What’s Wrong With Predators Nowadays?


Crime sceneIt’s easy—too easy, in fact—to look around ourselves these days and ask: “What’s gone wrong with the world? Is everyone on the planet crazy?” In just recent days, we witnessed the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and the killing of innocent Sikhs in a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. There’s the government-led and sectarian killings in Syria. And NASA just recently reported that nearly sixty percent of Greenland’s icepack melted in less than four days and that the disappearance of the polar ice caps is proceeding at a much faster rate than anyone predicted. So what is really going on and what has gone wrong? The answer: the predatory attitudes and solutions that helped us as a species to be so successful for the last one hundred thousand years are now out of date. It’s time to start thinking more like prey and less like predators.

Cave paintingsTo understand the differences between prey and predator there is simply no better place to turn than to the partnership between horses and humans. In fact, it is a magnificent paradox that the super—über—predator of the planet is able to team up with the stereotypical prey animal, the horse.

We succeeded as nomadic hunters working in packs or tribes. All hunting—from the Kalahari tribesmen to the alliances in a global conflict, or from spear fishing to commercial seine fishing—all depends on language. The ultimate expression of our evolution is our highly complex verbal abilities to communicate. Language became our forte. But with language becoming so predominant in our development, the left hemisphere of the brain (where language function is housed) also took over.

More with race carWe developed an internal voice—what neuroscientist Antonio Damasio called “the autobiographical self.” It separates us from the world around us because we must register our own internalized dialogue (i.e., “here's what I’m thinking”) as distinct from what is going on outside of ourselves (i.e.”here’s what I’m saying or here’s what I’m hearing”).

Another by-product of our success as predators is that we are very reward-driven in our behaviors. We want something. Chocolate. A raise. A sportscar. More energy. More consumption. More power. We developed an enormous anticipatory drive that is always searching for something else to satisfy its endless yearning. It’s the same reason we can get a dog to play “fetch” a hundred consecutives times or get him to jump even higher for an extra piece of hotdog. The dog is like us, he always wants something.

Now compare that with a prey animal like the horse. Almost no verbal output. Why? Because making noises helps predators locate where you are. So horses evolved a nonverbal language, one that is based on reading the energy in each other’s body language and posture. So a horse has to learn to listen and observe. A dominant horse stands differently, positions himself differently, than a timid one or a more junior horse. And then there’s the herd. Horses are constantly yearning for a herd. Even if it is only partnering with their owners, horses have to have a sense of belonging to a herd because it is what gives them a sense of security. They have a yearning to be together. A lone horse on the savanna, without its herd, was a dead horse. Finally, prey animals have a different reward system. They’re not interested in acquiring toys, burying bones, stockpiling cash, or hoarding hay. They live in the moment. If they have what they need right now, they are content. Their idea of heaven is to be left in peace, without threats, in the company of a few close herd mates and family. In other words, their notion of a reward is closer to what we might term tranquility. One last observation: ninety-five percent of the conflicts between one horse and another horse will end non-violently. Ninety-five percent of the conflicts between horses and human end in violence being perpetrated on the horse.

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