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Ram psychology

After weeks of warmish weather the temperature finally fell below freezing. In first week of December I plan to have five days of holiday - that would be a good time to butcher my lambs. After that I could release Pekka the Ram from his smaller separate pen and bring him together with the adult sheep. That should mean new lambs to be born the coming May.

Yesterday evening late I went to give hay to the sheep and lambs. When I got to their pen I suddenly felt somebody pressing against my feet, and pushing so hard that I had to take couple of steps to maintain my balance. I turned to look and saw Pekka the Ram. Somehow he had managed to escape his separate pen, and now he was looking for a way to get inside the bigger pen where the females live. Oh well. I went to investigate and soon found a place where Pekka's fence was broken. I managed to push him back into his pen, I quickly repaired the hole and hoped that Pekka would stay inside his pen for a week or two, until my planned holiday.

Today in the morning I found Pekka the Ram inside the bigger pen. He had managed to escape his pen, and apparently had been ramming one of the fence posts of the bigger pen, making the fence tilt so that he could climb over it. I decided to let him enjoy his victory... It just means that I have to butcher the lambs this Sunday when I have a free day. This is because Pekka is their father, and it might not be a good idea to let him make his own daughters pregnant.

Now when Pekka is with the sheep he shows very stereotypical macho ram behaviour. Whenever I approach the pen Pekka immediately rushes towards me, trying to scare me away. When I enter the pen to bring them hay Pekka does his best to keep me away from his women, always positioning himself in between me and them, sometimes forcefully pressing against me, trying to push me away. Sometimes kicking with his front legs, which is a sign of a challenge to fight. But I don't pick a fight with him, I just bring them hay and leave the pen. It is almost as if Pekka feels frustrated when there isn't a fight. As if he would feel more proud and more fully alive if he had to fight for his women, to physically defeat his rivals, to win a fight and to make the other males either to submit or to go away. But as there are no other rams around he treats me as a rival, asking for a physical fight.

Last year I saw Pekka fighting with one of his own sons. The young ram was already adult enough to understand what it means to fight for women. The females were in the bigger pen, Pekka and his son were in a smaller pen, challenging each other. They didn't have horns, but they just ran towards each other, jumping up and ramming each other in the mid-air. They did that so many times with such a force that finally the young ram dropped dead on instant... That taught me a lesson, and this year I arranged so that the male lambs went to my neighbours well before they turned to young adults.

For the past couple of years when I've been rearing sheep I've been thinking how much we humans share that kind of basic psychology. To me it seems that many of the same patterns are visible in humans, too. In the old times male rivals could fight lethal duels, in the post-war times it was accetable for men to have a fist-fight if they were interested in a same woman. And what about extreme nationalism, the way of treating immigrants as unwanted rivals, fearing that they come to steal our women and working places? Or, more generally speaking - if we can argue that for Pekka the ram it is natural to behave the way he does, then can't we just go on arguing that for humans it is also natural and acceptable to have those same traits? After all, we men have testicles too, and if the hormones make us feel and behave like rams, then what is wrong with that? And similarly, if the female sheep are happy to have the strongest male protecting them, so that they can mind their own businesses while the male is busy fighting the external threats, then why should human females be any different?

From that macho point of view, if men don't behave like rams and if women aren't like sheep then they are weak and submissive. Similarly, I've heard arguments saying that a certain amount of selfishness is natural for humans - if people aren't allowed to be selfish they become apathic and lazy, but if people are allowed to pursue for their private profits then that will automatically make the business bloom. Without a healthy dose of selfishness there is no progress, no advance, no growth, no spark and no power in the human effort.

But, honestly, I see no reason why it would be like that for humans too. I do understand that something of this indeed is written in our genes, but that just doesn't mean that there aren't other natural, plausible alternatives. I think I've said this before, but the mere fact that we are born with no ability to read and write doesn't mean that it is unnatural for us to be literate. Nor does it mean that being literate restricts basic human nature. Rather, in our genetic heritage there already is the ability to learn to speak, write and read. So, I also believe that in our biological nature there also is the ability to learn benevolence, peace, tolerance and universal co-operation based on deep empathy. It is just that these skills don't appear without guidance, support and learning - I believe it requires a process of personal emotional growth, just as learning to write and to do maths requires cognitive learning.

I understand that it would be of no use trying to restrict or over-control my biological basic traits of being a male. But I feel that the genetic biological basis offers me a lot of potential, different ways of growing and developing my personality and my emotional reactions. And I believe that in this modern world people are free to find and follow their own ways of being a male, a female, or something else. Which effectively leads to a culture where there aren't strict gender roles - yet at the same time everyone should ideally be free to find one's own inner strength, self-esteem, motivation and a sense of meaning of personal existence. The ram/sheep way of being a male/female is just one way among the many other possible ways, and I personally prefer a non-macho way as I dislike violence.

Oh well, once again it is 1 am, I should be already sleeping. Tomorrow I have three customers and some other work to be done. So, good night everybody!

Pekka the Ram guarding his harem
Pekka the Ram guarding his harem
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Just so, i have had both rams and ewes who imply hostile behaviour (to other sheep and to humans) and majority who do not. So it is with all the other beings in my farm also, and we all can learn to apply or not to apply our abilities.

As it comes to butchering: in my opinion, you can as well stick to your original plan and do the job next month. The ram has already mounted the ewes, and I do not think the embryos two weeks old do any practical or ethical difference. Our young ram escaped two years ago, and after about 20 minutes journey to the ewe pen we had 11 nonwanted lambing...

So, with your experience you are basically saying that personal traits of individual ewes and rams aren't completetely determined by their biological sex, but there is a lot of difference and variance?

I think that in our western tradition there has been quite a strong dualism between body and soul, consciousness and biology. To simplify, free will and ability to make decisions has been attributed to the soul, whereas genetic and biological stuff were seen as fixed and predetermined. Or something like that - to me it seems that the idea of a fixed "human nature" or "being a (fe)male" is haunting every here and there.

Sami's game, The UnReal World went donationware - anyone can download and play the game for free. And if people like to, they can voluntarily donate some money to Sami, to keep the development going on. Well, this sparked some discussion at the game forums, some people arguing that it is natural for humans to be a bit selfish, and that it is stupid to pay for something if you already got it for free. Well, I see the logic there, but I'm against the justification by "human nature". Of course we have some things determined by our biological and genetical heritage, but I simply fail to see that the biology would determine very detailed stuff in our emotional and cognitive structures. Experience and learning plays quite a big role too, and humans and other animals are surprisingly capable of learning and growing...

Similarly, I feel uneasy when some people argue that there are steict, clear, simple and fixed models of being a male or a female, and that it is unnatural, weak, stupid and immoral to break those models. To me it seems that those simplified gender roles are unnatural, mere abstractions built on over-simplified stereotypes.

So, I'm more than glad to hear that even the sheep show diverse personal traits, different ways of being a strong and capable male or a female. Ah, and personally I had already thought that Pekka the Ram is a macho - always willing to pick up a fight, and feeling frustrated when he doesn't have enemies to defeat - but, alas, today when I went to give hay to the sheep, Pekka just went peacefully with the others, looking at me in a curious but a peacefull way. It was as if he had already found out that I'm not going to steal his women, so he had deciced to accept my presence and enjoy the food I bring. Oh well, so I must admit that Pekka is getting old and wise - without compromising his self-esteem and masculinity he is willing to co-operate.

I took a break from URW and ended up here. Interesting read, thanks!

Thank you! It's been almost a year since I started this blog and it feels I'm beginning to find the way I like to write =)

We can't argue that it is indeed natural to defend our personal space/ hunting grounds and females. This is a trait that has been passed along for millions of generations. But that doesn't mean it's the optimal solution. For example, my instincts may tell me that I must father all of the next generation. Then if another male grazes my territory, eyeing my women, I must defend them. But, why not share? Why maintain this egotistical nature our instincts have forced upon us?
What we know about genetics tells us that genes with the most diversity yeilds the healthiest spawn. It's a way to avoid unhealthy genes and throw some fresh ones into the mix, instead of ending up with double sets of unhealthy ones. Would it really be so strange if our instincts weren't the most optimal solution? Selfishness is about to ruin our world! Obviously it's not a good trait, it was simply what we needed to get this far. I think the next step is to break away from our instincts. Start thinking about the repercussions on the world, before personal gain. How do you feel about our future? Could our problems be solved with good old instincts?

One possible line of thought: Let us assume our instincts tell us to aim for our personal survival and producing offspring. And then, during the evolution it has turned out that as a species we humans tend to survive better if we don't go alone but work together as groups. A group is more capable of feeding and defending itself and taking care of the kids. I guess we have a lot of group-related behavior pre-programmed in our genetics.
And faster than our biological evolution goes our advance in techology. This has suddenly brought us to a global world. We posses technology to destroy the whole globe over and over again, we are causing major pollution and emissions, we are clear-cutting forests and overfishing the seas, causing a serious threat to the whole global ecosystem. And cultures get mixed, peoples of different traditions and religions have to deal with each other in the world of global trade and power-politics. Our instincts don't provide us with ready solutions to handle this kind of situation.
But, I do believe that our instincts and biological genetics actually do offer us everything what is needed to grow, to learn, and to progress not only in technology but also in ethics and morals. For example, Europe used to be a vast battlefield of local warlords figthing each other - until bigger kingdoms were formed and slowly people began to feel that they don't belong only to their local group but that they all belong to a same nation. World War II Germany showed us the horrific effects how far people can go in their nationalistic sense of being "us" and treating "the others" as inferior... So, I guess the next thing we need is to feel that "us" means the whole globe, the whole biosphere. We need to learn to co-operate not only with the other people but also with the forests and oceans and everything.

And, I feel that we have insticts for that, too. It is just that those age-old instincts of benevolence and co-operation need some more support and nurture to grow and to prosper =)

I read a quote recently about how even though the competition goes back to the beginning for us, so does co-operation because we're eukaryotes and that all started with a mitochondria and a nucleus working together to do something neither could do alone. that doesn't mean that competition isn't there too, but both are together

I've been thinking about this lately. Let's tell a story;

At first babies don't know how to move around. Then. at some point they learn to crawl - and that is perfectly natural. Also, learning to stand and to walk is natural, we are genetically pre-programmed towards learning to walk. So, following the natural path we learn to walk, to run, to jump and leap and to dance.

But let us imagine a remote society where all the adults would just crawl around. A baby born in that society would see everybody crawling and no-one walking. Would a baby learn to walk? Or would (s)he just follow the example of the parents and others? I guess that the child would keep on crawling, too.

Then one or two adults in that society accidentally discover how to stand and how to walk. They try to tell it to the others, saying: "hey, look, this is far more effective, an easier and faster way to move around. You should try it too!". Some of the others try for a second, but fall down and get themselves hurt. They judge the whole walking business as un-natural and stupid hippie thing. "It is natural for humans to crawl, so let's just stick with it! If you try to restrict our freedom to crawl, our society would run into problems and everybody will get hurt!"

Oh well. There's nothing wrong with the argument "it is natural to crawl". It is only that it is equally natural to learn to stand and to walk...

Primitive morality served us well when we were still primitive tribes living in the wilds. But nowadays, as a humankind, our techonology is so advanced that if we want to survive we'd better follow our natural path of development in morality, too. To Learn more about natural benevolence and co-operation.


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