Monthly Archives: July 2010

"Wild horses…"


What? “…couldn’t drag me away” [Richards & Jagger, 1971]? Well, of course they couldn’t, or more accurately, wouldn’t, you City Slickers, cuz they is wild, innit? They neither bear weight on their backs, nor pull it via harness. Their theme song is, “I’ll Never Be Your Beast of Burden” [Richards & Jagger, 1978]. What they will do, if you intrude into their established territory, however, is charge you and possibly trample you.

Which is not to say that they run amok, or obey no Code of Conduct, according to the equine ethologists who study them, particularly the band of 250 [wild horses, not ethologists] who live on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The observers note that the horses tend to organize themselves into Family Groups [a stud, his mares, and their offspring], who rotate through the various grazing venues on the island: meadows, marshes, woods, and beach dunes. An anthropomorphic explanation of this nomadic behavior might be that the families are altruistically sharing the nutritional wealth of the island with their equine brethren. There are two flies in that Utopian ointment, though. One is, well, flies. Inland, where the grass is lush and plentiful, the horses are tormented by flesh-eating flies; whereas on the shore, where the sparse, tough dune grass grows, the constant sea breeze blows the flies away. So perhaps [as Harris opined in Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches] local geography shapes what is considered to be The Right Thing to Do. [In this case, to keep hoofing it, to the next ambivalent stand-off between eating well and being “eaten alive.”]

Also, as in most human cultures, there is an Out Group, who are forcibly excluded from the Happy Families scenario: bands of Bachelor Horses. The observers offer an illustrative vignette, in which a bold Bachelor Horse put just one hoof onto the territory of a Family Group, which was marked by what is euphemistically called a Stud Pile [of dung], and was immediately charged by the stallion and “shown off the property.” Insert your own current human example of such behavior here. It is not clear [Is it ever?] how the hapless members of the Out Group drew the short straw. What is inspiring is that, every so often, a pariah horse bravely challenges the authority of the humiliating and/or fearsome studs.

Speaking of inspiring, this photo of two Bachelor Horses was taken by my [90-ish] mother-in-law, who trudged 10 miles down the beach to find them, yet [uncharacteristically, for her] heeded the warnings of the island guides, to keep a respectful distance away from her subjects, lest they “pass on the pain” and trample her. Having got what she came for, she trudged the 10 miles back to rejoin the Band of Ecotourists, of whom she & my father-in-law were the oldest by several decades, though not made to feel like members of an Out Group, for all that.

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Filed under ethology, power subtext, zero-sum-gaming

Who Says?


Not only is this a song title from John Mayer’s latest musings on interpersonal ambivalence, Battle Studies, it’s what all and sundry are asking and/or acting out, these days. “The peasants are revolting!” goes the old double-entendre, and so are Army generals, Hollywood starlets, and all the drivers who blow past me daily, on a narrow road clearly marked 40 mph and crawling with police. Sheesh!

In Ireland these days, such behavior would be labeled “bold” [as in “…as brass”], which no longer means brave, but just impudent, shameless, feckless, or insouciant. Is there more of this about, or am I just an old stick-in-the-mud? I blame reality TV, ya know, which gives viewers a false sense that the risk of legal sanction is outweighed by the prospect of fame [and, occasionally, fortune]. Back the the 70s in Manhattan, some of my acting school friends who didn’t have day jobs would audition to be contestants on a quiz show called Jackpot! To make the otherwise boring show watchable, the talent-spotter rewarded the most over-the-top, crazed members of the studio audience by choosing them to [the uncopyrighted equivalent of] Come On Down, and play the game. They shot 5 “episodes” of the show in one day, so the semper paratus acting student bought a hold-all with 4 other shirts, just in case. One of our friends got selected for bellowing “Crackpot!” instead of the show’s catchphrase. He used the video of his 5-show “performance” [during which he “chewed the scenery” shamelessly] as a cheap & cheerful audition tape for the consideration of various theatrical agents; and it got him work.

These days, in the lyrics of the Scouting for Girls song, “Everybody wants to be on TV.” As an erstwhile student of Sociology, I could make a connection between the dearth of actual Day Jobs, and the fantasy of “quitting [one’s] Day Job” (to become rich & famous); but it’s belaboring the obvious. My actual point is a more universal, psychological one. If virtue [observing the speed limit, graduating from college, obeying one’s Code of Conduct] is not rewarded, it is less likely to occur. In situations where the fear of punishment for Engaging in Shenanigans is outweighed by the humiliation of having Done the Right Thing and still gotten a Bad Outcome, stand by for more Shenanigans.

This is Lili, boldly ignoring my command to jump over a barrel to my right. Although it is high summer again, the picture is from 2 years ago, before we had truly appreciated that You Get What You Reward, and You Reward Disobedience by Letting It Slide. Silence gives consent. These days, this seemingly trivial moment of noncompliance would be met with, “Oooy! Ali Oop!” followed by a heartfelt “Yosh! Ichibon Inu!” [Good! Number One Dog!] as she completed the jump. Not a contract for her own reality show, mind, or even a high-value treat. What Lili and the rest of us need, to keep on doing the dorky Right Thing, is for our masters to notice, and acknowledge, our efforts.

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Filed under lesser of two evils, understanding shenanigans