Thursday, February 1, 2024

Ravens, Conservatism, and Neophobia

Coming to the realization that I am conservative hasn't been easy.  

Conservatism, after all, was always something culturally associated with oppression and reactionary tendencies.  Conservatism is fusty and drab and dull.  It's not young and vibrant and wild.

Then again, neither am I now.

But I feel like I must be the same person, because how could I not be?  I still harbor many of the same thoughts about life that I did when I was less creaky and wrinkled.  All of the things that delighted me or offended me when I was young still generate the same reaction.  How can I still think as I did when I was filled with life's running sap, and not be progressive?  

Yet I am not, as my wife and offspring so often remind me.

As I think about it, I suppose I have always been conservative.  Like, say, my spirit animal.  

I have, for years, felt the strongest affinity for the common raven, whose winged form ascendant adorns the battle flag of my Scottish ancestors.  Ravens are the largest of the songbirds, notable for their unusual intelligence, complex vocalizations, problem-solving ability, and tentative sociality.  Unlike their cousins the common crows, ravens are only quasi-social.  They form lifelong pairs, and move in small family groupings, but they don't gather in large murders, mobs, or hordes, as crows do.  They prefer to be alone, or together with only a few trusted intimates.  Groups of ravens are called "conspiracies," because they're just that kind of bird.  They croak and whirr at one another under their breath, and they often seem to be up to something.  They are creatures of deep woods and shadow, of deserts and great empty places.

Ravens, as I discovered the other day, are also what ornithologists call "neophobic."  Meaning: they don't really trust new things.  They're curious, resourceful, and adaptable, but if something arrives in their forest that is incongruous or unexpected, they steer clear of it, the brightest of the birds...they know that new things require wariness.  Newness means possible trouble, and requires caution.  Sure, it might smell good, but why is it there?  Sure, it might be shiny, but what does that mean? 

It's an evolved behavior, but it's also a learned behavior of a corvid whose brain to body ratio is similar to our own.  

Ravens, in other words, are conservative in the way that I am conservative.  Or so I'd like to think.