There Can Be Only One

Our title is the signature line from the “Highlander” series of movies and television shows. If you haven’t seen it, the plot revolves around a group of “immortals” who vie for power, fated to fight and destroy each other until only one is left to receive “the prize.”

The scale of our story this week is not so grand. Some of you will remember the cautionary tale of Cuthbert, the Rooster. We raised him from a chick to a magnificent animal worthy of Foghorn Leghorn himself, though he was not, I say not an amiable fellow like our favorite cartoon character. Cuthbert and I came to an understanding when he finally submitted to the mysterious powers of our collection of water guns, which he never quite understood. All he knew was that at any given moment I could extend my opinion from far away, long before he could get a good run on to flog me.

Tracey was quick on the draw as well, but she was never able to relax with old Cuth. He had the same effect on the hens, who were always very nervous when he was around. Nervous hens pluck feathers and they don’t lay well, so we found another home for Cuthbert. He was a fine guardian but a lousy roommate, and sometimes it just doesn’t pay to try and push the river.

Immediately upon Cuthbert’s departure, the dynamics of the pecking order began to evolve. Soon a “Gang of Three” hens were ruling the roost, and what was once a single flock controlled by Cuthbert became a loose confederation of small groups and a cabal of three who ate first, took the biggest share and climbed to the most desirable perch. It wasn’t a perfect society, but it was much more relaxed. On the downside, the flock that was once held together and guarded now roamed freely in little cliques, which increased their vulnerability to predators.

The girls were without a rooster for several weeks, which was a long time in chicken years, and plenty of time to become established in their new society. Nevertheless, having a rooster in a free ranging flock is desirable, so we found a friend who was eager to give us one.

The morning of their arrival I discovered not one, but two new young roosters hiding as far away from the Gang of Three as they could get. When I picked one up to rescue him, he looked at me and in his best Sidney Poitier said, “They call me MISTER Tibbs.” The name stuck, and I decided on the spot that he would be the one to inherit Cuthbert’s role as protector.

Mister Tibbs was shadowed by a slightly smaller and much more subdued companion. We called him “Thirteen,” reluctant to give him a name since we planned to find him a new home as soon as possible. When it comes to roosters, there can be only one.

After the shock of the new arrivals had worn off, the flock dynamics began to change again. Scarcely anyone who achieves power gives it up voluntarily. The Gang began to turn a hostile eye toward Mr. Tibbs and the hapless Thirteen. Tibbs was fast on his feet, canny, wary and forward thinking. He stayed on the perch until all the hens had left the area, then hid in the weeds on the outskirts of the flock and out of range of the Gang of Three.

Thirteen, however, just wanted to be loved. The meek will certainly inherit the earth, but not right away. Thirteen kept trying to join the foraging hens, and they punished him for that. One morning I heard a horrendous noise coming from the chicken house and discovered that the Three had trapped him in a corner, attacked him and removed most of the skin from the back of his head.

Thirteen spent the next several days in our “chicken clinic” healing and gaining strength. Our hope was that he could survive long enough to find a new home, or at least grow big enough to defend himself. Our second attempt to reintroduce him failed also, so I setup separate quarters for him. This worked fine for a couple of weeks. Thirteen roosted alone at night and then joined Mr. Tibbs on the fringes during the day.

Chickens are very social sociopaths and they seek the company of other chickens. Thirteen’s fate was sealed the night that he joined the rest of the flock in the hen house instead of going to his own roost. All seemed well for several days and we thought that, against all odds, he had finally managed to be accepted. On the last morning of his life I found Thirteen in the corner of the hen house paralyzed from a strike to the back of the head that pierced his skull. In close and guilty proximity were the Gang of Three – and Mr. Tibbs.

From barn yard chickens to strutting politicians, we are all creatures of instinct, and the instincts of warm blooded vertebrates demands some form of hierarchy. Chickens peck; lions roar; sheep butt heads and humans…we have myriad ways of trying to ascend above our fellow humans. We have just as many ways of keeping our emotions in check. Cultural norms and taboos guide many, and where those disappoint, personal integrity constrains. Faith creates and nurtures personal integrity, and when all else fails we have government as a failsafe.

Our hen house ideals were noble, but flawed. While it’s true that animals can be conditioned to override their basic instincts, it’s rare, especially in creatures with the mental capacity of a chicken. Our human capacity is so much greater, but our emotions are complex and convoluted, and the “humanist” has what seems to me to be a Pollyanna belief in the ascent of humanity that denies the animal instincts with which we contend.

Faith is anathema to many. Integrity has devolved into personal choice where emotions and desires magically create reality, and in my opinion, it is weakness of character which has tipped the scale in the beliefs of so many toward ideas that are purely marxist, no matter how they are clothed in terms of social justice. A society where there are no winners and no losers denies our basic instincts, which continue to exist no matter how we “feel” about them. They become suppressed and subsumed, but they still motivate our actions, and without faith and a civil society to govern those, the failsafe grows ever more powerful. Witness the grotesque mutations of suppressed instinct that have appeared throughout the history of marxist regimes. As George Orwell so succinctly stated in “Animal Farm,” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” and as western civilization flogs itself over diluted and convoluted ideals, the foghorn of big government grows ever louder, for in the contest for coercive power, there can be only one.

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