Monday, February 9, 2009

Chicken Mythology

Bizarro is brought to you today by Big-Headed Babes in Boots.

I think this is a fun alternative to the "why did the chicken cross the road" gag, a theme that has been hit upon tens of thousands of times by cartoonists.

I'm a big fan of chickens, both hens and roosters. I've gotten to know many of them in the privacy of my own home, as CHNW and I have fostered ones rescued from NYC streets, parks, dumpsters, basements, etc.

Most people assume, as I used to, that chickens are stupid. When they are around other chickens they act like chickens and ignore humans for the most part, except to run away clucking and stumbling. Not a very intellectual demeanor. But when they are solo in your apartment, they relate to you, just as cats and dogs do, learn where their food is, cuddle with you while you watch TV, cry when you leave the room, chirp in glee when you return. They'd be terrific pets if they didn't poop indiscriminately. That's just the way the species is designed, no sense trying to house train them. Of course, they're happier outside with other chickens, anyway.

It's always occurred to me that our definition of intelligence is very anthropocentric. In other words, we judge another specie's intelligence by how similar it is to ours. Some are naturally that way – dogs, rats, apes – others are not at all – turkeys, chickens, cattle, sheep. I now try to appreciate other species' intelligence for what it is instead of in comparison to mine. A chicken can't fix a bicycle, but then it hasn't much need for a working bicycle so why would it? When threatened, some birds will pretend to have a broken wing while their offspring escape. I'm not sure I'd think of that if a bear were charging me and my kids in the woods.

This is just one of the many reasons I stay out of the woods with small children.

A prime example of this anthropocentric thinking is that when a human builds a shelter, we call it "intelligence." When a bird builds one it's "instinct."

Because no other species impacts its environment with it's intellect the way we do, we think the world is here for us and that we are the most important species on Earth. (One could easily argue that because of the way we impact our environment, we are the least intelligent species.) We've even written tens of thousands of stories about how we are the reason the earth was created.

Spiders are the only animal that can shoot webs out of their butt and build the equivalent of a skyscraper that both serves as shelter and provides food, all in a matter of minutes. I wonder if they think the world was built for them and the rest of us are just props in the movie of their life?


Jeremy said...

You might want to edit the language of your blog entry here. When you say "I've gotten to know many of them in the privacy of my own home" that sounds little risque. Unless of course this connotation is true. Could this be what came between you and CHNW? I doubt it.

I'm glad to see that you acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for Intelligent Design.

Anonymous said...

Bizarro sucks.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ Jeremy.

Wonderful post Piraro, Wonderful Post.

Anonymous said...

Is you a chicken fucker, Dan?

JohnM said...

I like the "secret portal". It saves me a few mouse clicks. I've been going to the San Francisco Chronical website to read the day's strip (since my local paper doesnt carry it..yeah, I'm lobbying to change that, so far without success)

I heard this one from a 9 year old stand up comic:

Why did the one armed man cross the road?

To get to the second hand store.

Anonymous said...

Knew a gal who had a chicken named Mabel as a house pet (she'd raised it from an abandoned rain-soaked chick). It was fond of her, as far as I could tell, but it did poop constantly. She'd spot a mess on the floor and say "Oh, Mabel!" as she went for a paper towel to wipe it up. By the time she'd get it wiped up, Mabel would have walked two or three feet away and pooped again. "Oh, Mabel!" Repeat ad infinitum.

guy who trapped monkey girl said...

I have to agree with Jeremy... the photos are also a bit risque. You have a young woman reaching out to stroke the cock of a person dressed in a chicken outfit? Please there could be children here!!!

(surprised that I'm the first to use the cock = rooster pun yet...)

Grady said...

Hey, this is my first post, I'm a big fan. In the future I'll try to get more positive because I really enjoy most of your work, but I have to get critical of your chickens-aren't-stupid stance.

Instinct: Learning where the food is, pretending a wing is broken; creating a nest.
Emotional/devotional attachment: cuddling while you watch TV and chirping in glee when you return.

Intelligence: Something entirely different, and something that chickens lack. There is a reason "intelligence" and "instinct" are different words in the dictionary, and there is also a reason that "stupid" is an antonym for "intelligent."

Intelligence refers to certain capabilities which some humans and some other animals have. It can be a little anthropocentric, but that's mostly because of the high value we humans put on intelligence. In the animal world, instinct is more valuable, but we like to pride ourselves on having something better than chicken-like instinct: intelligence.

So intelligence is not measured by comparison to humans. It's measured by comparison to the definition of intelligence. And chickens come up lacking. They may be loving, they may be great companions, but they're stupid. (Which, of course, you shouldn't see as an insult to chickens at all - they don't need intelligence any more than they need bikes).

guy who trapped monkey girl said...

Grady, So... what is the non-chicken definition of intelligence other than "... something chickens lack"? Obviously you haven't met the teenagers in my neighborhood? Chickens seem quite "intellectual" in comparison.

Speedcat Hollydale said...

Hyperlink chickenerrific!!!

Penny Mitchell said...

The photo associated with, "They'd be terrific pets if they didn't poop indiscriminately," of course begs the question: which one in the photo poops indiscriminately more often?

I have chickens. I do not have children. There is a reason for this.

Anonymous said...

Awesome ... linking chickens & anthropocentrism is brilliant ... but not necessary intelligent design as per Jeremy.

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, I believe sunday's non sequitur touched on some of these topics

Artillery MKV said...

While I completely agree that most people are far too humanocentric in our definition of intelligence, it's too far to point to instictual behaviors as 'intelligent.'

The difference between intelligent behavior and instinctual behavior is the element of learning.

While a bird and I may both go into the woods and build a shelter, the bird builds the same kind of shelter that every other member of its species builds . .and no one ever taught it how to build it.

On the other hand I'll go out and build something that falls on my head. I note why it fell and change my design. IT falls on my head. Once I wake up from the concussion I'll try a different model (no more really heavy logs as the central support- OW!) until I'm successful.

Now the bird's intelligence is applied differently. If the bird's house falls it simply moves to a different area and builds another exactly the same. But the bird is going to be a LOT better as determining the best place to build their shelter, factoring in food, weather and predators.

I on the other hand will wake up with water running through my shelter the first time it rains, having to revise my design and placement yet again.

AND, if I had someone who knew anything about shelter building they could teach me and I could skip the first problematic steps.

Anonymous said...

As far as human's intelligence goes, my professor was talking about this the other day. Another student brought up how yeast uses up all of its resources and then dies because it cannot stand its own excrement.
Are we smarter than yeast?

Jeff Pollet said...

apropos only of animal rights stuff, Sunday's Lio was fun and educational:

Jeremy said...

Artillery MKV-

You make chickens sound more capable than humans. When was the last time you saw a chicken build a shelter with a roof? I have only ever seen them build nests, their feathers are perfectly designed for deflecting rain.

You fail to account for where the instinct comes from. How did it start?

It came from natural selection. That chicken's ancestors were good at building nests, which is why that chicken is so good at building a nest.

On the same note, if your parents were architects or engineers, chances are good that you will be good at building a structure just as your parents were.

Piraro said...

A lot of this seems to me to be semantics. To my mind, instinct is a less complex form of intelligence.

Birds and other animals DO learn from each other. When raised in captivity or away from their own kind, non-human animals often lack behaviors that are standard in the flock or pack.

The fact that they don't change their home design is more about creativity than intelligence. Through natural selection, they build a house that works perfectly and stop there. If you learned to build a house that worked from an elder, it wouldn't fall down, you wouldn't have to change the design.

And we've all seen cats and dogs learn to solve new problems in new ways. Chickens do this, too. It's all a matter of degrees. I've also noted that some chickens we've fostered are much smarter than others. They also have different likes, dislikes, skill levels, personalities, just like humans, dogs, cats, etc., they are individuals.

The bottom line, of course, is that I afford them the same respect as my fellow humans, regardless of how like me they are. I make these points because I used to use the "not like me, not worth as much as me" as a rationalization for subsidizing their abuse.

Many good comments, thanks to all.

By the way, I don't recognize any evidence for "Intelligent Design," nor does legitimate science. Sorry. :)

Jeremy said...

Then you need to change "That's just the way the species is designed, no sense trying to house train them." to something else.

Please define "Legitimate science."

isee3dtoo said...


"Legitimate science" is when you find a single bone in the desert and you announce to the world that based on this single bone a bizarro-saur roamed the earth a gad-zillion years ago and that it ate mushrooms, had purple skin, and made the sound that a bull-moose with its gonads caught on barbed-wire-fence would make. Then a science magazine,, & wikipedia publishes your find. Cause once three authorities have published it, it must be right. After all of that your bizarro-saur is featured in a Steven Spielberg movie or a Discovery Channel special and you are given some award.

This is called "legitimate science" and it happens every day of the year. I call it hype cause no one knows what color or sound a bizarro-saur is or made. All the rest however is true.

Jeremy said...


All too true, unfortunately. I thought science meant study, and that would mean that there would be no fake studying. Just bad guesses and bad conclusions.

Have you seen Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, isee3dtoo?

Anonymous said...

intellegent design is a lot more funnier then that cartoon dan. maybe a HA

the nature of intellegence requires that behaviors change when the outcomes suck. most birds can do that. chickens as any domesticated animal have gotten a lot smarter through that association with humans...please see the movie "chicken run"

doug nicodemus said...

i had to comment as anonymous because my gmail account changed. man we should get merchandise points or something.

would it have been funnier if you would have added "to see that little hussy" thus answering the age old question????

Anonymous said...

This conversation is painfully dull. Please make it stop or Penny and Shortcake will start posting again.

holly said...

"They'd be terrific pets if they didn't poop indiscriminately."

the same is also true of my husband.

you have some erroneous information there.

*i* can also shoot webbs out of my butt. i just choose not to.

well, most of the time, anyway.

Michael Tallon said...

Awesome post! Finally someone articulates my every existential thought

FIDO said...

as most of you may know my grandpa or as they say in french pepere possesses a virgin ass

Karl said...

I'm guessing the punch line of this cartoon has something to do with being hen pecked.

Artillery MKV said...

Jeremay and Dan,
Yup, no doubt you're both correct. A comment on a blog post =! fully nuanced discussion.

I will argue, however, that the child of an architect is no more likely to be good a building than any other human because our species gave up the ability to transmit 'instinct' in favor of increased learning and adaptability. Not saying that there isn't SOME innate skill/associative thought structuring passed on through generations.

Now, bringing evolutionary factors into a discussion of individual intelligence is dirty pool! =)

Anonymous said...

Har dee har.
Jeremy and Farmer Ted, you shall I put this... idiots.

Unknown said...

I have four chickens they have thier own henhouse but I go ot and hang with them everyday. They are funny and smart. everyone tells me they are stupit. My husband nicknamed them fried, grilled and bbq but I know different. I often want to bring them in to just hang but I know they are happoer out there and then there is the poop.

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