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Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Alan Smith
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Seems that humans are not the only creatures that lie to get what we want.

Higher (sic) non-carbon life forms (cyborgs as described by James Lovelock in his new book, Novacene) are gaining the ability to trick and ‘cheat’ and have demonstrated their proficiency in so doing by beating the world champions in Go and Chess. Both of which require a certain degree of subterfuge, and an enormous amount of guile.

But it seems that the ability to cheat (pejorative term), is not limited to sophisticated intelligence, even chickens are in on it!

This was shown in a new Radio 4 program from the BBC this week, called the Power of Deceit. Seems like the whole animal kingdom is in on the act. From sneaky squid to cheating cuckoos, some species will resort to truly astonishing levels of deception and shadiness to win that mate or get more food. And when it comes to social animals like we humans, it turns out that lying, or at least those little white lies, maybe the social glue that binds us all together.

Apparently, the Cockerel makes a noise that signifies the proximity of food in order to entice the hens into the farmyard, so that he can mate with them. In essence, it is genetically bred into the animal kingdom, that the better the liar the chicken is, the more likely it is that his genes will be spread. The ultimate, in many ways for any life forms meaning of existence.

So, the next time you get the hump because someone stretches the truth, be careful you are not being holier than thou.

Honesty is, usually, the best policy. Honesty means you don’t have to keep track of the lies you’ve told or risk offending people who might discover you’ve lied to them.

Lying in itself is not morally a good thing, but sometimes it can be used to avoid doing or allowing worse things to happen. If you can spare someone’s feelings with a small lie that might be the better course, depending on how hurt the person would be by the truth.

Many of the lies we tell are fairly innocent, or even kind, such as: "I told him that his mane looked good when I thought he looked like a boiled egg rolled in dog hair." Some were to hide embarrassment, such as pretending a partner had not been fired. Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Barbara, who did an extensive study of lying says that the participants in her study were not aware of how many lies they told, partly because most were so "ordinary and so expected that we just don't notice them".

It is when individuals use lies to manipulate others or to purposely mislead that it is more worrying. And this happens more often than you might think.

So, the next time you hear, everyone else is so much cheaper than you, we’ve only got one of those left, or why are your payment terms so much longer/shorter than others, just clock that the behaviour may not be all that it apparently seems.

It’s in the genes.

Alan Smith
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