Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mutual Operant Conditioning and Mimetic Desire

I felt a compelling desire to photograph the ducks for my blog...they, too, felt a compelling desire...

On a wondrous hot August morning commute, I noticed a group of adolescent ducks paddling in formation in the canal. Thinking of them as a hopeful sign of Autumn's approach, and as the third set born in this area this year, I felt a desire to pull my bike off to the side of the path to snap a few quick photos.

...they made directly for me as soon as they saw me stop, expectantly, and hauled out onto the bank...

Faster than my lightly caffeinated brain could grasp, though, the ducks acted on their own conditioned desire, implanted I assume through previous experience of quacking up on this bank and having someone feed them. My conditioned posting of photos to this blog conditioning a desire to pause to take the photos triggering a conditioned response in the ducks to haul out on the bank and waddle way too close...stemming from your desire to look at duck photos posted by a cyclist-blogger, stemming from...

Right about here I recognized a coordinated duck handout assault in progress...

Closer they approached, seemingly fearless, driven by hunger and strong conditioning...

...and when I didn't feed them, which was not my plan, they began pecking at my shoe. So I left.

Girard held that all desire is mediated, triangular, not of our own doing, but according to the other. Cyclist blogger with a camera, adolescent duck gang, blog readers. What do we effectively or truly desire, and why, and who is mediating and reflecting that with subtle and not so subtle cues (not queues, or is it) into action or being?

We watched Blackfish this week, and yes, it's certainly about the morality of the operant conditioning of large wild animals in captivity for profit, but isn't it also about the conditioning by profit of the owners, the conditioning of the audience by the thrill of the show, and the motivation of desire of all the humans in different roles and different perspectives by money, or other motivations, of other minds? In layers, in mutual reinforcing networks of mediation, motivation, scapegoating, desire, action, and cultural scaffolding? 

Pointing to a single connection in that vastness and saying there! that's it! seems a bit short-sighted. It may be proximate, but it's certainly not ultimate, or singular, or non-mediated, or innocent/guilty.

I don't think it's a good idea to feed ducks at the canal, lest they make a habit of doing rather stupid things like this. I wish the world were safe so that they could always act thusly without danger, but of course, the world is opposite of that. On the other hand, the pattern is already set in this crew. Nothing I do will make it worse, and perhaps I can make their lives, now, a bit better by taking some duck chow down there tomorrow morning and spreading it liberally. Their eager quacking conditioning me to repeat again, and again. Here, have a blog photo.

I do pray for that world where these gentle ones can quack without fear of cruel violence.


  1. Well, John, you simply must carry some food for the ducks in the future! LOL! Jim

    1. Yes, the duck chow producers should be reinforced in their behaviors, too.

  2. So cute!! I can't believe how close to you they got!

    Blackfish.... ooohhh that movie changed my whole reality.

    1. At first I was thinking it was a little crazy how fast they came up to me, and how close. Then when they started nibbling my shoes I wondered if someone was pranking me.

  3. Faster than my lightly caffeinated brain could grasp

    conclusion for my daily -why- questions, as narrataed by bicycle blogger expert with duck observations


    1. Slow cardboard brain was like waaaaaaaaaaa??!??! dux?!? but....guys!


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