From the dawn of time, humans have been engaging in a series of endeavors to facilitate their collective survival and improve their well-being.
After several failed iterations, humanity has finally arrived at a system that seems to stand the test of time: modern civilization.
However, despite its apparent success with an globalized agricultural, economical and political structure, one of its accompanying phenomena, human domestication, remains largely unexamined.
Because of that, this will be the topic we'll be delving into. We'll begin by examining the very concept of domestication, its wide-ranging examples and impacts, before looking into how this applies to humans — and what lessons we can extract from them.
When we think about domestication, the first things that come to mind are often animals such as cows and dogs. However, domestication is not just an animal-exclusive phenomenon, and can be actually defined more broadly as follows:
The process whereby one group — in order to satisfy certain needs — chooses to assume long-term care and control over another group of a species, who are made to work to fulfill those needs.
Here, the first group is referred to as the 'domesticator', and the second group the 'domesticate'. And since the word 'domestic' means 'related to a household', the works domesticates are tasked on are often related to a dwelling (or their surrounding).
Historically, domestication has provided us with a means of obtaining resources we might not have been able to obtain otherwise. These include, among others:
Here, the domesticates could be livestock, crops, pets, houseplants, fish, zoo animals or anything in between, with some form of domestication being more humane than others.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Traditionally, we like to think of domestication as a mutualistic, win-win trade between both parties, but the truth is that it's usually more complex and nuanced than can be communicated via a simple "net benefit".
For example, can we really say that:
In many cases, these organisms are certainly becoming more secure, but not freer. And they can't really manifest the full expression of themselves — as they do in the wild.
Furthermore, since domestication is a "naturalization" process, it can also change the domesticate as a species in a profound way. These changes include, among others:
In short, domesticates tend to be "cuter, more degenerate and more vulnerable" — a phenomenon coined in the scientific sphere as the domestication syndrome. This applies not only to animals, but to plants and Homo Sapiens as well.
By default, domestication usually presupposes the reproductive control of a group (i.e. biological domestication), but if we were to relax that requirement, then we'll see that we now have a concept to describe many of the phenomena around us today.
In particular, we'll see that many of the aspects mentioned above also apply when we consider the case of humans as their own domesticates. But before that, we need to take a look at modern civilization — and see how our society became that way.
Modern Civilization Explained
By definition, a civilization is simply a system designed for the long-term management of human beings. For a small group of people, such a structure can be made relatively simple, but it can complexify quickly as the number of its citizens increases.
Historically, the evolution of civilization can be roughly summarized as follows:
In fact, when we think of a modern civilization nowadays, we're often thinking about a system with the following components:
How Modern Civilization Domesticates Us
On the surface, the story of modern civilization has been that of progress, but underneath that progress, there's also a coercive system of lifestyles, etiquettes and rules that prevents us from fully realizing ourselves.
In fact, with the advent of technology and information revolution, this trend has only become more and more apparent.
Indeed, one could even argue that in this day and age, what domesticates humans — our domesticators — are often not individual human beings, but a subtle collection of humans with a certain societal role.
Of course, some of these examples can be a bit far-fetched, and none of these needs to be automatically a bad thing. After all, the domesticates only subject themselves to the care and control of others to further their own interests. So there's a win-win to it.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Overall, human domestication has been a remarkable driver of progress, with some of the most incredible achievements including, among others:
However, when the different kinds of domestications are accumulated and compounded over time, we also start to lose sight of what we are as a species — as we would no longer have a "placebo" point of reference to compare with.
If anything, the story of humanity so far has been mostly about how it exerts more and more control over nature, all of the while becoming more and more docile and less and less self-sufficient — a progress trap.
In fact, on the average we're getting physically weaker, mentally weaker, spiritually weaker and less attuned to our environment. The system that's designed to maximize our security is also now making us more degenerate and less free on a massive scale.
Sure, we might have domesticated our landscape to promote transportation and commerce (and to rule out predators, conflicts and natural dangers), but the reality is that this is less of a show of power than humanity in self-confinement.
And with our rapid development in technologies, this is a trend that we'd expect to continue: that we'd become more and more dependent on solutions which require technology or the input of an industry — at the cost of our own self-sufficiency.
Human Domestication Continues
In late 2019, humanity was hit by a new strain of virus (with origin linked to trading wildlife animals under deplorable sanitary conditions). This would result in a respiratory disease known as COVID-19, which has since then turned into a global pandemic.
To be sure, the fact that COVID-19 turned into a pandemic also has much to do with our globalized economy (and our modern civilization itself), but the most concerning part is actually not the virus itself — but our reaction to it:
In retrospect, while some of the measures have proven to be instrumental in attenuating the spread of virus, the overall reaction to the pandemic has been nothing short of devastating.
Indeed, from business shutdown, event canceling to depression and suicides, the drastic intervention by the governments has already led to a historic loss of social liberty and individual agency around the world.
To put it more bluntly:
It is as if we're in our own zoo, reacting panically after discovering that our masters have just pulled the plug (and that there's nothing we can do about it).
Of course, sometimes harsh circumstances are what it takes for us to realize that we're actually on a leash. And if we were to fall into poverty, hunger or diseases, it'd be because we've been self-domesticating ourselves to be self-insufficient to begin with.
So does that mean that our reaction to COVID-19 has brought us nothing but tragedies? Of course not. For example:
Most importantly, these developments have provided us with a time to take a good look at ourselves: to figure out what we really want as a species, to figure out how we should move forward to regain our freedom and dignity.
What's The Way Out?
Obviously, humanity has come a long way since the pre-historic age, and our domestication has played a key role in moving us towards a more efficient world. This means that whether we like it or not, many of our practices are here to stay.
However, just as it would be foolish to reject everything modern civilization has to offer, there are also some forms of domestication we should reject — for the simple reason that they prevent us from living a life true to ourselves.
Fortunately, the way toward a less domesticated life is actually very doable, and can be summarized by our motto: "humanity strong and free". This means working on things that make us stronger, while chasing after things that enliven us.
Working on Self-Sufficiency
In a nutshell, being self-sufficient means mastering a set of skills that reduce our dependence towards the civilization, without being completely detached from it. Doing so allows us to switch back and forth between both worlds — as we see fit.
For example, in terms of survival, self-sufficiency could mean:
In terms of lifestyle, self-sufficiency could mean:
And in term of cultivating intelligence and health, self-sufficiency could mean:
In other words, acts of self-sufficiency can be large or small, and one doesn't need to detach themselves from civilization to do it.
Embracing Full Self-Expression
It's often said that one of most important things in life is the actualization of oneself. However, one can also get in touch with their inner core via some very basic activities.
For example, in terms of physical activities, full self-expression could mean:
In terms of contact with nature, full self-expression could mean:
And in terms of spiritual health, full self-expression could mean:
In brief, the pursuit of self-expression is about chasing after what makes us feel alive, so that at the end of the day, we don't have to say that we are animals under shackles — because we've structured our routines in a way they're meant to be.
So that even though our civilization has evolved in such a way that in order to undomesticate ourselves, we often have to go against the norms, ultimately, there are still much we can do to make sure that our civilization does not work in our peril.