Rewilding Humans by Jason Godesky

In recent years, it has become fashionable to suggest that our various plant and animal domesticates actually domesticated themselves (e.g., Budiansky, 1999), or even domesticated us (Pollan, 2002). As some of the market material for Pollan’s Botany of Desire puts it, his book “shows how each plant has evolved to gratify human desires and thus has enticed us to help them multiply. Just who, he asks, is domesticating whom?” Such arguments invariably make the case that domestication is simply a question of co-evolution, and that as much as humans have used plants and animals, those plants and animals have equally used us, or even moreso, to proliferate across the globe. This is true, up to a point, but it obscures much more than it reveals. To say that domestication is a relationship is true, but in a trivial sense; it illustrates only the wide variety of relationships that are possible.

Every species on the planet, including Homo sapiens, evolved in a web of mutual relationship: each species literally created by the whole living world around it. Those relationships are innumerable: predator and prey, symbiont and host, competitors, allies, and every other kind of relationship. A squirrel lives in an oak tree; the oak tree provides shelter and food, and the squirrel spreads the oak’s seeds in its various acorn caches, some of which are inevitably forgotten or unused and left to grow into new oak trees. Plants flower to attract insects, which spread their pollen from flower to flower and help the plants reproduce. No species evolves in a vacuum.

Not even humans. The prevalent notion that humanity is uniquely separated from this web of relationship is a carefully cultivated form of ignorance. Even our bodies’ ecology is largely not our own. Only 1 in 10 of the cells in your body are human; the rest are microbes, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and even archaea, the very oldest forms of life on the planet. Very few make us ill. Most are innocuous, while others are essential. Most of them live in our gut, and without them, we would not be able to digest our food. Others have been co-opted into our immune systems, and without them, we would die from even the most trivial diseases. The human body, like all other animal bodies, is less a cohesive whole than a living ecosystem. The formation of a human being out of interaction with a more-than-human world does not end there, though: crows and ravens, for example, have influenced human cultures and languages (Marzluff & Angell, 2005).

Or consider the clearest case of human co-evolution, that of “man’s best friend,” the wolf. While most of the order primates exhibit strongly hierarchical societies, humans and chimpanzees act in a much more egalitarian manner (chimpanzees have often been considered hierarchical, but this is largely due to a major error in Jane Goodall’s research method; see “Goodall’s Bananas“). Wolves, on the other hand, became the dominant predators on the planet precisely because of their egalitarian pack structure (Schledit & Shalter, 2003) (wolves, too, have been supposed to be strictly hierarchical, but this again is due to a major methodological error in observing only captive wolf packs; see “Alpha Dogs, Wolf Packs & the Wandering Free Families“). It has been argued (quite convincingly) that the egalitarian streak that defines so much of what makes Homo sapiens a unique species may have been largely learned from our canid co-evolution.

The human-wolf relationship strikes even deeper, though. Wolves benefitted from association with hunter-gatherer humans, serving as hunting companions and extending the egalitarian pack structure to include non-canid hominids. Humans, meanwhile, looked to wolves for a whole host of reasons, including an extended set of senses.

“Dogs acted as humans’ alarm systems, trackers and hunting aids, garbage disposal facilities, hot-water bottles and children’s guardians and playmates. Humans provided dogs with food and security. This symbiotic relationship was stable over 100,000 years and intensified in the Holocene [Period] into mutual domestication,” said Dr Groves. “Humans domesticated dogs and dogs domesticated humans.” (Simonds, 1998)

Here again we see this common theme, but notice that even here there is an acknowledgement of an “intensification” in the Holocene, and it is only after that that we can consider it “domestication.” Earlier co-evolution muddies the question of dog domestication, pushing it into a period of time where the very term begins to become somewhat absurd.

Even the term domestication has the wrong ring, since the meeting of wolves and modern humans predates, by far, anything that could be considered a human habitation in the form of a domus (Latin for house). Canids’ use of dens dates back further. Consequently, instead of domestication, we should talk about “cubilication” (cubile, Latin for den) … and wonder who cubilicated whom. (Schleidt & Shalter, 2003)

Certainly, as mentioned before, the relationship between wolves and humans took a dramatic change in the Holocene. The academic discussion of domestication often involves terms that serve to white-wash its effects, such as “neoteny.” Neoteny is defined as the retention of juvenile characteristics in adult animals, and it does occur in the animal kingdom naturally, where it offers an ecological advantage. But neoteny is also a trait almost universally found in domesticated animals. It is selected for by human breeders to create greater docility. Such is the normal terminology, which makes the process seem benign enough. But if we strip away the white-wash, then we can also say that domestication was a eugenics program to warp animal bodies, to retard their growth, and to trap them in ever more childlike bodies. Wild wolf cubs wag their tails and bark often, but they outgrow this behavior as they grow older into mature adults. Any dog owner can recognize the “neoteny” in that comparison. A dog is an eternal cub, incapable of ever fully growing up. A dog’s floppy ears are another neotenous trait. Particularly in behavior, such neoteny has been observed in wolves—but only among captive wolf packs, as signs of abject submission, where the normal egalitarianism of the wild pack is replaced with patterns of hierarchy and constant struggles for dominance. To strip away the academic white-wash, the behavior of the domesticated dog reveals a life of groveling submission. The least neotenous breed of dog, the basenji, is bred in Africa as a hunting companion—as an equal, “neither needing nor appreciating a great deal of human attention or nurturing,” as Wikipedia puts it.

While the early stages of dog domestication were marked by a genuine co-evolution, wolves remained “wild” allies and companions of Homo sapiens until the last stages, well into the Holocene, when humans effectively betrayed that relationship and domesticated them. This reveals the fundamental nature of the domesticated relationship, and why the more contemporary theories of mutual domestication ring so hollow. Domestication is a fundamental transformation of a relationship between humans and other animals, from one of mutual trust in which the environment is shared, to one of total human control and domination (Ingold, 1994). After the betrayal of “man’s best friend,” domestication began in earnest, and distinct patterns emerged.

That the domestication of dogs came first makes sense; if we were to try to compare these events to relationships between people rather than species, we might think of a man who falls in love with a woman, marries her, and after several years of happy marriage decides to violently rape her. He finds he enjoys the experience, and begins to rape other women, as well. If we were to say that this is still copulation just like before, that would be trivially true, just as it is trivially true to equate domestication with co-evolution, but that statement obscures far more than it reveals. It would be far more significant to point out how the relationship changes—how a relationship of mutual trust in a shared environment is violently overturned and replaced with patterns of domination.

Decreases in brain size in domesticated mammals

Cephalization, Wild Decrease in Brain Weight Neocorticalization, Wild Decrease in Cortex Volume
From Wolf Herre & Manfred Rohrs, “Animals in Captivity,” Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals
Mouse 87 0.0 - -
Rat 100 -8.1 100 -12.3
Guinea Pig 177 -13.4 195 -
Rabbit 184 -13.0 168 -
Pig 394 -33.6 365 -37.0
Sheep 435 -23.9 449 -26.2
Llama/Alpaca 496 -17.6 478 -22.9
Ferret 208 -28.6 270 -31.6
Cat 420 -24.0 513 -
Dog 451 -28.8 528 -30.7

Domestication entailed both biological and behavioral changes. At first, domestication of any species of mammal is almost always accompanied by a dramatic reduction in body size; this is so generally true that it is used as the main indicator that domestication has occured. Only later are animals bred for extreme sizes, either larger or smaller. But there is one part of a domesticated animal’s body that becomes significantly smaller, and never recovers: the brain. Horse brains decreased in size 16% following domestication; pigs, 34%; dogs, between 30% and 10% (Simonds, 1998). Domestication selects for stupidity alongside tameness, and brings with it a toll on intellect that can never be recovered.

In nearly all species of domestic mammals, in which it has been measured, it has been found that the brain is smaller in size relative to the size of the body than it is in the wild progenitor. In Domestication: The Decline of Environmental Appreciation (1990), Hemmer discussed how brain size differs in geographically separate species of wild mammals, for example wolves and wild cats, and he believes that the domestic form is descended from the wild subspecies with the smallest cranial capacity. For the dog this is the wolf from western Asia, while for the domestic cat it is the wild cat from north-east Africa and western Asia. This fits with the archaeological evidence for the earliest finds of domestic cat, and for dogs from around 14,000 years ago.

Furthermore, it is a remarkable fact that the decrease in brain size, measured as the cranial capacity, remains small even in populations of feral mammals. According to Hemmer (1990), the dingo which has lived in feral populations for thousands of years has a brain size that is much smaller than all the subspecies of wolves and is similar to that of European domestic dogs. In another study of cranial capacities, “Feral Mammals of the Mediterranean Islands: Documents of Early Domestication” from The Walking Larder: Patterns of Domestication, Pastoralism, and Predation (J. Clutton-Brock, ed.) (1989), Colin Groves showed that the brains of domestic breeds of sheep are much reduced in size relative to those of all species of wild sheep and the brain of the European mouflon (which is an anciently feral breed originating from Corsica and Sardinia) is also reduced. (Clutton-Brock, 1991)

The process of domestication is not always entirely irreversible, though; animals go feral, or “rewild,” and begin to recover some of the things they lost in domestication. But the process is rarely complete; some stunting from the domesticated experience is simply not reversible.

Domestication causes an imbalance and disruption in the rate of growth of different parts of the organism, resulting in morphological proportions in the adult animal that differ from those of its wild counterpart. The mechanism of how this happens is not well understood but it is likely to be due to stress and to hormonal changes as a result of the animal’s emotional and physical dependence on humans. Domesticated animals that return to living in the wild, that is they become feral, will usually revert by natural selection to a physical form that is closer to the wild species as a consequence of the loss of this dependence. … The present-day feral pigs of Australia or North America are good examples of populations of animals that after a relatively short period conformed to a uniform type more closely resembling the wild boar than their highly domesticated antecedents. (Clutton-Brock, 1991)

In the process of domesticating other species, humans from some cultures began to exhibit some of the same signs of domestication shown in other species, including reduced body size.

One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5’ 9″ for men, 5’ 5″ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5’ 3″ for men, 5’ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors. (Diamond, 1987)

Perhaps even more alarmingly, humans have also followed the trend for brain size. In the last 10,000 years, human cranial capacity has decreased by at least 8% (Ruff, et al., 1997). Researchers have been very quick to point out that brain size does not necessarily indicate intelligence (though they are strongly correlated), so this reduction does not necessarily mean that human intelligence has suffered the same blow from primitive to civilized as we can observe from dogs to wolves. Others have connected the loss of brain size to the aforementioned co-evolution with wolves (Simonds, 1998), but this theory seems contradicted by the timeline: most of the loss of brain size has occured only in the most recent fraction of the time of human-canid co-evolution. Specifically, it has occured over precisely the same fraction during which that co-evolution turned into domestication. The biological evidence is clearly consistent with a scenario of domestication, but do we dare follow the implications that holds for what has happened to human intelligence, much less human dignity?

Humans from domesticated cultures also show the same neotenous behaviors so often found in other domesticated animals. Mammals are defined by their mothers’ mammary glands, which produce milk for offspring. A thin layer in the small intestine produces lactase, an enzyme that breaks down the lactose in milk. Normally, this thin layer breaks down as a mammal matures, and the body stops producing lactase. “Lactose intolerance” is the normal condition for all adult mammals, including humans; it is lactose tolerance that is abnormal. The mutation that made a thicker layer that did not break down and allowed for the consumption of milk into adulthood appeared in the Middle East and Scandinavia, apparently independently, and spread from there. It is a juvenile characteristic now evident in many humans, the very definition of neoteny.

Humans have been domesticated. It has changed our biology (Leach, 2003) and our behavior. Domestication up-ended the normal pattern of life: the web of relationship in which each species contributed a unique element. Instead, domestication replaced that with a pattern of dominance, wherein other plants and animals could be twisted to fit human desires and used as property at will. But in so doing, humans created a system of relationship that could just as easily extend to them; humans became domesticated, human bodies became twisted, and human behavior became pathological (Russell, 2002).

Those who argue for “co-domestication” are correct that in terms of sheer numbers, domestication has been a success for many species. Domesticated dogs proliferate, while wild wolves are in jeopardy, for instance. By the same token, there are over 6 billion domesticated humans in the world today, while wild humans are now endangered. Is this an evolutionary advantage? In the short term, that could perhaps be argued, but it is certainly not a long-term, viable strategy. It is, in fact, a case of ecological overshoot.

Such cases are not uncommon. The case of the reindeer of St. Matthew’s Island is a common illustration. During the Second World War, the United States Coast Guard arranged for 29 reindeer to be barged to the island from Nunivak, to serve as an emergency food supply for a small base there. When the war ended a few months later and the base was shut down, the reindeer found themselves in a marvelous situation: a nearly uninhabited island with no predators whatsoever, and thick beds of lichen for food. By 1957, the island’s reindeer population had boomed to 1,350—forty-six times the number originally introduced to the island just 13 years before (about one generation for reindeer). By 1963, the herd had reached a size of 6,000—47 for every square mile of the small island. When they returned again in 1966, the herd had dropped to 42: 41 females, no fawns, and only one male, with abnormal antlers and apparently incapable of reproducing. By the 1980s, the St. Matthews reindeer herd had died out (Klein, 1987). Another example of overshoot can be seen in an algae bloom.

Detritus ecosystems are not uncommon. When nutrients from decaying autumn leaves on land are carried by runoff from melting snows into a pond, their consumption by algae in the pond may be checked until springtime by the low winter temperatures that keep the algae from growing. When warm weather arrives, the inflow of nutrients may already be largely complete for the year. The algal population, unable to plan ahead, explodes in the halcyon days of spring in an irruption or bloom that soon exhausts the finite legacy of sustenance materials. This algal Age of Exuberance lasts only a few weeks. Long before the seasonal cycle can bring in more detritus, there is a massive die-off of these innocently incautious and exuberant organisms. Their “age of overpopulation” is very brief, and its sequel is swift and inescapable. (Catton, 1982)

A case of ecological overshoot does not translate into evolutionary success, and that is precisely the situation that domestication has created. By replacing mutual relationship with systems of domination, the domesticated world is a small, inbred place lacking in diversity. Jared Diamond (1999), for example, specified six criteria that animals needed to meet in order to be properly domesticated:

  1. Flexible diet — Creatures that are willing to consume a wide variety of food sources and can live off lower trophic levels (such as corn or wheat) are less expensive to keep in captivity. Most carnivores can only be fed meat, which requires the expenditure of many herbivores.
  2. Reasonably fast growth rate — Fast maturity rate compared to the human life span allows breeding intervention and makes the animal useful within an acceptable duration of caretaking. Large animals such as elephants require many years before they reach a useful size.
  3. Ability to be bred in captivity — Creatures that are reluctant to breed when kept in captivity do not produce useful offspring, and instead are limited to capture in their wild state. Creatures such as the panda and cheetah are difficult to breed in captivity. (This likely has a good deal to do with the losses in cranial capacity; intelligent creatures are too traumatized by their captivity to breed, leaving only the most stupid animals who might be oblivious to what’s happened to them.)
  4. Pleasant disposition — Large creatures that are aggressive toward humans are dangerous to keep in captivity. The African buffalo has an unpredictable nature and is highly dangerous to humans. Although similar to domesticated pigs in many ways, American peccaries and Africa’s warthogs and bushpigs are also dangerous in captivity.
  5. Temperament which makes it unlikely to panic — A creature with a nervous disposition is difficult to keep in captivity as they will attempt to flee whenever they are startled. The gazelle is very flighty and it has a powerful leap that allows it to escape an enclosed pen.
  6. Modifiable social hierarchy — Social creatures that recognize a hierarchy of dominance can be raised to recognize a human as its pack leader. Bighorn sheep cannot be herded because they lack a dominance hierarchy, whilst antelopes and giant forest hogs are territorial when breeding and cannot be maintained in crowded enclosures in captivity.

The result of these requirements is that only a small number of animals have ever been domesticated, and with few exceptions they are large, ruminant herd mammals. With plants, domestication does little better: with the exception of a small selection of fruits and vegetables, the vast majority of the domesticated diet, past and present, comes from just a vanishingly small number of closely related cereal grain species. Besides their genetic closeness, the fact that all of our domesticates fulfill basically the same ecological niches makes the domesticated world a supreme example of a curtailed, stunted, and even pathological ecosystem. The various problem of agriculture (illustrated so well by Richard Manning (2005)) ultimately come down to the basic issue of a homogeneous, inbred ecology. The problems of soil loss and desertification that has dogged agriculture since its inception in the vast, dense cedar forests of the Fertile Crescent, that it turned into the desert wasteland of modern Iraq, are the result of monoculture: growing cereal grains adapted to catastrophe all in a field, year after year, seperated from the other plant, animal, fungal and even bacterial relationships and biological succession that mark these species in their usual ecological niche. The simplicity of domination is easy to spread, and easier to overshoot, but it lacks the mutuality of normal evolutionary relationships that make a living community stable and sustainable. When we see this behavior in human lineages, it is easier to understand; marrying within the same family may keep a line “pure,” but without the genetic input and variability of other lineages to nourish and enrich that line, it becomes increasingly weak, and even twisted, as it has no other inputs but itself. Likewise, domestication is the inbreeding of ecology.

The European conquest of the world was not primarily cultural, military or social, but ecological; as the domesticated ecology displaced wild ecologies, the European cultural standards adapted to the domesticated ecology took hold.

In the 1850s, with the avalanche of the pakeha and associated species pouring ashore, more models of Maori extinction appeared. Exotic weeds ran like quicksilver among the roads into the bush. Native birds retreated as exotic cats, dogs, and rats advanced. The inadvertently imported Old World housefly proved to be so effective at driving back the native bluebottle fly, hated by the pakeha because it learned to lay eggs in the flesh of sheep, the herdsmen took up the practice of carrying their own flies along with them into the back country in jars. The brown rats swept through the South Island, again exterminating all but a trace of the Maori rats, and in the 1860s were deep into the Southern Alps and growing to enormous sizes. Julis von Haast, a geologist who arrived in New Zealand in 1858, wrote Darwin that there was a proverb among the Maori that “as the white man’s fly drives away our own, and the clover kills our fern, so will the Maoris disappear before the white man himself.” (Crosby, 1993)

Today, some 40% of the earth’s land surface has been siezed by the domesticated ecology, driving forward a mass extinction of unparalleled speed and scope. Biologists agree that the key driving factor of this phenomenon is habitat loss: habitat gobbled up for the fields, pastures, cities and sprawl of the domesticated ecosystem, habitat disrupted by power lines and roads, and habitat simply destroyed by global climate change, pollution, and the various other costs of domestication and its various effects, including overpopulation.

Like other species of wild animals, the wild human is also on the brink of destruction, and for precisely the same reason: habitat loss. Recent encroachments against the Hadza by a spoiled Arab prince, and against the Kalahari bushmen by DeBeers, illustrate some of the contemporary means by which this process unfolds.

While wild humans are pushed to the brink of extinction, it can hardly be said that it has been a positive development for domesticated humans, either. The effect that this system has had on us is so profound that even avid rewilders often find new depths to its implications. As domesticated humans, we have become vastly diminished from our evolutionary heritage, physically, behaviorally, and socially, just like any other domesticated mammal.

As civilized people, we are also domesticated. We are to primitive peoples as cows and sheep are to bears and eagles. On the rental property where I live in California my landlord keeps two white domesticated ducks. These ducks have been bred to have wings so small as to prevent them from flying. This is a convenience for their keepers, but compared to wild ducks these are pitiful creatures.

Many primal peoples tend to view us as pitiful creatures, too—though powerful and dangerous because of our technology and sheer numbers. They regard civilization as a sort of social disease. We civilized people appear to act as though we were addicted to a powerful drug—a drug that comes in the forms of money, factory-made goods, oil, and electricity. We are helpless without this drug, so we have come to see any threat to its supply as a threat to our very existence. Therefore we are easily manipulated—by desire (for more) or fear (that what we have will be taken away)—and powerful commercial and political interests have learned to orchestrate our desires and fears in order to achieve their own purposes of profit and control. If told that the production of our drug involves slavery, stealing, and murder, or the ecological equivalents, we try to ignore the news so as not to have to face an intolerable double bind. (Heinberg, 1995)

Such is the plight of the domesticated human, but is it unavoidable? Is this simply a cause for despair, or can we change this state of affairs? Can we ever become wild again?

In some sense, no. Domestication is a process that cannot be entirely undone. Brain size in particular appears to be an enduring legacy of domestication. Dingos have been feral for thousands of years, yet their brain sizes have never recovered.

In a greater sense, however, this is the wrong question. The atavistic fantasy of turning back the clock to become wild again is simply not an option; the past is irretrievably done, and returning to it is never possible. The future is the only destiny that we can ever have a hand in shaping. Even after thousands of years of rewilding, dingos are not wolves. But by the same token, they’re not dogs, either. The task that lies before us—rewilding humans—is not a simple matter of trying to fulfill an atavistic fantasy, but creating a new, syncretic synthesis. We were once wild, but we can’t go back. We’re now domesticated, but we don’t have to stay that way. We can go feral.

The word feral comes from the Latin fera, meaning a wild beast. In Latin, that word has a second, unrelated meaning: feralis, “belonging to the dead.” Both are revealing. Feral animals certainly have a great deal more in common with wild animals than domesticated animals, but the incidental second meaning also tells us something of how feral animals differ. One of the most common myths in domesticated societies is that of the dying and rising god; by seperating itself from the web of mutual relationship that creates, sustains and enriches every species on earth, domesticated animals suffer a kind of “death.” In rewilding, re-entering that web of relationship, there is likewise a kind of resurrection.

Feral animals often cause terrible disturbances in their ecologies, because they are basically invasive species. Invasive species always cause disturbances, precisely because they have no web of relationship: they have no predators, so their numbers proliferate; they have not co-evolved with their food sources and neighboring flora and fauna, so they may over-eat, trample, or diminish the ecology. But this situation does not last forever. Over time, other predators may learn that a feral species is good to eat, and begin predating them. The hardier plants that can survive being trampled and eatern by these species proliferate. In general, feral animals are eventually woven into the ecology; they cease to be invasive, and become native.

Becoming biologically native is a process that often takes thousands of years. Culture is a means by which we can speed that process considerably. When the Indians’ ancestors entered the Americas, they did so as an invasive species. While the “overkill” hypothesis has been vastly overstated, it’s also undeniably true that the introduction of a new invasive species of alpha predator tipped many species over the edge. The process was difficult and many species that were already ailing were tipped into extinction, but ultimately, this invasive species became native. Culture allowed humans to enter into relationships with other species far more quickly than genetic evolution alone would have allowed. American Indians are in every meaningful sense “native”—they have a relationship with the ecology, or to put it more strongly, they are part of that ecology.

The most recent wave of native migration into the Americas, the one that brought the Inuit, began around 1000 CE. That means that the Inuit had spent only as much time in the Americas by the time of Columbus as Europeans have spent since; but where the Inuit were already undeniably native, Europeans in the Americas continue to act like an invasive species. This points to the power of culture. The Inuit have a wild culture, and so used their culture to create new relationships with their ecology faster than they would have otherwise been able to. Consider the example of one of these latter migrant peoples, the Koyukon, and how they used their language to relate to the birds of their ecology.

The Artic tern (k’idagaas’), the northern phalarope (tiyee), the rusty blackbird (ts’uhutlts’eegga), the blackpoll warbler (k’oot’anh), the slate colored junco (k’it’otlt’ahga)—all have such names. Written transcription, however, cannot convey the remarkable aptness of these names, which when spoken in Koyukon have a lilting, often whistle like quality. The interpenetration of human and nonhuman utterances is particularly vivid in the case of numerous bird songs that seem to enunciate whole phrases or statements in Koyukon.

Many bird calls are interpreted as Koyukon words … what is striking about these words is how perfectly they mirror the call’s pattern, so that someone outside the tribe who knows birdsongs can readily identify the species when the words are spoken in Koyukon. Not only the rhythym comes through, but also some of the tone, the “feel” that goes with it.

As we ponder such correspondences, we come to realize that the sounds and rhythyms of the Koyukon language have been deeply nourished by these nonhuman voices.

Hence the whirring, flutelike phrases of the hermit thrush, which sound in the forest thickest at twilight, speak the Koyukon words sook’eeyis deeyo—”it is a fine evening.” The thrushes also sometimes speak the phrase nahutl-eeyh—literally, “a sign of the spirit is perceived.” The thrush first uttered these words in the Distant Time, when it sensed a ghost nearby, and even today the call may be heard as a warning. (Abram, 1997)

Given the same time and opportunity, can the domesticated cultures of Europe claim anything like this kind of relationship with the more-than-human world? While the Inuit and related peoples came as wild humans seeking a new home, and making themselves native to it by using their culture to create new relationships there, the domesticated system did not come to migrate, but to conquer. Domesticated humans use their culture to precisely the opposite end: to actively resist becoming native, and to remain as invasive as possible, as long as possible. We do not seek to weave ourselves into a new ecology, but rather, to uproot that ecology and replace it with our own, to plow it under and plant rows of our own crops there, instead. Naturally, such goals can never be perfectly realized, but we have succeeded far more than we have failed, and it explains why, given the same amount of time, there is no doubt that the Inuit and their neighbors are native, while there is equally no doubt that Europeans remain invasive.

Reversing this is an enormous part of rewilding. To become feral, we must reverse what our culture is for. Domestication makes culture a bulwark against “going native,” providing us with traditions of “the Old World” that we can cling to, to slow the process of being woven into an ecosystem. Wild—and feral—cultures exist for precisely the opposite reason: to speed the transition, to weave us into an ecology much faster than biology alone would allow.

Like the domestication that it seeks to undo, rewilding is a many-faceted affair. Primitive or “earth” skills are the foundation of feral life; learning to provide for one’s shelter, clothing, food, tools and other needs without reliance on the domesticated world is the first step to leaving domestication behind. All too often, however, rewilders become fixated at this stage, and mistake this vital foundation for the whole of rewilding. As Tamarack Song wrote to the Teaching Drum email list, though:

We come from a technological society, so we naturally think that substituting primitive technology for civilized technology is our doorway. The only problem is that Native people are not into technology. They spend only a couple hours a day providing for their simple needs, and they mostly use simple means. Look at their tools—few and crude, and their craftwork — basic and utilitarian. What a Native person excels at is what I call qualitative skills—how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love. Without these skills, you will surely die. Or else you’ll go back to the life that shuns these skills.

I would not call native technology crude by any means, but it’s certainly not complex—”elegant” is a much better word. But it is absolutely true that when listening to native people, two themes stand out remarkably as the things that really matter: family and land.

The basic social foundation of wild (and feral) life is the family—bands and tribes are simply fancy terms for those. Domesticated societies invariably try to cast themselves in a metaphor of family: Roman emperors justified their authoritarian rule as the Pater patriae, the father of the Roman people, and perpetuated a familial model of domination and coercion down to the cruel Roman Pater familias; more recently, George Lakoff’s work on “frames” has discussed the dividing line between “liberals” and “conservatives” between metaphors of government as a nurturing mother or a stern father, respectively; Derrick Jensen has drawn many haunting parallels between the dynamics of civilization and the dynamics found in abusive families. If civilizations are abusive, dysfunctional families, then rewilding is the process of creating healthy, well-adjusted, nourishing families. As Willem Larsen wrote so beautifully about “The Wandering Free Families“:

Imagine this: you, your parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, mothers and fathers, children, cousins, second cousins, your whole extended family, has lived the life of a year-round summer camp for as long as you remember. You live together, resolve conflicts, and support one another as best you can, as a family. Your in-jokes have become the stuff of legend, your artistic styles have inspired each other, for countless generations you have collaborated on a vital and celebratory family culture that you enjoy. You make decisions as a community, relying on the wisdom of those you trust. The smallest child contributes to voice of the community as a whole. No police, no bureaucracy, no institutions…instead you have taboos, family consensus processes, and traditions. A Free Family, living your life on the land. …

In the modern world, we have some expressions that honor family connection…”blood is thicker than water,” for example. I know of none that get to the heart of the fundamental indigenous belief, that family holds all the roots of wealth (referring to its etymology): wholeness, wellness, health, and holiness.

Keep your eyes open, and you’ll observe where the modern world diverges, again and again, from the indigenous value of feeding family. Ancient initiations and vision quests served to show the seeker how they fit into their community, what role they would grow into, what unique gift their spirit would provide the tribe. In the modern world? The seeking adolescent hunts for a college in a distant land, a career in a distant city. Co-opting the vision quest and initiation for today’s children, the questors dream of apprenticing with a shaman in an Amazonian jungle, or studying leopards on a faraway continent. What happened to family, in the self-absorbed adolescent quest for a purpose? Will they receive postcards, perhaps? Will they someday get photos of their unknown grandchildren? When a native teenage “walkabout” ends, you return home, and find your place at last. When will we return home?

With hollowed-out hearts we keep the great gears of this modern world going. What have we given up in exchange for all its amusements? What misunderstood hungers rack our bodies, fed by false substitutes, bought by the fruits of our impersonal labors? What if a return to family sated these hungers, once and for all (though I don’t imply this a simple or obvious path…recovering from the loss of family, and returning to the heart of it, requires a substantial amount of work).

For wild (and feral) humans, the two are inseperable; family is land, and land is family. Your ancestors make up the soil, and so they live in the plants, and in the animals that eat the plants, and in the animals that eat them, until they return again and become soil again. Totems bind human ancestry into a more-than-human world; “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky” are more than empty platitudes, but a mythical reflection of the daily reality for people who are provided with everything they need by the earth and the sky. Wild humans generally describe the lands they live in as paradise, however forbidding they seem to us. What does it say that another of the most common myths of domesticated humans is that of paradise lost? And what does it say of our aspirations towards rewilding, that we also nurse the myth of some future where paradise is regained?

None of this is easy or straightforward, though. Rewilding, like domestication, is a complex process, one that changes our bodies, our thoughts, and most of all our relationships, both with other humans, and with the more-than-human world we all live in. Going feral cannot be a simple atavistic throwback, though; it requires creativity and synthesis. Our domesticated experience cannot be simply erased, so we must find ways to deal with it and to turn it to our advantage. The feral future that awaits us cannot be a simple return to the Stone Age. It will require a good deal more creativity than that. It will mean weaving what works in our culture, with what works for human cultures in general. It will require syncretism and incredible creativity. Going feral isn’t a question of turning back the clock, but going forward to create something new, based in a better understanding of the nature of a world of relationship.

That is not an easy process. Rewilding is a lifelong commitment.

Putting an urban person in the wilderness without comforts and conveniences would be as cruel as abandoning a domesticated pet by the roadside. Even if the animal survived, it would be miserable. And we would probably be miserable too, if the accouterments of civilization were abruptly withdrawn from us. Yet the wild cousins of our hypothetical companion animal—whether a parrot, a canine, or a feline—live quite happily away from houses and packaged pet food and resist our efforts to capture and domesticate them, just as primitive peoples live quite happily without civilization and often resist its imposition. Clearly, animals (including people) can adapt either to wild or domesticated ways of life over the course of several generations, while adult individuals tend to be much less adaptable. In the view of many of its proponents, primitivism implies a direction of social change over time, as opposed to an instantaneous, all-or-nothing choice. We in the industrial world have gradually accustomed ourselves to a way of life that appears to be leading toward a universal biological holocaust. The question is, shall we choose to gradually accustom ourselves to another way of life—one that more successfully integrates human purposes with ecological imperatives—or shall we cling to our present choices to the bitter end?

Obviously, we cannot turn back the clock. But we are at a point in history where we not only can, but must pick and choose among all the present and past elements of human culture to find those that are most humane and sustainable. While the new culture we will create by doing so will not likely represent simply an immediate return to wild food gathering, it could restore much of the freedom, naturalness, and spontaneity that we have traded for civilization’s artifices, and it could include new versions of cultural forms with roots in humanity’s remotest past. We need not slavishly imitate the past; we might, rather, be inspired by the best examples of human adaptation, past and present. Instead of “going back,” we should think of this process as “getting back on track.” (Heinberg, 1995)

A great many of us could return to wild food gathering in our own lifetimes, in fact, and the more who do, the better off we will all be. But even for those who cannot, or choose not, to go that far, rewilding offers a way forward, a way to restore the human dignity that has been stripped from us.

One of the Adinkra of the Akan people of West Africa depicts the Sankofa bird: a bird flying forward, looking backward, holding the egg of the future in its beak. It is transliterated as, “se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki,” literally, “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.” The Sankofa bird reminds us that sometimes the only way to move forward is to look backward, because if we’ve forgotten something vital, there may be no way to move forward until we remember it. We’ve lost the most vital thing of all, and it’s not taboo to go back and fetch it. It is, in fact, the only way forward.

Works Cited


Comments

  1. Another solid piece, Jason. I like the orientation toward what we can do, and the acknowledgment that even if we have lost our wildness, we have much to gain by going feral.

    I’ve been thinking about the onomatopoeiac nature of many native human languages, and the fact that humans often mimic the animal sounds around them, and have an understanding of the emotional state indicated by the various sounds animals produce. It seemed s hard to do, such an uphill abttelt to learn this, but I passed by someone making a ‘puppy dog’ sound, and realized that it comes naturally to us, when e’re enmeshed in a community that includes them. We know what cats and dogs sound like when they’re angry or sad or fearful, and can often reproduce these sounds, and sometime effectively enough to deceive those same animals. We do it readily with those non-human others we share the space with, and the reason we don’t do it with a greater number of animals is because we typically don’t associate with them.

    But that imitative tendency is there, and we imitate all sorts of human sounds and the sounds of human artifacts, from people’s voices and vocal mannerisms and accents, to radio alarms buzzing and the sounds of soda bottles opening.

    That’s very exciting and heartening to me, and the article reminded me of it.

    Comment by Archangel — 31 July 2007 @ 11:33 AM

  2. “None of this is easy or straightforward, though. Rewilding, like domestication, is a complex process, one that changes our bodies, our thoughts, and most of all our relationships, both with other humans, and with the more-than-human world we all live in. Going feral cannot be a simple atavistic throwback, though; it requires creativity and synthesis. Our domesticated experience cannot be simply erased, so we must find ways to deal with it and to turn it to our advantage. The feral future that awaits us cannot be a simple return to the Stone Age. It will require a good deal more creativity than that. It will mean weaving what works in our culture, with what works for human cultures in general. It will require syncretism and incredible creativity. Going feral isn’t a question of turning back the clock, but going forward to create something new, based in a better understanding of the nature of a world of relationship.”

    This paragraph becomes quite redundant, but otherwise the article is great. And it’s a good companion to the discussion we were having on Rewild.info.

    Comment by Jordan Mechano — 31 July 2007 @ 12:55 PM

  3. Archangel: Thanks! You’re absolutely right, we empathize and connect with the things we share our world with. Which is part of what makes our disconnect from the more-than-human world so essential for civilization. It’s prerequisite.

    Jordan: I was actually writing this before the discussion on REWILD.info came up, ironically enough. It occured to me that I’d never actually taken the time to really discuss animal domestication, human domestication, or rewilding before, so this is a pretty important piece.

    As far as redundancy, eh, some things bear repeating, no?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 July 2007 @ 2:33 PM

  4. It’s interesting that pigs showed to have the largest drop in brain size, since pigs go feral more readily and successfully than any(or at least most) other domesticated animal. What’s up with that?

    Also, there are other dogs that exhibit less neotenous and domesticated behavior similar to that of the basenji. Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies(I know there are other primitive breeds, but these two I am most familiar with) have pointy ears, rarely bark, have a strong prey drive, are EXTREMELY intelligent, and HATE authority. Indeed, these dogs have retained many of the wild traits of their wolf ancestors. They even howl at the moon:)

    And one more quick question. Do you think the sexualization of the female breast is a result of our domestication?

    Comment by mr derp — 31 July 2007 @ 5:39 PM

  5. And one more quick question. Do you think the sexualization of the female breast is a result of our domestication?

    Probably not, since it’s not consistent. Lots of domesticated cultures haven’t sexualized the breast. That wouldn’t be neoteny, since infants don’t sexualize the breast. If it were more consistent, there’d be a strong suggestion there, but being so scattershot, I really tend to think it’s more just one of those things. Cultures are basically random when it comes to what they consider sexy sometimes.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 July 2007 @ 5:52 PM

  6. mr darp: Do you mean that the breast has been sexualized because we remain infant-like? If so, it seems to make some sense, but I get the sense that other domesticated cultures that aren’t ours may not fetishize the breast. I dunno, though.

    Jason: Good point- a connection with the more-than-human world would undermine our alleged superiority and differentness. And it would also make the regular destruction of life more excruciating than it is for those of us who have little connection with the web of life.

    Comment by Archangel — 31 July 2007 @ 5:52 PM

  7. Jason: Jinx!

    Comment by Archangel — 31 July 2007 @ 5:53 PM

  8. Archangel pointed out what I meant; us being infant-like. Anyway I was just throwing it out there as an idea.

    Comment by mr derp — 31 July 2007 @ 6:08 PM

  9. I understood, and it’s a decent supposition. But I don’t think it really bears out.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 July 2007 @ 11:08 PM

  10. I don’t think you’ve established a clear distinction between domestication and coevolution. What you’ve done is apply a meaningless anthropocentric term (”domination”) to a perfectly natural relationship.

    That is, you rely on the assumption that animals prefer a certain standard of living (including brain size, weight, or whatever) over reproductive fitness. Using this assumption results in the conclusion that, among other things, r-strategists are inherently qualitatively inferior to K-strategists. But that kind of comparison is meaningless. They’re only different strategies to the same end: the survival of the species.

    If neoteny maximizes the number offspring by taking advantage of human aid, then naturally animals living in a human environment will become increasingly neotenous. Just as high fecundity and small body size is selected for in unstable environments, and large body size and high parental investment is selected for in stable environments, neoteny is selected for in human environments. They’re using us as a reproductive strategy as much as we are using them. That’s how evolution works.

    Another way to say this is that artificial selection is only artificial from a human perspective. It assumes precisely what, as I understand, Quinn and others have attempted to disprove: that we’re something separate from nature. To every other organism on the planet, we’re just contributing to environmental selection pressures. We may be more influential than most, but otherwise we’re nothing special in that regard. Our influence on natural selection is certainly not betrayal, let alone rape.

    But that’s a digression. Let me try a closer allegory. Consider a classic example of symbiosis, the tubeworms and bacteria which live around hydrothermal vents. Tubeworms have lost their digestive tract and receive their nutrition from internal colonies of bacteria, which the tubeworms provide with hydrogen sulfide. Is this relationship so different from the relationship humans have with, say, cows?

    No. Fundamentally it’s the same, only more difficult to anthropomorphize. Humans feed cows and cows feed humans. And like the tubeworms and bacteria, humans and cows are both subject to selection pressures that maximize the benefit of that relationship. Among other things, cows become more docile and humans become lactose tolerant. You say that we’ve both been “domesticated”, but it would be more accurate to say that we’ve coevolved in a mutualistic relationship.

    I don’t challenge your basic hypothesis, that all this amounts to a case of ecological overshoot. (If so, I’m personally skeptical of there being any change until selection pressures change. That seems to be how it works everywhere else in nature.) Either way, “replacing mutual relationship with systems of domination” can’t be faulted because it doesn’t mean anything real.

    Comment by Anonymous — 1 August 2007 @ 1:00 AM

  11. Antonio Damasio is probably one of the most well-known neurologists of our day. He’s worked a great deal with people who have suffered brain injuries like Phineas Gage’s: they leave intellect intact, but destroy the ability to feel emotion. These people can have very high intelligence, but they are incapable of making even the most basic decisions. One man who was a successful businessman before he developed a brain tumor, afterwards would spend entire afternoons deciding whether to order a series of events by place or time. Damasio explains that without our emotions, we have no way of assessing the “goodness” or “badness” of something; far from getting in the way of intelligent thought, emotion is actually intrinsic to intelligent thought.

    This relates to your arguments about domestication, because it reflects how closely a lack of empathy mirrors severe brain damage. No purely logical argument will ever tell you the difference between domination and relationship, that’s true; and, from a purely logical perspective, “replacing mutual relationship with systems of domination” would, as you put it, not “mean anything real.” Just like, from a purely logical perspective, there’s no way to decide whether to order a series of events by place, or by date.

    But you have the experience of a domesticated animal. What is it like for you, to know that your intelligence, your senses, your growth, your capacity to exist has all been stunted? This isn’t something that can be answered in purely logical terms; it requires real intelligent thought, which requires more than just logic. It requires enough emotion to be able to distinguish between “goodness” and “badness.”

    Now, you can call it anthropomorphism to feel empathy for another creature, but that’s ultimately also the thing that allows us to communicate, and keeps you from stabbing the man next to you in the eye. So if it’s faulty to think that it’s just as cruel to domesticate other mammals as it is to domesticate humans, why not go ahead and stab that guy in the eye? After all, it’s just you projecting your own feelings onto him that makes you think that would be bad.

    You have the experience of being a member of a species, and while its survival may be your genetic drive, you have a good deal more that you look for for yourself, don’t you? So do other animals. They show personality and desire, just like humans. All too often, empathy is disregarded as “anthropocentrism,” while truly anthropocentric views—like the projection of our culture’s ideas about unlimited growth onto all life—goes unquestioned. Species do their best to survive, but they don’t try to conquer the world or grow without limit. The runaway “success” of domestication undermines the species’ long-term chances of survival, and drastically stunt the development of individuals in it.

    But this is precisely why domination is not the same as mutual relationship, and why making love to your wife is not the same as raping a woman on the street: it isn’t mutual. It’s forced, it’s violent, it replaces the mutual give-and-take of the natural world with the violent domination of nature. Domesticated species are taken from a world with many voices and many different species all help create each other, into a world where their development follows a course carved out by just one species. You can call it an ecology in a trivial and meaningless sense, but only the most hobbled and inbred of ecologies. It’s not the uniqueness of humans that makes domestication so awful, but the violent domination and homogeneity that marks it.

    You brought up tubeworms and asked, “Is this relationship so different from the relationship humans have with, say, cows?” Absolutely. The two relationships could hardly be more different. The tubeworms have come to rely on bacteria to do their digesting for them, and in return provide a place for the bacteria to live. This relationship developed from mutual co-existence, over time, and relies on a kind of mutual trust between the species. Thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the modern domesticated cows were incredibly intelligent, powerful creatures called aurochs. They were nigh monstrous, even; Norse traditions still preserve memories of how young men would prove themselves by going out to fight the aurochs. The process of domesticating the aurochs into the modern cow was nothing like the co-evolution of tubeworms and bacteria. Humans picked out the leader of the herd, broke his spirit and thus usurped control over the whole herd. They bred them for docility and stupidity so that they could be controlled, stunted their growth and made them a pale shadow of what they had once been, so we could milk them and slaughter them for food. Yes, we keep them alive, but that’s hardly an improvement over their previous condition. That logic could excuse slavery, too; after all, wasn’t that a mutual relationship between slave and master that was just as fair as domestication? How can we distinguish between slavery and cooperation? That’s the same question as how to distinguish between domestication and co-evolution, and it’s not one that can be answered in purely logical terms. It requires full intelligence, and that requires some modicum of empathy.

    Among other things, cows become more docile and humans become lactose tolerant. You say that we’ve both been “domesticated”, but it would be more accurate to say that we’ve coevolved in a mutualistic relationship.

    That’s hardly a mutualistic relationship. Cows have adapted to become stupid, docile, and easier to control, and we have adapted to be able to consume them in more ways. What is mutual in that? Arguments like these remind me of slavery apologists talking about “drapetomania,” and I see the same underlying cause to both: a poverty of empathy that stunts the ability of otherwise intelligent people to make even the most basic decisions. When we fail to extend our empathy, we fail to properly extend our emotions, and that inhibits our ability to think rationally. To talk about domestication without extending your empathy as a domesticated creature closely emulates severe brain damage.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 1 August 2007 @ 8:41 AM

  12. I think you’ve missed the issue by introducing something altogether irrelevant. Some people do have a different emotional response to domestication, to which your post testifies. Some people don’t, as my post demonstrates. No, I don’t suffer from severe brain damage.

    Either way, our emotions don’t reflect what really is. That the emotional intelligence of some people classifies coevolution as “goodness” and domestication as “badness” says nothing about what they are. Even if every human since time immemorial has felt that way (for which there is little evidence), it’s true only for us. For other animals, we’re just another selectional pressure.

    If you’re advocating the end of the domestication of other animals for our own emotional health, that’s a more tenable argument. Ultimately the reason I don’t stab the next guy in the eye is for my own benefit: I don’t have any motivation to do so in the first place and I’d feel terrible if I did. It’s cruel. That’s the programming evolution has left me with.

    Is domestication cruel? No, because the intention is not to inflict pain on other animals. The intention is personal gain. Of course, in human society we’d call someone who pursues their own aims without regard to the suffering of others a sociopath. That’s why you’re focusing on anthropomorphic examples like rape and slavery — to invoke the same emotional response.

    But the fact is that we don’t feel the same way about other animals, and if you consider interspecies interactions in nature you can see why. Life is fundamentally opportunistic. It’s perfectly natural for different species to take advantage of one another; hence every form of symbiosis. At the same time, it’s quite unnatural for members of the same species to take advantage of one another. Thats why murder is wrong, and why slavery as an institution relies on the dehumanization of its subjects.

    Cruelty is when we hurt animals, or each other, for no reason except the thrill. This is highly unnatural and seen no where else in nature. Every other interspecies interaction is acceptable and precedented; we shouldn’t try to anthropomorphize other animals, or compare our relationships with other animals to our relationships with other humans, because it leads to nonsense. If you feel bad domesticating animals, don’t domesticate them. But don’t try to invoke the moral force of nature on your side because it isn’t there.

    Let’s return to the cows and humans vs. tubeworms and bacteria examples. You’ve placed a lot of emphasis on the process of domestication, breaking spirits and usupring control. Tubeworms and bacteria obviously coevolved incidentally. But, again, this detail is only important to ourselves. How many proud species has climate change broken? Or volcanic activity? Countless. We are highly unique animal, able to do far more for ourselves than any other species has been able to. But the effects we have on other species is not unique. It’s not even unusual.

    Comment by Anonymous — 2 August 2007 @ 12:40 PM

  13. Good stuff, Jason. I did have a few issues/questions.

    The first is about human brain size. Do we have any evidence that civilized humans have smaller brains than contemporary non-civilized humans? Because if all humans, whether domesticated or not, have smaller brains than their ancestors did, then that would suggest that there is some cause other than domestication (civilization) for this; climate maybe? Also, in my freshmen anthropology class, we were warned against relating brain size and intelligence in humans. I recall seeing charts for brain sizes for various human populations: East Asians having the largest brains, then whites, then blacks; we were specifically told not to link this to intelligence. But on the other hand, an increase in brain size from H. erectus to H. sapiens was supposed to be an indicator of an increase in intelligence. I never quite managed to make sense of all of this…

    And the second issue/question: would it perhaps make sense to talk about domestication as a form of parasitism? A decrease in intelligence of domesticated animals might constitute a kind of adaptation/partial immunity maybe? But then I don’t know. Do we have any other examples of parasites attacking whole populations, not leaving any single individual in that population healthy? And having this go on for many generations?

    Finally, Jason, it was a very good response that you wrote to Anonymous. It freaks me out when people try to reduce living beings to a few simple formulas. Such as: we are here in order to reproduce. (And it’s absurd anyway! I mean, what reason do we have for not seeing it the other way around: we reproduce so that our descendants might enjoy life?) And what possible reason do we have to think that our reason grasps reality better than our emotions? (To the extent that it even makes sense to talk about reason and emotions as separate.) The part of our brain that’s in charge of feeling emotion is far older than the logical/rational part; are we to think that all our evolutionary ancestors had no grasp of reality whatsoever? It really scares me when people start insisting on taking emotions out of discussions such as this one, and trying to see things in purely utilitarian ways. I mean, next thing I know, such people will see me in purely utilitarian terms. As in: I have no worth except to the extent that I can be used for this or that narrow purpose. (And in fact, we do see a lot of this in civilization: ‘human resources’ anyone?) What can I say, Anonymous. You and I seem to have a very different view of life (human and non-human). So much so that you scare me. You really do.

    Comment by Hasha — 2 August 2007 @ 1:39 PM

  14. Either way, our emotions don’t reflect what really is. That the emotional intelligence of some people classifies coevolution as “goodness” and domestication as “badness” says nothing about what they are.

    Actually, I think our emotions do reflect what really is. Emotions are real, they’re just hard to talk about so people don’t. The thing is, reality is relative–What gives me a visceral emotional response, may not do the same for you. What people classify as “goodness” or “badness” says a lot more about the individual than it does about what they are responding to.

    Even if every human since time immemorial has felt that way (for which there is little evidence), it’s true only for us. For other animals, we’re just another selectional pressure.

    I think one of the more defining aspects of domestication is the attempt to be the ONLY selectional pressure.

    Cruelty is when we hurt animals, or each other, for no reason except the thrill.

    No, that’s sadism. I don’t think cruelty requires that sort of intent. It’s just as cruel to beat your child “for their own good” as it is to beat them because you were angry.

    I recall seeing charts for brain sizes for various human populations: East Asians having the largest brains, then whites, then blacks; we were specifically told not to link this to intelligence. But on the other hand, an increase in brain size from H. erectus to H. sapiens was supposed to be an indicator of an increase in intelligence. I never quite managed to make sense of all of this…

    I would guess two things. First, I suspect that the differences between modern human populations are relatively small and seriously overlapping, while the difference between H. erectus to H. sapiens may be greater across the board. Think about height. Men are (on average) taller than women but it is fairly easy to find short men and tall women. The other thing is a fear of the data being taken out of context and misused in a “Social Darwinist” kind of way, especially by freshmen taking a class that has not much to do with their major and only paying enough attention to get the grade.

    JimFive

    Comment by Anonymous — 2 August 2007 @ 3:07 PM

  15. It freaks me out when people try to reduce living beings to a few simple formulas. Such as: we are here in order to reproduce.

    I’m sorry it freaks you out and I hope you understand that reducing life to a few simple formulas does not trivialize it. To the contrary, I recently read an article that reported evolutionary algorithms now surpass human designers. I personally find the concept of complexity from simplicity extraordinarily beautiful.

    On a species level we are here in order to reproduce. That says nothing about how you live your life or how you should live your life, so it’s not the answer to any deep philosophical questions.

    And what possible reason do we have to think that our reason grasps reality better than our emotions?

    You (and Jason too) seem to think there exists a reason vs. emotion dichotomy and that I advocate exercise of the former instead of the latter. I don’t think I’m advocating for or against either. What I am saying is that if you react emotionally to the natural world around us you will constantly be confused. You’ll condemn ants for being aphid slavedrivers and mosquitos for being poor parents. How sad, you’ll say, that the mosquito mother abandons her children. If mosquitos were humans you’d be right; but they’re not, and your emotional response is misleading you. Isn’t that clearly nonsense?

    The same is true when you compare cattle to human slaves and dogs to women we’ve raped. That comparison is misleading. It tricks our evolutionary programming, which tells us that neither cows nor dogs are humans and applying emotion (which is a product of evolution) to them is nonsense. It’s false empathy, and it’s not natural.

    I’m absolutely not advocating for the restraint of our emotions as a general principle. (Utilitarianism doesn’t enter into this at all.) But if the goal is to understand how the natural world works, and whether or not our behavior is anomalous, you can’t rely on them.

    What people classify as “goodness” or “badness” says a lot more about the individual than it does about what they are responding to.

    I agree. That’s my point precisely.

    Comment by Anonymous — 2 August 2007 @ 11:06 PM

  16. I see there is a lot to read here.

    Comment by r — 3 August 2007 @ 2:03 AM

  17. I’ve been reading Anthropik for a few months and it has opened windows I didn’t know existed. Jason, thank you for showing me the windows!

    After reading the Thirty Theses at random, I read Thesis #1 for the first time yesterday. Jason states there:

    As necessary as ethics may be, that does not make them correct. Nor does the depth of our conviction. I, like most Westerners, feel a very strong revulsion at the thought of pedophilia, for example. Yet, in the cultural context of the Etoro, the Marind-ani, and 10-20% of all Melanesian tribes, it is the only acceptable form of sex. While I cringe at the thought, I have no argument that it is ‘wrong’ beyond my gut feeling of disgust–a result of my enculturation.

    I think Jason’s point is that cultures evolve in a context and this shapes the morality the cultural members share. This is not to demean any culture or its ethical codes - simply to recognize there is a context and that context is not necessarily shared across cultures.

    Jason’s perspective on domestication as a process of domination that it is “bad” strikes me as an attempt to redefine our culture. This is a good thing and perhaps it will give the Tribe an edge in the selective process that will come once the surfeit of energy we live with now comes to an end.

    For Jason’s argument to survive scrutiny, he will need to tie it back into the belief that diversity is a primary good or to state that the non-domesticated animal is a primary good. Without this, his argument depends on an emotional appeal to encultured minds. For me, this doesn’t work because the culture he is redefining is based on the domestication of animals. How can Mother Culture depend on domestication and also call it bad? Of course, Mother Culture would also not describe non-domesticated animal as a primary good.

    While I see the connection between domestication and declining diversity, I have a hard time feeling sorry for the dogs and cows and their domestic stupidity. I see it as coevolution that has given the domesticated animals’ genes an advantage. Lamentable from an all-too-human perspective but there was never a time when human had the agency to choose a different path - natural selection brought us here.

    My two cents.

    Comment by Ted B — 3 August 2007 @ 8:26 AM

  18. Great article.

    These two links in the sources are broken:
    http://media.anthropik.com/marzluff2005.pdf
    http://media.anthropik.com/schleidt2003.pdf

    Comment by datoo — 3 August 2007 @ 9:47 PM

  19. I’d like to state in this discussion one thing I haven’t noticed yet–the fact that “domestication” is not created equal. I’m sure we all oppose factory farming and the cruelty that that brings to animals.

    But we have to acknowledge that factory farming is not synonymous with all forms of domestication and farming. There’s free-range organic farming in which domesticated animals are allowed to roam and range the way their wild descendants were on a certain area of land. And not all animals are tortured or beaten on farms.

    I oppose factory farming. But I still don’t see why we should lump the domestication of factory farming and the steroid-injected animals of those farms to the organic, free-range farms that also exist, such as the alternative grass-fed beef farms around the country.

    They are not the same? Why would you argue that they are?

    Comment by Perry — 4 August 2007 @ 11:27 AM

  20. Typo.

    When I said “They are not the same?” I meant “They are not the same.” I should have put a period. I put a question mark.

    Also, if I do not reply to anyone’s response, that is because the response was sufficient to answer my comment (in my opinion). I just wanted to mention something, not join the conversation entirely.

    Comment by Perry — 4 August 2007 @ 11:53 AM

  21. Perry,

    No, not all domestication is the same. Animals on free range farms have it better than those on factory farms. Just as indoor slaves generally had it better than did those slaves who picked cotton, who in turn generally had it better than did the Auschwitz inmates. That doesn’t make enslaving someone to cook for you in your nice mansion right.

    Comment by Hasha — 4 August 2007 @ 12:40 PM

  22. What I am saying is that if you react emotionally to the natural world around us you will constantly be confused.

    But you’re not advocating for or against reason, right….

    Comment by jhereg — 6 August 2007 @ 7:47 AM

  23. Some people do have a different emotional response to domestication, to which your post testifies. Some people don’t, as my post demonstrates. No, I don’t suffer from severe brain damage.

    I didn’t say you did, only that your response emulates severe brain damage. We’re taught that our natural extension of empathy is wrong; Jean Piaget set it as one of the basic stages of childhood development (”animism”). We are meticulously trained to become misers with our empathy, and not to extend that empathy to non-humans. No, we typically don’t have lesions on the brain, but by withholding our empathy, our judgment and reasoning is impacted in precisely the same manner as if it were. So, we meticulously train our children to emulate severe brain damage. We don’t actually have different emotional reactions to domestication; I’m actually writing an article at present on how emotions work reliably from one person to another as a kind of perception, like sight or hearing. What differs from my post and yours would be precisely the same if you did suffer some kind of physical brain damage, along the lines of Phineas Gage: you are withholding your empathy, and that makes your judgment faulty.

    Either way, our emotions don’t reflect what really is.

    As I said, I’m writing an article on this at present, so it’s a little much to get into here, but … this is exactly wrong. Our emotions do reflect what really is. See some of the work of Antonio Damasio.

    That the emotional intelligence of some people classifies coevolution as “goodness” and domestication as “badness” says nothing about what they are. Even if every human since time immemorial has felt that way (for which there is little evidence), it’s true only for us. For other animals, we’re just another selectional pressure.

    “Selectional pressure” is so vague as to become almost entirely meaningless. If I shot you in the head, I’d be “just another selectional pressure,” so there’s no reason to assume that you’d have any problem with me shooting you in the head, right?

    But you actually have experienced what it means to be a domesticated animal. What do you think, as a domesticated animal, about having your growth stunted, your intelligence retarded, and your body warped and transformed so that you could be used and thrown away by another? It’s quite valid to empathize with other domesticated animals like this, just like it’s quite valid to empathize with other humans and conclude that they wouldn’t like to be shot in the head any more than you or I would. In fact, we take that latter bit of empathy so seriously that it’s a given. We don’t need to sit here and discuss whether we’re projecting too much, and whether there are all kinds of people out there who might actually want to be shot in the head. So why is it that we presume that this is so much more controversial when we talk about the domestication of animals? One reason, and one alone: because we have been trained to be misers with our empathy, and that emulates severe brain damage.

    If you’re advocating the end of the domestication of other animals for our own emotional health, that’s a more tenable argument. Ultimately the reason I don’t stab the next guy in the eye is for my own benefit: I don’t have any motivation to do so in the first place and I’d feel terrible if I did. It’s cruel. That’s the programming evolution has left me with.

    The “programming” that evolution has left you with also gives you a natural empathy not just for human people, but for anything that acts like a person: other animals, even plants and inanimate objects. Simply accepting the world as we experience it is what we call “animism,” and it occurs naturally in children (see Jean Piaget). We also call it the “Pathetic Fallacy.” We beat it out of our children so that they’ll act like they have severe brain damage, and restrict their empathy only to humans. Of course, we’re restricted it further than that in the past. The same arguments you’ve giving us about why we shouldn’t extend our empathy to animals we’ve domesticated were similarly provided by slavery apologists before the U.S. Civil War, about why abolitionists were wrong to extend their empathy to negroes. In other times and places, it’s been used to restrict the extension of empathy from Jews and other “foreigners.” Today, in some circles, you see the same arguments being made to restrict the extension of empathy to gay people. It is, overall, one of the most heinous bits of bile our civilization has ever coughed up, and consistently, the bits of our history that we take the most pride in have been those moments when we repudiated the kind of thinking that you’re defending, and extended our empathy a little further than it used to go.

    Of course, before civilization and domestication, no one was there to tell us about the “pathetic fallacy,” and we simply treated the world as it appeared to us, and trusted our senses and our experience. If something acted like a person, we extended our empathy to it and treated it like a person. Domestication changed much of that.

    Is domestication cruel? No, because the intention is not to inflict pain on other animals.

    As was already pointed out, that’s the definition of sadism, not cruelty. You can be just as cruel by personal greed, apathy towards another’s pain, or the refusal to extend empathy. If I restrict my empathy from you, and decide to flay you alive, that’s still cruel, even though it’s not intended simply to inflict pain (since I don’t even acknowledge your capacity to feel pain). But it’s still cruel.

    Of course, in human society we’d call someone who pursues their own aims without regard to the suffering of others a sociopath. That’s why you’re focusing on anthropomorphic examples like rape and slavery — to invoke the same emotional response.

    To put it into perspective. For people who have so restricted their empathy that it only extends to other humans (which is part of human domestication at this point), to illustrate what these things mean, they must be related in terms of when we do such things to humans. Since you don’t empathize with anything but other humans, it has to be put into those terms. But they fit. After all, you’re saying of animals the same things that slavery apologists were saying of negroes 150 years ago. You’re essentially trying to convince us that feral animals suffer from drapetomania.

    But the fact is that we don’t feel the same way about other animals, and if you consider interspecies interactions in nature you can see why. Life is fundamentally opportunistic. It’s perfectly natural for different species to take advantage of one another; hence every form of symbiosis. At the same time, it’s quite unnatural for members of the same species to take advantage of one another. Thats why murder is wrong, and why slavery as an institution relies on the dehumanization of its subjects.

    This is quite an outdated view of how the natural world works. In fact, cooperation and co-existence have much more to do with the natural world than exploitation or opportunism. Symbiosis does not arise from opportunism; it follows from co-evolution and alliance. The cynicism necessary to paint symbiosis as opportunism would also make every friendship or love affair in history a case of mutual exploitation. This is ultimately the failure of Darwin’s basic worldview; evolution takes place as much in cooperation as in competition. See also, “In Praise of Laziness.”

    …we shouldn’t try to anthropomorphize other animals, or compare our relationships with other animals to our relationships with other humans, because it leads to nonsense.

    We shouldn’t fail to anthropomorphize other animals, or compare our relationships with other animals to our relationships with other humans, because it leads to nonsense. You’re telling us that we end up with “nonsense” if we extend our empathy beyond simply other humans. You’re telling us that we end up with “nonsense” unless we emulate as closely as possible the effects of severe brain damage. I think if we emulate as closely as possible the effects of severe brain damage, we end up with extremely faulty reasoning. We could end up with the conclusion that even though our own experience as domesticated animals is abysmal, that’s no reason to conclude that any other domesticated animal might feel the same way.

    Ultimately, the only guide any of us has on how to act towards anyone else is our empathy. I know the things that upset and hurt me, so I project that onto you, and there’s my guide of what would upset and hurt you. We need to do the same thing towards the more-than-human world. Our failure to empathize lies at the root of so many of our problems, including our destruction of the world. If we hold back our empathy, we may not have lesions in our brain or a giant metal pipe through our frontal lobes, but we act like we do. We end up with nonsense like “drapetomania,” or the idea that empathy would lead us to nonsense.

    If you feel bad domesticating animals, don’t domesticate them. But don’t try to invoke the moral force of nature on your side because it isn’t there.

    It is there, and it takes severe brain damage (or a lifetime of close emulation of it) to not see it.

    But, again, this detail is only important to ourselves. How many proud species has climate change broken? Or volcanic activity? Countless. We are highly unique animal, able to do far more for ourselves than any other species has been able to. But the effects we have on other species is not unique. It’s not even unusual.

    Here’s you’re relying on conflation, obfuscation and hand-waving. Sure, natural disasters happen, and they have an impact on species. But that’s a far cry from the effects of domestication. Domestication is a very specific kind of change, not only in terms of human agency, but in terms of its effects. Domestication is nothing like climate change or volcanic activity in its effects or in its commission. Animals adapt and evolve, and learn how to survive passing catastrophes like that. But they’re not ongoing; they don’t diminish animals so that they can be used, and they don’t enforce that state of affairs into perpetuity.

    Do we have any evidence that civilized humans have smaller brains than contemporary non-civilized humans?

    Yes. I’d have to look it up, but I remember reading a bunch of confused researchers from the bad old days of anthropology back in the nineteenth century trying to figure out what it meant that “savages” had bigger brains than Europeasn.

    Also, in my freshmen anthropology class, we were warned against relating brain size and intelligence in humans. I recall seeing charts for brain sizes for various human populations: East Asians having the largest brains, then whites, then blacks; we were specifically told not to link this to intelligence. But on the other hand, an increase in brain size from H. erectus to H. sapiens was supposed to be an indicator of an increase in intelligence. I never quite managed to make sense of all of this…

    Yup. :) The thing is, it’s a very rough indicator of intelligence. Most domesticated populations vary only by 1% or 2% or so, and the correlation of cranial capacity to intelligence is too rough to read anything into a variation that small. But when you get up to around 10%, you’re probably looking at a clear change in intelligence. Of course, more important is the body-to-brain mass ratio, in order to control for ennervation, but domesticated and wild humans don’t vary enough in body mass for that to make much difference. You see that in discussions about neanderthals, though (though I don’t think neanderthals were sufficiently larger to explain their larger brains solely in terms of ennervation, either).

    Do we have any other examples of parasites attacking whole populations, not leaving any single individual in that population healthy? And having this go on for many generations?

    I don’t think there are too many examples of parasites breeding populations for better control, either. No, I don’t think you can really classify domestication as a kind of parasitism. It’s something wholly new.

    The part of our brain that’s in charge of feeling emotion is far older than the logical/rational part; are we to think that all our evolutionary ancestors had no grasp of reality whatsoever?

    That’s quite what Damasio proved: our reason is not inhibited by our emotions, it’s built on top of and requires our emotions. We cannot think rationally about anything we can’t empathize with. Remove our empathy, and we end up sounding like blithering idiots.

    I mean, next thing I know, such people will see me in purely utilitarian terms. As in: I have no worth except to the extent that I can be used for this or that narrow purpose.

    As I mentioned above, that’s even somewhat common in civilized history. Once you learn that you can’t empathize with things that appear clearly like persons to your senses, who else can you withdraw empathy from? “Species” is a fuzzy line; people have claimed that blacks or Jews or Irish might be other species, is it OK to withdraw our empathy from them?

    What gives me a visceral emotional response, may not do the same for you.

    Not really; that’s what my article’s about. In the meantime, see Damasio.

    What people classify as “goodness” or “badness” says a lot more about the individual than it does about what they are responding to.

    If that were true, then how can it be that almost all of us agree on what’s “good” or “bad” in nearly all cases? We’ve increased the number of those cases by teaching our children to be misers with their empathy, splitting the world between those who trust their educations, and those who trust their experience, and putting them at odds with one another (you have to travel a pretty long road before you come to the point where your education once again confirms your experience), but even with this, we still agree far more than we disagree. None of us would think it would be “good” for me to stab you in the eye, for instance. And most of the judgments we could make would fall into this kind of universally recognized category. Only when we get down to very fine details do we get to the point where people’s opinions of “goodness” or “badness” differ. Haven’t you noticed how verbose a description of a moral dilemma has to be, to make it a dilemma? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one posed in less than 25 words. When people can’t recognize this, we recognize that there’s something wrong with them. They’re what we call “sociopaths,” and we recognize that there’s something they lack, the way a blind man lacks sight, or a deaf man lacks hearing.

    Well, compared to wild humans, domesticated humans are sociopaths. There is only a tiny subset of people that we recognize as such, and we restrict our empathy from all the rest, classifying them as objects that we can use any way we like. A sociopath simply takes the logic of domestication to its inevitable conclusion, an amoral post-modernism that recognizes the inability to truly communicate and the over-arching skepticism of all existence. The only thing the sociopath knows for sure is his own existence, because he’s discounted his own sensuous experience and his own empathy, the way we’re taught to as children.

    I personally find the concept of complexity from simplicity extraordinarily beautiful.

    As do I, but that simply makes it all the more important to truly understand the underlying simple rules, since even a slight variation at the outset will lead to escalating and catastrophically wrong conclusions. Life does follow from a few simple rules, but the idea that life exists only to propogate itself is somewhat backwards. It’s a useful perspective sometimes from an evolutionary point of view, but it’s not really true. Most of all, life wants to live, and those that propogate themselves live longest.

    On a species level we are here in order to reproduce. That says nothing about how you live your life or how you should live your life, so it’s not the answer to any deep philosophical questions.

    And we’re talking about domesticated animals, not the species level. Their wild ancestors were reproducing, too. Species don’t try to take over everything and overpopulate, either; that’s a quick road to overshoot and extinction (and that’s also what domestication has provided).

    But you have experienced life as a domesticated animal. Do you like having your growth stunted and your intelligence retarded? Do you like having your body twisted so you can be a better beast of burden? Do you like have blunted senses, so that by your ancestors’ standards you’re deaf, dumb and blind? Do you like being constantly diseased and malnourished (see “affluent malnutrition”)? Is it any consolation to you that for this small price, humanity gets to be vastly overpopulated, caught in an ecological overshoot that threatens the survival of the species at all?

    And what makes you think that any other domesticated animal would think of this any differently than you? Can you answer that question in terms that wouldn’t also mean it’s OK for someone else to stab you in the eye?

    You (and Jason too) seem to think there exists a reason vs. emotion dichotomy and that I advocate exercise of the former instead of the latter.

    On the contrary, I said quite explicitly that reason is impossible without emotion. You’re telling us how much we need to suspend our emotions, and I responded by explaining how that would make reason impossible.

    What I am saying is that if you react emotionally to the natural world around us you will constantly be confused.

    A common enough claim, but I’ve already shown that it’s B.S. If you react to the natural world without emotion, you will constantly be confused. Reason is not possible without emotion. Without extending your empathy, your reasoning literally emualtes that of someone with severe brain damage.

    You’ll condemn ants for being aphid slavedrivers and mosquitos for being poor parents.

    No you won’t. It’s clear that aphids have adapted to that situation and benefit from the way ants take care of them, and it’s equally clear that mosquito children are able to take care of themselves. To empathize doesn’t mean to become blind to clear differences. Do you need to obliterate my personality and uniqueness in order to empathize with me? Then why would you need to obliterate the uniqueness of other animals, and their personalities, in order to empathize with them?

    How sad, you’ll say, that the mosquito mother abandons her children. If mosquitos were humans you’d be right; but they’re not, and your emotional response is misleading you. Isn’t that clearly nonsense?

    That would be ridiculous; as ridiculous as empathizing with an elderly man and assuming that that entails assumptions that he lives the same kind of lifestyle you do. Empathy doesn’t involve any assumption of homogeneity, it just means putting yourself in someone else’s place. I’m quite certain you don’t actually have any problem understanding this, and you do this constantly without even thinking about it, but this is just stretching for some excuse to justify being such a miser with your empathy. That’s all right; that’s what we were all meticulously trained to be. A major part of rewilding is learning to trust our senses again, and to extend our empathy to anything that acts like a person.

    The same is true when you compare cattle to human slaves and dogs to women we’ve raped. That comparison is misleading. It tricks our evolutionary programming, which tells us that neither cows nor dogs are humans and applying emotion (which is a product of evolution) to them is nonsense. It’s false empathy, and it’s not natural.

    In reality, it’s the most natural thing in the world. We need to be meticulously trained to have any other reaction. The comparison isn’t misleading at all; it’s the denial of it that’s misleading. Our “evolutionary programming” naturally extends empathy to everything that acts like a person, including cattle and dogs. We have to be trained to not apply our emotions to them. It’s not a false empathy, it’s the very definition of empathy, and nothing could be more natural. Because at the end of the day, domestication is slavery, and the difference between co-evolution with wolves and the domestication of dogs is exactly the same difference between making love and rape.

    But if the goal is to understand how the natural world works, and whether or not our behavior is anomalous, you can’t rely on them.

    This could hardly be more wrong. Ask any tracker: empathy is crucial. You absolutely cannot understand how the natural world works without your emotions.

    For Jason’s argument to survive scrutiny, he will need to tie it back into the belief that diversity is a primary good or to state that the non-domesticated animal is a primary good.

    Already did that. In the original article, I wrote:

    The result of these requirements is that only a small number of animals have ever been domesticated, and with few exceptions they are large, ruminant herd mammals. With plants, domestication does little better: with the exception of a small selection of fruits and vegetables, the vast majority of the domesticated diet, past and present, comes from just a vanishingly small number of closely related cereal grain species. Besides their genetic closeness, the fact that all of our domesticates fulfill basically the same ecological niches makes the domesticated world a supreme example of a curtailed, stunted, and even pathological ecosystem. The various problem of agriculture (illustrated so well by Richard Manning (2005)) ultimately come down to the basic issue of a homogeneous, inbred ecology. The problems of soil loss and desertification that has dogged agriculture since its inception in the vast, dense cedar forests of the Fertile Crescent, that it turned into the desert wasteland of modern Iraq, are the result of monoculture: growing cereal grains adapted to catastrophe all in a field, year after year, seperated from the other plant, animal, fungal and even bacterial relationships and biological succession that mark these species in their usual ecological niche. The simplicity of domination is easy to spread, and easier to overshoot, but it lacks the mutuality of normal evolutionary relationships that make a living community stable and sustainable. When we see this behavior in human lineages, it is easier to understand; marrying within the same family may keep a line “pure,” but without the genetic input and variability of other lineages to nourish and enrich that line, it becomes increasingly weak, and even twisted, as it has no other inputs but itself. Likewise, domestication is the inbreeding of ecology.

    In other words, one of the key marks against domestication is its overwhelming homogeneity, and the consequences of such a lack of diversity.

    Lamentable from an all-too-human perspective but there was never a time when human had the agency to choose a different path - natural selection brought us here.

    Not true. Domestication was a path we chose. We co-evolved with wolves for 100,000 years, but domesticating them, turning them into dogs, was something we did deliberately.

    But we have to acknowledge that factory farming is not synonymous with all forms of domestication and farming. There’s free-range organic farming in which domesticated animals are allowed to roam and range the way their wild descendants were on a certain area of land. And not all animals are tortured or beaten on farms.

    Oh, I never even got to factory farming. I’m talking about “organic agriculture,” agriculture as it was practiced before 1930, the agriculture that turned the Fertile Crescent into a desert and the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl. So-called “free range” animals are most emphatically not “allowed to roam and range the way their wild descendants were.” Free-range animals are still kept on a particular piece of land, kept from their usual migrations. They are still domesticated, with all the effects mentioned in the article. Even without being tortured or beaten, the process of domestication all on its own is sufficiently cruel. Whether or not domesticated animals are then additionally tortured or beaten is an altogether other subject. Right now, we’re just talking about the cruelty of domestication all on its own.

    They are not the same? Why would you argue that they are?

    Nobody said they were. Right now, we’re just talking about the underlying cruelty on which even the kindest, gentlest, free-range, organic, grass-fed farm is based.

    These two links in the sources are broken

    Give it time.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 6 August 2007 @ 10:39 AM

  24. What happens when the domesticated soldier humans next door
    see you living in paradise, and they make their move
    at their master’s orders, just as they did the last time?

    How much of a chance do you think rewilded humans have,
    when their neighbors are not?

    Is this the next “cold war”?

    Is the last “cold war” even really over?
    Or, have the Masters only just agreed not to talk about it any more,
    in front of the slaves, because it was hurting all of their productivities?

    Is it reasonable to believe that China will ever reduce their population
    to the level that they can rewild?

    Do you think they will ever want to?

    And if they do, and say, Europe, Russia, Brazil, the US, or ect. …
    - does not?

    Do you think that ANY Master will ever stop rewarding
    (tax credits, grants, awards, what ever…?)
    its slaves for making lots and lots of miserable (usable) “cannon fodder”?

    How time much do you think we have left?

    - Distant Coyote, age 19

    Comment by Distant Coyote — 10 August 2007 @ 12:41 PM

  25. What happens when the domesticated soldier humans next door see you living in paradise, and they make their move at their master’s orders, just as they did the last time?

    What “last time” would that be? Domesticated humans have never recognized the “paradises” that wild humans inhabit as such. At best, they think of them as wilderness going to waste. But that’s where timing comes in. When civilization is growing, it can brook no alternatives and destroys everything else. But when civilization is in collapse, the map opens up. That happens precisely because the domesticated soldier no longer lives next door, and their masters can no longer afford to send their men marching that far afield. That’s what makes the map open: the inability of civilization to exert control there.

    Is this the next “cold war”?

    No, it’s nothing like the cold war at all. It’s evolution, not revolution. There’s very little chance of any kind of violent, apocalyptic showdown. Rewilded humans will simply continue to survive as the situation changes, while domesticated humans won’t.

    Is it reasonable to believe that China will ever reduce their population to the level that they can rewild?

    Willingly? Of course not. No more than the U.S. or Europe or anyone else. This won’t be a matter of conscious, deliberate population reduction, in all probability. It’s much more likely to be a matter of natural selection.

    Do you think that ANY Master will ever stop rewarding (tax credits, grants, awards, what ever…?) its slaves for making lots and lots of miserable (usable) “cannon fodder”?

    Absolutely—when they no longer have tax credits, grants, awards or anything else to give them. It won’t be their choice, but they will stop.

    You seem to think I’m positing this as a grand, deliberate process. Humanity isn’t that rational. We don’t choose our fate; we just try to deal with it.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 August 2007 @ 1:09 PM

  26. “Horse brains decreased in size 16% following domestication”

    There is a breed of horse who’s brain has decreased very little, if at all. Its called a Spanish Mustang.
    http://spanishmustang.org/
    They are so intelligent, and demanding of dignity, that most old-school horseman (bust and break ‘em cowboy types) can not understand, or get along with them at all. If ever there was a group of humans who were candidates for re-wilding, it would be those people who understand and love these out-of-step-with-the-times horses. (They also seem to have a penchant for keeping primitive looking, wolf-like dogs, or “Dixie Dingos”.)
    Just thought you might find this interesting.

    Comment by Steve — 5 September 2007 @ 10:50 PM

  27. That would be interesting … if it’s true. Can you provide some hard data that the Spanish Mustang has regained its cranial capacity? It was domesticated, so it was lost, but if it regained some or all of that capacity after going feral, that would be very interesting. Do you have any numbers for that?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 6 September 2007 @ 8:57 AM

  28. most interesting thing iv read in ages.

    :)

    Comment by dendrite — 22 May 2009 @ 4:33 PM

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