The Anxious Praire Dog

At one time I had a book on anxiety, a collection of different kinds of articles, semi-empirical on anxiety.  One, I remember, speculated on some kind of evolutionary connection between intelligence and anxiety.  The word, intelligence, as used in this context seemed to have less to do with intelligence as a thing penetrating the mysteries of the universe and more to do with military stuff.  The CIA for example is the central intelligence agency.  People who work in the organization, anxiousdogwhile not themselves necessarily intelligent, seek out intelligence.

Intelligence here would seem allied to a view of the world as engaged in conflict or as posing dangers, from another people, perhaps, or the elements, to one’s particular tribe and within that tribe to one’s self.  Intelligence, in this light, would seem integral to survival.  The more intelligence one might acquire of possible, potential looming disasters or attacks by known enemies, the more one might prepare to meet and greet these possible eventualities.

Anxiety appears—not as fear per se—but as a heightened awareness of possible things in the environment that one ought to fear or that might prove deserving of fear, depending upon one’s intelligence. In the tribe certain anxiety prone individuals might stand then as outposts or guards against threat from without.  Certainly, the best guard at night, the one least likely to doze off and thus pose a threat to the entire tribe, is the anxious fellow, the one a little jumpy even in what might appear to be “normal” non-threatening circumstances.

Such a fellow leans outward as it were, via the senses, into the environs.  He notices things that go bump in the night.  Over time, he might even notice patterns or signs that portend or seem to portend coming events.  The sound of a twig breaking in the dark makes him jump.  He is like that prairie dog seen on television, the one who sits high on top of a mound, constantly scanning the sky for signs of the hawk that might come swooping down at any second to carry off one of his kind. 

If the anxious scout gopher does gather intelligence on an incoming hawk, he lets out an alarm so that his fellow gophers may seek shelter or at least flatten themselves upon the ground. The behavior of this anxious gopher, by sitting so high up and out in the open himself, has been seen as a sign by some of the possibility of “altruistic” behavior in the animal kingdom.  Certainly this is not the case.  The anxious prairie dog seeks above all else to save his self and if others are also saved so be it.  The fact is the anxious prairie dog in light of his anxiety simply doesn’t trust anybody else to keep an eye out. 

The work of the anxious prairie dog is isolating because, anxious as he is, he knows threats may arise not only from without but also from within.

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