Watching the common chicken can help us understand human behavior, evolution, and ethics:
Watching chickens is a very old human pastime, and the forerunner of psychology, sociology and management theory. Sometimes understanding yourself can be made easier by projection on to others. Watching chickens helps us understand human motivations and interactions, which is doubtless why so many words and phrases in common parlance are redolent of the hen yard: “pecking order”, “cockiness”, “ruffling somebody’s feathers”, “taking somebody under your wing”, “fussing like a mother hen”, “strutting”, a “bantamweight fighter”, “clipping someone’s wings”, “beady eyes”, “chicks”, “to crow”, “to flock”, “get in a flap”, “coming home to roost”, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched”, “nest eggs” and “preening”.
In the lottery of evolutionary niches, some species got to be fast, powerful and sharp. Humans got the mental wherewithal to try to control everything; the chicken’s future rested on being tasty. Chickens are thus relieved of an enormous responsibility, making their lives simpler. They don’t have to organise the whole world, or attend meetings to discuss policies “going forward”; they don’t have to invent the future continually — it just comes when it comes.
[W]e could argue that they’re only chickens, not people, and frankly, we’re the top species so we call the shots — that’s evolution, we’re the winners and might makes right. So our notions of ethics extend only to “like me”? But how like is “like”? In the grand scheme of things, if we stand back and consider all the matter and energy we know of in the universe, we’re a lot more similar to chickens than we are to almost everything else — all that rock and water, those suns, the endlessness of space and dark matter. Chickens are positively family.
Everyone should have a place in the pecking order. Strive for your place in life, not someone else’s. Someone else’s bread isn’t necessarily tastier than your own. Envy will cost you dearly.