A bear, a crow and a coyote come into a bar. There’s an otter behind the bar serving drinks to a wolf. Bear orders a glass of Omega 3 oil, breaks the glass and licks it off the counter. A crow orders a glass of water, but starts pecking and splashing it around, earning an angry roar from the bear. Coyote snivels in the corner and receives a bowl of meat scraps, hiding away from the bear and wolf who smell the grub. The evening continues without incident, occasional roars, wuffs and squeals interrupting otherwise calm night in otter’s bar. Then the bear, the crow and the coyote get up to leave. The wolf looks after them and leaves with them reluctantly. The otter turns off the jukebox and the lights and leaves after the newly formed pack. All go out into the night, wandering the shadows together for safety.
This, dear reader, is the example of totem animal theory, popularised (but by no means invented) by John Maynard Keynes in his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. He argued that participants in the market can be defined by their “spirit animal” that describes their spending and investment habits. Naturally, this theory also extended to social issues like leadership, familial role and more. It can also be observed to an obvious degree in social interactions between friends and the way groups, or in this case – packs, are formed.
Very few things amuse me more than to sit outside in the coffee shop with a cool drink in front of me, observing social interactions at play. It’s especially interesting to observe groups of people, who is in what kind of relationship, who want more of someone else and who is the natural alpha leader and who is the natural omega. More importantly, when said alpha gets challenged, competition ensues and a new victor for the moment emerges, taking over the pack for a day or two, until the next challenge. Fascinating! Especially given the fact that all of it happens verbally, since as a society we did away with duels to the death or otherwise violent ways of settling disputes of leadership, all strife happens in conversation, rarely even any shouting, but rather volleys of passively aggressive darts and sleight of tongue ricochets that by popular approval of the group determine the winner.
Now you may say, dear reader, that alphas are a strictly male way showing machoism, but believe me when I say that women engage in the very same power plays among themselves too, as the position of alpha matriarch is equally important. Even more so when the group is mixed. I know you might be wondering why we started with animals and came to the alphas and omegas, but the “spirit animal” often determines the ferocity with which the position in the group will be fought AND can also influence the type of pack the individual will join. A docile animal will likely choose less competitive pack as opposed to a predator that thrives on competition.
There are many variations and possibilities with this theory and as winter ends and spring rolls in, people tend to come out of their winter slumber and show their colours. Of course, there are places where this animalistic hierarchy stays unaffected by season, like offices, schools and general large congregations. Yet heat of the sun brings forth something more tangible that can be observed with naked eye. It’s interesting and worth knowing for your own sake. How often do you ask yourself, dear reader, what “spirit animal” represents you and where do you fit in the hierarchy?
Picture credit: unknown author and name, but retrieved from Gooi en Vecht Historisch