Nature is often viewed as very “wild,” or unrestrained. In contrast, human civilization is often viewed as a place where there is order and predictability. People often imagine that when humans escaped the wilds for civilization, they left behind a chaotic environment where there were no rules, restraints, or laws—a place where plants and animals live in a state of virtual anarchy, doing whatever they please. After all, plants and animals have no government, and no laws, right?
It is true—they lack written laws and court systems. But are there really no guidelines for or restraints on the behavior of plants and animals? If we look closer, we will see that the wilds are not so crazy at all. Nature is often quite organized, and behavior of various creatures falls within bounds that are consistent on the whole. How can this happen? What is forcing or causing creatures to behave predictably and with restraint? Here we will look into how behavioral organization arises in nature.
The original root word of “government” is not in reference to a group of people telling others what to do; it is simply in regard to steering. Within this framework, “government” is discussed relative to this root concept of steering or guidance, rather than in reference to an occupational sector of people who make rules, or tell others how they should behave. Apparently, somehow, in some way, there is a type of steering government at work among wild creatures.
Have you ever seen a hawk perched along the side of a road, waiting for a mouse, rabbit, grasshopper, or other prey to pounce upon? It is a common behavior. Just what is it that prompts a hawk to do this? The fact that something is causing this fairly predictable behavior means that something isn’t random, and that some sort of government, some sort of behavioral steering is at work.
Not only is the hawk’s behavior somewhat predictable, but so is the mouse’s, the grasshopper’s, and the rabbit’s. The mouse will come out at certain hours to feed; it will eat certain seeds or plants; and it will try to hide from predators while it feeds. The rabbit will come out of hiding at certain hours, and like the mouse, will eat certain preferred plants and watch out for predators. The grasshopper will feed on grass, bask in the sun, seek out a mate, and jump when predators are near.
It’s not just the animals, either. Something is guiding the tree, and the grasses and flowers below. The tree will emerge from dormancy each spring, grow new leaves, and produce seed if it is able. The grasses will compete for light and nutrients as they spread their leaves in spring and summer, and they will try to set seeds before they get mowed. Wherever we look in nature, something is guiding how creatures behave, whether singly or in groups. It isn’t just a wild free-for-all, after all. The next four patterns address the nature of this behavioral guidance, or government.