animal behavior. We are enlightened creatures.
Chickens showed me otherwise.
When baby chicks first arrive, they immediately begin working out the nature of their flock, most importantly the pecking order. It's a cute bid for power, but it's a bid for power nonetheless, with little chicks facing off at each other like posturing wrestlers, staring each other in the eye and daring the other chick to make the first move. At the same time, the chicks are seeking out warmth and motherly comfort.
They get those from the flock even as they are challenging each other.
There are two things at play here -- power and need. Look around you and you'll see tons of human beings who act upon the same things. Read newspapers and you'll see the same.
When our chicks were young, the bright star of the flock was Polly, a beautiful Easter Egger that showed all sorts of bravery, curiosity and personality in investigating her new world. The other girls followed, mostly, letting Polly scope out the world for them.
Now Polly is a loner. The other girls started bullying her, pulling out feathers, preventing her from eating food. A typical interaction involves Polly pecking at the grass and one of the other girls running all the way across the yard, abandoning her own bounty, in order to stop Polly from enjoying hers. Polly runs away, not wanting to be pecked.
But sometimes, Polly steals food. The others chase after her to get it back, abandoning the pile they could be feasting on.
The dynamic is all about preventing Polly from having anything, reminding her of her place.
But why? Difference. Polly looks different. Her feathers are more ornate, her face more hawk-like, with feathers that look like mutton-chops. She's also more diminutive. Even her eggs look different -- blue, while all the others are some variation of brown. They are relentless with her, and yet Polly still sticks to the flock, and when you separate her from them, she calls for them.
We have some new chicks and we're watching the whole scenario play out again. A chick death has tilted the scales. We have slowly allowed Polly to become aware of the new chicks but, in that scenario, the bullied becomes aggressive. She doesn't like these little things running to her, seeking out warmth and motherly comfort. They are competition for power.
We briefly thought of getting some ducks, but decided against it. Why? Because if we ended up with a male duck, it had the huge potential to rape our hens. Rape. Really. Why would a duck want to rape a chicken? Same reason a Homo Sapien would want to rape a Neanderthal, I guess.
Animals are us without the annoying details, without the subcultures and bank accounts, the favorite television shows and current fashions, all those different gods. They're all the clutter stripped away, revealing the essence and how it manifests according to circumstance and place on the food chain.
The phrase "dog eat dog world" exists for a reason -- because that is a dog's world. And it's ours. Let's not just recognize the admirable traits of ourselves in animals, let's look at the whole picture. Like chickens, we're an animal at odds with ourselves. Some of the victims of that system grow louder and demand evolution now in the form of social justice. Unlike chickens, though, we can try.