Dr. Marc Bekoff in a recent article …..
…… claims that if one doesn’t believe in dominance as an organizing principle in canine social life then they are therefore “deniers.” (BTW Lee Charles Kelley offers some excellent rebuttals in the comment section. I wonder if they will be addressed.) Meanwhile in the article Bekoff says that denying the existence of dominance is like denying the existence of gravity. However he has it backwards and in fact is unaware of just how profoundly gravity (not to mention the principles of thermodynamics and the laws of motion) are the basis of animal behavior.
Now the image above would probably qualify for most as a prototypical display of dominance and submission, and interactions such as these are why most people, layman and expert alike, find the idea of dominance substantiated in nature. And let me be clear, there is such a thing as dominance in human beings who can indeed conceptualize about rank and scarcity of resources. So for example a prison community or an absolute dictatorship would be about the purest expression of a dominance hierarchy that I can think of, and we can see that this type of social structure is the most dysfunctional kind of system individuals can operate under. Lee Kelley offers some research in his comments that back this up. And elsewhere the science of collective behavior clearly demonstrates that complexity is simple, not complicated. Social structures are self-organizing systems, sans a leader.
So then whats is going on in between these two wolves? In my view, each wolf is stimulated by the other and therefore because they are stimulated, they MUST move. And in order to move one MUST shift their weight. And when shifting one’s weight, one must project to a forward point that defines a new state of equilibrium. This is true whether one just wants to travel from point A to point B, or if one wants to engage with another living being that is the stimulus compelling the individual to move. In other words, the individual must reacquire a state of equilibrium by occupying with their body, the point around which the other body is configured. So each wolf represents the new point of equilibrium that the other must achieve. So why is one UP and the other DOWN? Because one’s anatomy is one’s destiny. To move well, one must move as a wave. A wave is how a bilaterally symmetrical anatomy moves well. This is a principle of physics, and physics, the anatomical construction of the organism so that it can move in deference to gravity, is the basis of behavior, not psychology. In other words the only way they can both occupy that point that each represents to the other, is to manifest complementary phases of the locomotive rhythm, the physics of moving well as discovered by Adrian Bejan in “Design In Nature.”
In the picture above, one individual is projecting force—the projecting phase of locomotion, and the other is absorbing force– the collecting phase of locomotion. They are literally reconfiguring their bodies so as to occupy a common point between them. Each one becomes the state of equilibrium to the other. They become the emotional ground to the other. (Furthermore I believe that mirror neurons are instrumental in how an individual maps its locomotive rhythm onto the form of another.)
Why would this be adaptive? Because if two individuals can combine their locomotive rhythms as their new definition of equilibrium, then they can “wave-couple” and this then allows them to combine their collective energies and thereby do more work. On a low level of expression this allows a hawk to ride a thermal. A higher order of magnitude is geese migrating in formation. And in canine societies doing more work means working together in order to overcome an even greater object of resistance, i.e. a large, dangerous prey animal. If they can project their combined force on a prey animal, they can compel it to move. And if it moves they can harass, harry, wound and ultimately bring it to ground and thereby occupy the point around which its body is symmetrically configured. This is how wolves make their living and allow their young a prolonged and prosocial style upbringing. It’s a hierarchal flow system, not a dominance hierarchy.
This is the only interpretation of behavior that doesn’t deny the existence and overwhelming influence of gravity on the mind of the animal. Any other interpretation is inserting human thoughts into the animal’s mind. If one believes in dominance, then they indeed they will see it. As one astute observer put it (thanks Melissa) “Your dogma is your mirror.”