Bear in Mind

Exploring the common minds and emotions of people and other animals and their lives together

Chicken Like Me

Meet the human-poultry psychoid

She was stumbling around . . . on the far side where the low shelf piled with junk makes everything dark. A shaft of sunlight had caught her, but by the time I was able to get inside she had scrunched herself deep in the far corner underneath the shelf against the wall. She shrank as I reached in to gather her up and lift her out of there. I held her in my lap stroking her feathers and looked at her. She was small and looked as if she had never been in the sun. Her feathers and legs and beak were brownstained with dirt and feces and dust. Her eyes were as lusterless as the rest of her, and her feet and legs were deformed. I let her go and she hobbled back to the corner where she must have spent the summer, coming out only to eat and drink. She had managed to escape being trampled to death in this overcrowded confinement shed, unlike the chicken I had found some weeks earlier stretched out and pounded into the dirt. [1]

Within the mental healthcare profession, there is perhaps nothing more sacred than the therapeutic alliance, the relationship established between a therapist and client. It is a term credited to the school of psychodynamics, whose staff and alumni include the likes of Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung. They were among the first Europeans to venture into territories conventionally prohibited to secular explorers.

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Throughout life, Jung walked along the tense, uneasy tightrope that stretched from secular to sacred, irritating authorities in both science and religion with his refusal to chose one identity or the other. This intransigence to categorization is part of the reason why Freud, not Jung, is interleaved in medical texts. Despite wading through murky, sometimes lurid, waters of the unconscious, Dr. Freud was devotedly reductionist. However, students of C.G. Jung are not afforded this handy conceptual parsing. The Swiss doctor wields his analytical intellect deftly, but his readers are left on their own to explore mysteries that lie beyond the traces Jung left behind.

Even such seemingly straightforward concepts as individuation, the psychological process of self-development, fail to fit reductionist schemata. In Jung's eyes, the self and its evolution are at heart relational. His ideas are befitting to today's post-Cartesian paradigm of conciliatory theories: quantum physics, complexity theory, Gaia, and so forth.

Attachment theory concurs. From birth until death do us part, your mind and actions foxtrot with mine. I am not I without a You with whom to interact. Further, I do not become who I am without having the birds, bees, and other beings as co-participants. Every action must have its reaction, and so must every mind. Subsequently, it is not surprising that the therapeutic alliance is core to Jung's clinical work. It explicitly recognizes how we function and exist: as a duo.

What has Jung got to do with chickens? Everything. But before delving into the chicken-Jung relationship, we must first reflect on Jung's concept of the psychoid. Mind and matter do not, Jung asserted, exist separately but are connected. Much like the electromagnetic spectrum where only certain wavelengths are visible to the human eye and others not, so go mind and body, consciousness and unconsciousness.

Again, the doctor's theories find resonance in current models: traumatic memories and knowledge are found not only in the dialogue of tiny grey cells but are stored somatically. We exist like the electrons and atoms that make us up, as concentrations in a relational cloud.

Think four-square. Mind to body to body to mind and back again to mind. Back to the Herr Doctor Jung and chickens.

The chicken we met in the heart-wrenching story told by Dr. Karen Davis was bound and connected to the people she encountered: genetically, evolutionarily with humans through the historical process of jungle fowl domestication, the people who fed, housed, and sought to kill her, and Karen Davis who found and brought the hen to sanctuary. Viva, for that was the chicken's name, survived her ordeal. It was not a long life in human or even dog years. Davis credits Viva with catalyzing what is now a global movement: the rights of birds.

In these terms it is inarguable that a single hen has changed millions of human minds. However, her influence extends well beyond a political and ethical movement. Viva's sphere of influence is explained by Jung's theories. Neuropsychology, traumatology, and a lot of other "ologies" make it plain that those who met Viva carry the hen in the interstices of their minds, bodies, consciousness, and unconsciousness.

Every bodily cell is a repository of experiences including memory and expectation as elements of a particular moment in the life of that particular cell. The look in a creature's eyes tells us a whole lot about what he or she 'knows.' Freedom and well-being, as Michael Fox observes, are more than intellectual concepts. They are a subjective aspect of being, not exclusive to humanity, but inclusive of all life. This is not an anthropomorphic claim. It is logically probable and empirically verifiable.[3]

Viva was more than kin. Our alliance goes much deeper than that. She and any other chicken we meet is as much a part of us as our Self.

 

[1] Davis, K. 1995. Thinking Like a chicken: farm animals and the feminine connection. In Animals and women: Feminist theoretical explorations, C.J. Adams and J. Donovan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

[2] Davis, K. In press. Chicken-human relationships: from procrustean genocide to empathetic anthropomorphism. Spring Journal.

[3] Davis, K. 2009. Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company.


Photo credits: Photo 1, courtesy of Mercy For Animals; Photo 2, courtesy of Farrell Winter

 

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D. is the author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity.

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