Cannibalism: A cautionary tale

You can consider this post to be a cautionary tale, told in advance of things getting really, truly ugly. I hope you’ll read it carefully, take it seriously, and take it as the motivational tool it is intended to be.

When I was a teenager I had a small flock of chickens. After a year or so I gave them up and turned the birds over to my brother, who expanded the flock considerably. Eventually he grew quite a little business out of the endeavor. By the time he graduated high school he had something like 300 white leghorns out in the barn.

It would seem simple enough to raise chickens. There’s not much to it, really. Throw a little feed in the yard, provide clean water, and collect the eggs on a daily basis. Look at that — one, two, three and you’re a farmer. Then again, there’s the cannibalism to think about. Oh yes, I said cannibalism.

Even your average domesticated chicken is not a dainty creature. They can be fiercely independent and downright mean when the mood suits them. They can put up quite a fight, too. In fact, under the right circumstances a chicken will turn on another and peck it to death. In the melee other chickens may be shaken up, and before you know it a full-blown battle of the chickens is underway. Ten minutes after it starts you’re the owner of a flock of dead or badly wounded chickens. In the worst case scenario you may have only a few healthy hens left standing.

The exact circumstances that lead to this sort of wholesale slaughter are hotly debated within the chicken owner’s community, but the phenomenon is of interest to me as an adult because I see disturbingly familiar signs of it in the aviation community. We eat our own — to our mutual detriment.

I’d suggest we get a little perspective and find a way to restrain ourselves before we gut the industry we love as a result of our fervor to quiet those we don’t entirely agree with. Beating the other guy down to the dirt is not an indication that you are winning. Oh, no. Actually winning involves achieving a goal, expanding the market, improving safety, employing more people, gaining more political clout, or making it clear that aviation in all its forms is a serious contributor to the economy of the U.S. and the world.

The great sorrow of my time in the trenches as an advocate for aviation is the painful recognition that the nay-sayers, bomb throwers, and back biters often outnumber the few folks who are out there doing the heavy lifting.

For every one who tries to get a fly-in off the ground, or a new business established on the field, or a community involvement in aviation, there are two who throw up roadblocks designed to thwart their efforts. Those roadblocks generally aren’t put up to advance the cause, or ensure the safety of participants, either. More often they’re intended to stop a rival from taking a step forward, or making a dollar that someone wishes they’d been cut in on.

The theory is simple: If I’m not the leader of the parade, I’ll put a stop to the whole shebang. It’s petty, myopic, and disturbingly common.

We’ve got to stop beating ourselves up like this. Clearly, we’re not working together. That’s what politics is all about, ultimately, getting people to work together to achieve a common, mutually advantageous goal.

Certainly we can do that. We have the talent, we have the man power, we even have the financing. All we need is the will and some real leadership to guide us now and then.

This isn’t complex at all, really. Like the flock of chickens, we can live and work together productively — or we can cannibalize our community until the number of people who are willing to really get out there and push for a better, safer, more viable system find the risk outweighs the reward, and they just quit.

At that point the cannibals will be able to sit back and say with confidence, “See, I told you it wouldn’t work.” But then the industry will be on life support and our 100 year flirtation with a thriving general aviation industry will be on its last legs, gasping for breath. ??Somehow, I doubt that last dying chicken raises its head up out of the dirt, surveys the carnage, and says to its little chicken self, “There, I showed ’em who was boss.”

Whether it’s a chicken coop or a general aviation airport that was laid waste by the battle, who’s the winner in that deal? I sure can’t find one.


Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to You can reach him at


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