My wife raises chickens. She orders them from a mail order catalogue. The catalogue illustrates the large variety of different breeds that are available. Within less than twenty four hours of placing an order the baby chicks arrive in a large box. At present we have a bantam variety and a full sized variety of the same breed. From the time of hatching they have been raised separately. They enjoy free range during the day and are able to mingle. However, they do not. At dusk each group separates and gravitates toward its own roost to spend the night. This sense of separateness is so strong that the flock might peck to death a newly introduced chicken that is not of their group.
We also have a dog that really belongs to my daughter. It is the antithesis of the many dogs that have enriched our lives over the years. Most of those have been big animals. In contrast, Biscuit is a small animal with a underslung lower jaw. However she is big of heart. Once she attacked a coyote twice her size. Far and away she is the best watch dog we have ever had. Day or night she goes into a spasm of loud barking if another human or animal invades our space. This is especially true if a strange car comes up our long driveway. She distinguishes between the strange vehicles and the cars driven by our family. If a family car approaches her she quietly goes out to greet it. Like the chickens she has awareness of who is a part of her clan and who is not.
I am suggesting that, at a very primitive level, animals are able to distinguish between their group and an outside group. This is not a particularly novel idea. It is readily seen in prides of lions or packs of wolves who defend against intruders. Does the same behavior exist in humans? Rodney King posed that poignant question, “Can’t we all get along?” I’m going to suggest that the answer might be a resounding no. The primitive tendency toward tribalism might be so powerful and deeply rooted in our evolutionary past that humans are doomed to remain in conflict with those who are different from ourselves. The incredible cruelty toward someone different was portrayed in the movie “42”. It is the story of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in professional baseball. Pitchers would throw bean balls to strike him in the head, attempting to seriously injure him because of the color of his skin. This behavior seems akin to the behavior of chickens pecking an outsider to death.
On a larger scale we can look at the Sunnis car bombing Shiites in Iraq. On a daily basis we read about murderous conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, Hindus and Muslems and acts of terrorism between groups that hold different beliefs from those of their enemies. Even in our safe haven of America we are experiencing terrorism from radical religious groups who despise each other’s beliefs. This raises the question as to whether our nation remains a melting pot or is degenerating into a conclave of non unified groups of different languages and cultures. This is a question that, I believe, will continue to nag us in the future