Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Yesterday, I ran the second strand of electric wire around my poultry pasture, this one hugging the grass at four inches above the ground. (Let me just say that getting a wire installed at that height across uneven ground and conceding a bit of altitude to gravity is no easy feat.) Once I’d completed the installation, I turned the charger back on and let the birds free.

In the past, I have described chickens as stupid, a conclusion I’ll stand by, but in the case of the electric fence, these birds aren’t fool. I’ve watched people walk into and trip over a wire they knew to be there, but my Buffs didn’t need to be shocked twice. After establishing that the wire did bad things to combs and legs, the flock grazed contentedly within its enclosure.

Robert Frost famously questions the value of fences, but I don’t question them. With that wire charged, I didn’t worry about my birds last night. Most predators would receive one jolt from those wires and decide to dine elsewhere.

I’m wondering if there isn’t a wisdom in animal behavior that evades the cognitively superior human being. For the most part, domesticated animals respect fences. It doesn’t take multiple encounters with electric shocks or barbed wire to convince the average cow, horse, or pig that staying within the enclosure is superior to fighting through it. Similarly, predators can often be deterred by good fencing. If we make the barrier sufficiently difficult or painful to pass, most animals will seek their fortune elsewhere most of the time.

Why is it, then, that, faced with fences designed to keep us away from harm, humans will do the equivalent of Steve McQueen jumping his motorcycle into multiple strands of razor wire toward the end of The Great Escape? We invent complicated rationales for why doing wrong is really doing right, circumventing God’s fencing, only to find it necessary to redefine the unpleasantness on the other side as something that’s not truly so bad.

Case in point: if humans did not expend so much effort scaling the fence defining sexual morality, we wouldn’t find ourselves needing to redefine abortion as a choice or studying ways to continue sexual activity despite having diseases.

My chicken fence was erected for a benevolent reason. It’s there to protect my birds and keep them out of trouble. God’s commandments are designed to work the same way. But the grass does seem to be greener, doesn’t it?