We like to attribute human motivation to animal behaviour. This irritates me, even though I catch myself doing the same thing. When I’m out and about with my trusty collie, folk try to put words in her mouth. Smudge is clever, as dogs go, but she’s still a dog. It makes more sense to understand how the behaviour patterns of a pack carnivore are mediated to living with us. Learning a little about the way wild dogs hunt helps to explain how sheepdogs were domesticated and employed.
By contrast, how different our attitudes are when explaining human behaviour? Here, our vocabulary is entirely cerebral; our actions are thought through and considered; all decisions are rational. Animal instinct does not get a mention. How often do you hear someone say “We want children”? Any rational analysis will tell you that children are a huge drain on resources of time, money, freedom. Yet the desire for a family is presented as a well thought through decision, rather than an animal urge. If you kill a significant number of ants in a nest, the incumbents will launch an accelerated breeding programme to replace the lost members. If you interview the parents of the baby boomers after WWII, there will be little mention of restoring population after the carnage. Their individual decisions to breed will be justified on a personal basis, as though they were immune to the same animal instincts as ants.