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The Pecking Order

August 18, 2012

It was quite apparent from the beginning: Honey, the big white chicken, was at the top of the pecking order. Next came the little red hen, Omelet. Henrietta and Black Rider occupied the middle while poor old Colors, the Aruacana, sat at the bottom. She got the last and smallest scraps and was pecked for it anyway. Her eggs were often found broken in the laying box.

Then, about  a month ago, something happened. Omelet began brooding. For those readers not familiar with chicken lingo, brooding is when a hen sits on an egg (not necessarily her own) in the hopes of hatching it even though there isn’t a rooster around. I quarantined her for a couple of days and the behavior stopped, but the next day I saw her fighting with Henrietta. Soon everyone was picking on Omelet. It was as if that illogical behavior had ousted her from her place in the pecking order, the fight with Henrietta a last-ditch effort to maintain some semblance of dignity.

And then, to my great surprise, one afternoon I came home to find Honey camped in the laying box, two brown eggs tucked beneath her bulging belly. She clucked and pecked at my fingers as I removed them. She squawked and vehemently expressed displeasure when I lifted her from the box and put her in quarantine. It didn’t work. She still spends a good part of the days, and all of the nights, in the laying box – eggs or no eggs.

But this is the interesting thing: Henrietta, Black Rider, and Colors all stand up to Honey now. They don’t pick on or peck at her, but they don’t take her crap either. Only little Omelet, no longer brooding but now in a molting cycle (losing and re-growing feathers), is still below Honey in the pecking order. And believe me, Honey doesn’t let her forget it for a second.

As I watched this behavior my mind searched for a parallel in humankind. Could I extend a metaphor comparing chickens to politicians? Actors? How about athletes? How could I use this blatant illustration of the pecking order to say something about people? And then it hit me.

Omelet is the Soviet Union. Her prestige was lost through a manifestation of behavior contrary to the wellbeing of her own people. The tiff with Henrietta was akin to their invasion of Afghanistan; a salvage attempt in desperate times. Now she hovers at the edge, a non-player, quietly seeking to rebuild from scratch.

Honey, of course, is the United States. A proud, loud, alpha hen incapable of seeing error or immorality in her own actions. She squats and struts and picks on those who can’t defend themselves. She fights for the biggest morsels and runs off to enjoy them by herself. I’m sure she’s the egg-breaker.

Henrietta is Afghanistan (or more generally, the Middle East). She’s biding her time, ambushing the big dogs on their way down. She’s a terrorist. I fear for my flock on the day she reaches the top.

Colors is probably Africa. The most beautiful of the birds, with the richest heritage and the greenest eggs. Her name says it all: Aruacana. The others envy her without even knowing why. But she’s been kept down so long she doesn’t show desire or ambition. It’s all about survival.

Which leaves Black Rider, the dark sheep. Is she the big bird in the flock? The emerging player in the hen house? It’s hard to say. She’s always seemed the nicest hen, the least likely to cause a ruckus. She’ll let you scratch her back. She’s never stood out, either positively or otherwise. She’s just there. But who knows? All bills come due someday… Black Rider is China.

Depending where you are reading this from, you may take a different lesson home with you. I hope you’re not offended if I’ve called you a chicken. Being American, I’m constantly ashamed of Honey’s overbearing manner and I take Omelet’s fall to heart. Honey seems to be walking down a similar path. Yet I fear her fall will be the greater as she rose to greater heights. So I wonder, which of America’s counter-productive policies will tip the scale of the pecking order? Will she refuse the rebuilding process? And how will she respond to the Henriettas and Omelets on the way down?

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From → Rants

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