Out in the mangroves it's normal to see mixed flocks feeding together in areas of open water 2-4 inches deep. A normal flock of about 20 birds may be half Snowy Egrets, 1/3 White Ibises, with a sprinkling of Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets and maybe a Willet or two. Feeding in a group like this seems to scare up more fish for everyone, plus there are more eyes to scan for enemies.

After you watch such a flock awhile you see that each species has its own strategy and personality. Often the flock I've been watching more or less follows the White Ibises who systematically probe the mud with their long, curved beaks, more interested in worms and other mud dwellers than fish. Snowy Egrets appear to follow the ibises stabbing at fish the ibises scare up, frequently getting into noisy fights with one another, and sometimes trying to rob an ibis of its catch. The other heron and egret species stay on the fringes and are less engaged with the group.

Then a Common Black Hawk comes YEEP YEEP YEEPing, lands on a snag amidst the mixed flock and everyone flies away, the ibises looking over their shoulders in absolute disgust.

In other words, such a flock of birds shows structural elements similar to that of a typical human society. Most people I know resemble the no-nonsense, work-a-day, nose-in-the-mud ibises, or else the boisterous, redneck Snowy Egrets, or the timid little Willet or maybe the philosophical outsider, the hesitant Little Blue Heron, and then there's always the loud, obnoxious one who rampages into town upsetting everyone by insisting on having things his own way, like the Common Black Hawk.

However, one great difference between a flock of birds and human society is that a White Ibis is stuck with his living strategy for his whole life, while a human can change. A human has the potential to learn from mistakes and to consciously change his or her assumptions about life as more and more information and experience is acquired, and to change his or her behavior accordingly.

Yet, it seems to me that most people don't like to change at all. They may talk about wanting to change but what they really want is to keep securely to their daily routines, to not rock the boat and not take chances, not be different from everyone else, just behave acceptably and do what's expected of them. This, even when it's clear that our society's distinguishing living strategy -- that of being consumption-based and depending on continual growth -- is unsustainable, and threatens Life on Earth.

So, there I am sitting in the mangroves watching egrets, herons and ibises, wondering what will happen to all the exquisitely adapted plants and animals around me as global warming manifests itself, pollution keeps getting worse, as more and more people cut more and more firewood from the surrounding scrub, and overfishing continues until basically the sea around us is fished-out. What will happen as these long established -- one could say traditional -- unsustainable behaviors continue, as most humans choose to keep doing what they've always done?

And I just wonder: Where did the loony idea come from that somehow it's more family-oriented and God-fearing to behave traditionally and unquestioningly of commonly accepted values -- to reject the Creator's gift to humans of being able to think and to change? Why do most people choose to live the lives they were born into, exactly as egrets, herons and ibises? .