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Give a Pigeon a Bad Name

PigeonMy town square has pigeons. They can be a nuisance: it’s in their DNA. The promise of crumbs from al fresco diners is too much for them to resist. If they do, it’s only because last night’s fast food leftovers deliver a feeding frenzy that is full fat and addictive, in a way that the subsistence peckings of pavement nouvelle cuisine are not. There’s nothing unique to add to this scene. It’s a familiar one in any town.

I was sitting with a cappuccino outside the local library as pigeons frothed around my ankles, combining the relentless optimism of cold callers with the persistence of a gentleman’s excuse me, soundtracked by Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping. An agitated member from a group of five youths strutted across the square like a cock pigeon scorned aiming indiscriminate kicks. I asked if this was really necessary and took another form of abuse: “What’s the problem… they’re only fuckin’ rats wiv wings!” His four friends laughed as the easily-impressed do. This is also depressingly familiar.

At Your Convenience…

Beyond the knee jerk animal cruelty that is routinely employed to make someone very small feel fleetingly significant, there are more malevolent forces at work. From the received wisdom of popular psychology I identified a future serial killer, then killed the thought stone dead. This group of five were simply a pin head extension of these forces; the foot soldiers, the mercenaries… forces made explicit in a way that seldom inspires anything other than grim resignation from witnesses; along with the urge to avoid getting involved that bolsters their sense of acceptable behaviour. Hand wringing in private or whispered condemnation is as far as it goes… they’re only pigeons after all; they deserve it – don’t they? It’s as if no one wants to dig too deep for fear of what they might have to confront in themselves, as much as any fear of physical intimidation.

“Life – sorry Forrest – is like a Russian doll… inside each example is another, and another, and another…”

It’s difficult for animals regardless of whether times are hard or not. When the going gets tough their tough life increases exponentially – far better than confronting our own problems and inadequacies. It’s not enough to dismiss this simply as a subset of human nature, especially when the longevity of this behaviour suggests the nurture of history. The self-justifications are many and smear their blight indiscriminately down the ages. The accusations build like pigeon droppings on a monument: they bring dirt and disease; collective menace from sheer force of numbers: their existence is an affront to our decent, civilised way of life. Or, they are just taking up space and undeserved resources; not to mention the plain nuisance value of just always being there – it’s a sub-clause from a bigot’s charter by any other name.

May the Force Forgive You…

The pigeon’s behaviour isn’t much different to that of a crow, a magpie, a seagull, a rat, a fox – or anything else that ekes a living on the margins of our economy from the nourishment of road kill, human waste and litter. Or, that of any other species effectively built, poisoned, or intensively farmed out of its own environment; that try our patience and disconnect from the natural world by the temerity of trying to survive no matter the hand they are dealt. We bring it on our selves…

Politics, the systems we live by: our behaviour, our responsibilities: these barely merit a mention in any debate. It’s all as black and white as a magpie. What is key is their success through adaptability: in contrast to our well developed inability to get through a day without a handy takeaway, alternatives to walking and a functioning mobile signal. If you need an excuse to go deep; the pigeon is part of a chain: it’s there for a reason, from a process, scientific happenstance, or a creator with a bigger plan than we have – or can possibly know.

Smoke and Mirrors…

It’s one of life’s mysteries – scarcely noir, more irredeemably black – concerning the – who, what, when, where and why of these furtive decisions on social pariah status. How did the pigeon become allocated to life’s perennial shit pile? Who conspires; or is the moral arbiter of what goes in the out tray – the Room 101 with serious consequences; of what is considered mildly unacceptable, or receives the full thumbs down wrath of indiscriminate cruelty? Why are foxes any craftier than a domestic dog? Why are pigeons intrinsically dirtier than a dove? Context, scavenging and habit aside… where are the smoke-filled rooms where these cold, calculated collations are cooked up to provide a recipe for posterity, folk tale, novel, film, playground and public policy? Or is it foolish to even attempt to use metaphors of order to explain an evolution hazy from the human stew of history, prejudice, brain chemistry and experience?

“What’s the problem… they’re only fuckin’ rats wiv wings!”

Is it in the same room – or is there another adjacent – where this branding is applied to human targets with the same disregard for resulting actions? Are these human curses and stigma the result of financial imperative, narrow self-interest, control, or a plain old streak of sadism? Whatever justifies cruelty to a pigeon is, in the same blink of an eye, an inbred relative capable of painting all Roma as crooks, immigrants as benefit scroungers and Northeners as uncultured pie-eaters – feral is as feral does. There are some more practical tools of the trade; the explicit machinery, whereby those with money and power push their own agendas in politics, the media and employment relations for economic gain, divide and rule; or because, from their exalted position in the world – they can.

When You’re Weary, Feelin’ Small…

Next time you have a bad day, feel small, take up the dark baton of human history – or whatever excuse you’re going to use when you face the mirror in the morning – and feel the urge to kick something when it’s down, remember it propagates more of the same. And, that there is often a bigger foot intent on something much more sinister, that has been threatening your backside from the day you were born.

Life – sorry Forrest – is like a Russian doll… inside each example is another, and another, and another: behind every carelessly aimed, malevolent kick there is one from the same self-perpetuating mould stretching deep back into the murky past. Which for a human being – as for a pigeon – is nothing whatsoever to coo about.

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