FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump the Pigeon

As the famous ethologist Konrad Lorenz told us in his classic 1963 book, On Aggression, we humans are closer to prey than predator—but that makes us more dangerous in some terrible ways.

A “real” carnivore—a massive cat with long razor claws and fangs measured in inches, or a wolf with a long row of exposed flesh-ripping teeth and jaws that can break bones—very rarely kills members of its own species. They have instinctive signals that allow for surrender and subservience. The dominant animal will almost never cross that signal to kill another of its species.

Prey, however, do not expose their jugular vein to fellow members of their species. And since they do not possess fearsome weapons with which to hunt, kill, and consume prey, they have no instinct to see that line of abject surrender. Prey, such as pigeons, if they can be induced to attack a fellow member of their own species, will “torture them to death,” wrote Lorenz, and this propensity comes down to the natural repertoire of humans too. Pigeons, if manipulated into attacking a fellow pigeon, will peck it into a sodden lifeless mass of bloody flesh and feathers. We humans only became fearsome predators by inventing weapons and we only develop proscriptions on annihilating each other by wrestling with conscience, social norms, and empathy in a long slow process of conscious evolution.

We see this complexity borne out in our societies from top to bottom, replete with exemplars from the convicted criminals in prisons, their guards, cops, soldiers, intelligence interrogators, billionaires on Wall Street, and including politicians. We struggle to control that inclination so we have laws, moral leadership, and public discourse such as happens in these very pages.

Lorenz goes a long way toward explaining Donald Trump’s unchecked tendency to peck at anyone in his way, from a reporter with disabilities who asks a tough question, to another journalist who happens to be a woman and asks a slightly challenging question, to Miss Universe who decides to endorse Hillary Clinton, to a judge who happens to have some Mexican ancestors, and on and on. He was not raised to deal with the social norms, courtesies, and accepted behaviors of civilized people—like royalty born into extreme privilege but never educated or disciplined toward decency, he is simply following his wiring and lack of training. He is a pigeon with zero idea that most people want to see a leader show authentic regard and respect for most others.

This is not a problem except Trump is now a serious contender to rule the US, be Commander-in-Chief, pick Supreme Court nominees, issue powerful unilateral Presidential Findings, as well as veto legislation. This includes the power to control the nuclear arsenal with launch codes instructing thousands of omnicidal weapons on submarines, bombers, and in ground-based missiles in the western US.

A responsible electorate would deny these capacities to someone like Trump. Let us pray that this prey never accesses that unbridled power. He shows all the signs of being capable of pecking the most powerful and apocalyptic destructive force on Earth into doing its worst.
So we must do our best.

More articles by:

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail