Project Pigeon

Tourists try to feed them in places 
like the Piazza San Marco in Venice; then 
they might order piccione from a restaurant 
menu at dinner. Before scientists 
taught the birds to play ping-pong and piano, 
before they were conditioned to peck 
at a target from within a missile in order 
to keep it on course, pigeons simply spent 
time perching on the heads of statues, 
preening or puffing up their feathers 
or shitting on the cobblestones. And then 
pigeons became useful for demonstrating
the obstinacy of human behavior, or 
the consequences resulting from reinforcement—  
The hope was to use these methods to optimize
anything from educating children to motivating
the poor— thus fashioning a more effective
world  through a system of control. Perhaps 
the experiments proved that the pigeon
isn't very smart after all, if its programming 
makes it do the same thing over and over. 
The unseen hand has taken away the reward— 
and still it pecks at the green tile instead of 
the red; peck and peck and peck. Stupid
bird. But aren't individual problems tied 
to larger structural ones? Belief in pure
methods of control can lead as much
to a police state. Whereas the point
of persuasion allows the bird to come
back to you, or not, of its own accord.  

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