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[Essay]

Safety in Numbers

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I went to fetch some new chickens the other day. The birds were Rhode Island Reds, homely and reliable, and so meek that it took the breeder and me only a few minutes to get eight of them into the metal crate in the back of my station wagon. They huddled together at the center of the cage, craning their heads like a single many-headed creature scanning the horizon for predators. The jouncing of the car on the rocky driveway broke up the scrum, leaving each hen to fend for herself. Some tried to fly out the top of the cage, others threw themselves against its sides. I switched on the stereo to drown out the noise. But the Neville Brothers did better than that, calming the hens so that they settled onto the floor of the crate.

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is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and the author, most recently, of The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry.

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