Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I previously wrote a little about 'domestication' but it is a phenomenon that deserves quite a bit more attention. Like many summary words, domestication condenses some very complex and weighty behaviors down into just one little bit of sound and/or meaning and along the way can easily obscure and hide things that need to be examined and evaluated in order to fully understand what that summary word means.

If you look up the meaning of the term 'domesticate' at the Mirriam-Webster website, the 2nd explanation of its meaning reads: "to adapt (an animal or plant) to life in intimate association with and to the advantage of humans". Notice that there isn't any reference to this adapting having any benefit for the life form involved...the advantage is for human animals...not for the particular plant or animal. Much more often than not, this adapting includes decreasing the animals (and I'm focusing on animals in this instance) ability to survive on their own without human assistance. One of the meanings that tends to get lost when we use the word 'domesticated' is that dependency on humans is usually one of the effects involved in 'domesticating'.

If you look up the term 'wild' at that same dictionary website you will see that it is defined as: 1 a" "living in a state of nature and not ordinarily tame or domesticated"  or b (1) : "growing or produced without human aid or care". In other words...not dependent on humans.

I'm deliberately focusing on the dependency issue because, for most of us human animals, our primary interaction with the other animals we share the planet with is with these particular sorts of animals that have been manipulated by us to be dependent on humans. They have been changed, through our intervention, from their pre-intervention state to a condition wherein they are quite likely to require humans to assist them to survive.

The fact is, if someone wants to know what dogs were like before humans manipulated them, they would need to go observe wolves. If you wanted to know what cats were like before humans manipulated them, you would need to go hang out with some African wildcats because those appear to be the ancestors of domesticated cats.

The notion of 'animal rights' includes the idea that the other animals on this planet have the right to live their lives however they want. The truth is, most other animals, that haven't been 'domesticated' don't hang out around us very often. No one can much blame them, given the reign of imprisonment, terror, destruction and death that is pretty much our trademark behavior whenever we encounter other animals (and often when we encounter other human animals too).

Some folks get all excited and upset when you carry out the notion of animal rights to the logical conclusion that "pets" are species that have been manipulated to be dependent on humans and as such should be allowed to live out their lives but the "breeding" of such animals should be ended. And not only those animals generally thought of as "pets" but also any of the "farmed" animals that have been manipulated to the point that they have lost their ability to survive on their own. Yep, the world as envisioned by animal rights folks would likely be a world where there were no "pets".

Something to think about...the only animal that might want to hang out with you would be one that chose to...not because he or she had to but rather that they liked you and wanted to be around you. Isn't that how those that are respectful and accepting of others relate to one another?


Christina said...

Probably most of the wild animals that would just accept humans and seek our companionship wouldvend up extinct rather Dodo birds.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Christina. For sure if we were acting the way we do now...whomever decided to hang around us would be putting themselves at risk. But, maybe if we started behaving better we might attract a number of interested ones.

Nicola said...

Me and my boyfriend have been discussing this actually. In an ideal world, obviously there would be no dog breeders for example. But then what...having dogs in my family is certainly what awakened my compassion and unlocked parts of my heart I couldn't have imagined existed. So I admit it sort of made me sad to imagine a world with no 'pets' but then...Tough. So what? It's really not my place to decide and I shouldn't actually have the choice to force anyone to live with me anyway. I fondly imagine a place in the future where people have to tempt other animals into living with them by spoiling them rotten and pampering them until they can't resist ;-) x

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Nicola. I'm suspecting the post provoked a lot of thinking...some of it not so comfortable. I too have been lucky enough to have been in relationships with domesticated animals my whole life long and I have loved many deeply (and still do) and would feel my life greatly diminished had they not been there. But, as you say perfectly...tough. They never really had a choice and that is just wrong. None of us would likely be comfortable with being in that position so why on earth would we think it ok to place them in that position?

I agree, if we as a group of animals would move toward being the sort of critters that others would enjoy being around...then hey hey! But forcing it...nope... not ok.

I appreciate your comment also in that I was beginning to think I hadn't expressed myself clearly enough...but you heard me well...thanks.

Bea Elliott said...

Great post! And boy there is a lot to think about when it comes to inspecting our role regarding domesticating others.

My life too would not have been as rich if not for the presence of "pets" but through human-made circumstances they were all forced to share their lives with me.

It's the feral felines I've "rescued" most of all whose protest confirms that they had other plans... I think cats miss their freedom most of all. And no surprise that cat-lovers go through great lengths to provide safe liberty as much as possible:
I think for everyone these photos trigger mixed emotions. :/

Maybe the saying "If you love someone let them go. If they come back, they're your's - If not they never were" might apply here? But would our cats, dogs and bunnies return to captivity? I seriously doubt it - And that makes this post and the thought of "pets" that much more troubling. :(

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. I love your phrase "...they had other plans...". Yup, many cats, once they've had the opportunity to return to being independent beings living in the world don't have much interest in being a "pet". And the slideshow does provoke ambivalence...lots of it. Thank you for the link.

If you look at the estimated lengths of time humans have "domesticated" different animal folks that we call "pets" it seems we have been screwing up dogs (~15,000 yrs)the longest, then cats (~6,000 yrs) and then rabbits (~1,000 yrs). I am slowly coming to appreciate the significant amount of "wildness" that continues to live on in the bunnies. A seriously angry bunny is not a fun being to be around and the bunnies I've been around all(?) seem to have a fairly strong temper available to them. I've not seen that easily angered or enraged component in the cats and/or dogs I've known (at least not to the extent it is present in rabbits).

Of course I'm presuming the strong temper is a component of free-living bunnies, maybe not though. As far as docility goes...forget about far as I can see bunnies put cats to shame (on average) when it comes to being impervious to "bossing around". Bunnies are (on average) seriously not interested in cooperating...they will...but on their own terms and in their own time and in their own way. And, if you don't like it, can just kiss their bunny butt. :-)

I'm with you about the captivity thing, being a friend is a very different relationship than being a captive...I doubt if any being would opt to be a captive except in weird circumstances...but to be a friend...maybe...just maybe.

So very much has to do with development. Pretty much any sort of animal that must have parental care has some capability for engaging in an ongoing relationship with another being, even if it is one of dependent/caretaker. I don't know but I would bet that any living being that doesn't have parental care as part of their developmental path doesn't have much in the way of relationships with other beings during their lifespan. That would be my guess anyway. But...that's all a different set of thinkings and speculatings.

In the end, at least for me, so much of my limited understanding of others, be they bunny animal or dog animal or human animal has to do with my willingness to put myself in their place and look at it from their perspective and their limitations and strengths and physical size and chronological age...and even then it is only a puny and error filled guess. It damn sure isn't one where I would presume to be so full of myself that I thought I had the right to "own" another being and as the "owner" to decide what was good or bad for that other being. No, "domestication" is just a code word for making slaves that are easier to control and/or use.