The above title signals that I think I have something important to say, and that I think you should listen. A more inconspicuous way of naming this piece would’ve been to call it something like “The domestication of the human animal”. But then that might not have got your attention. This is the dilemma of titling.
But there’s more to it than just getting your attention. See, the actual title of this piece is an example of not-so-subtle signalling (NSSS). The title I passed over is an example of subtle signalling (SS). And my hypothesis is that the more domesticated an animal is the harder it is for that animal to detect subtle signals.
Think of a wild cat, a jaguar. To survive, it has to eat. To eat, it has to kill. To kill, it has to hunt. To hunt, it needs to pay attention to subtle signals in its environment. Things like smell, weather, the season and past patterns of its prey’s movement.
Now think of a domesticated cat, a fuzzy ginger one. To survive, it has to eat. To eat, it has to be fed by a human. To be fed by a human, all it has to do is keep returning to the same house and occasionally mask its contempt for non-cats with a veneer of affection.
Considering the human animal, it’s easy to see that we resemble the fuzzy ginger cat more than the jaguar. This has consequences, chief of which is that we become reliant on NSSS for our continued existence. Again, taking the example of feeding, the only signal we need to listen out for is our brain saying “I needz food.” Once we receive that signal all we have to do is go to the kitchen—or heaven forbid, the shop—and whip something up.
If we existed in the wilderness NSSS would be the beginning of our quest to alleviate hunger. We’d have to pay attention to a plethora of SS, as well as NSSS, to secure sustenance for the night.
Of course, the development of civilisation and the domestication of those who are a part of it has many boons. Too many to list. But this civilisation and domestication is also a drawback. Sure, the structures of society enable a more predictable and secure supply of the things we need to continue living. But they also curb our wildness and vitality through the means of dependence. That’s what domestication ultimately results in; dependence. A domesticated dog will likely die if abandoned in the forest. So would we if we were forced to survive in the wilderness and given no time to prepare.
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this complete and utter domestication is an acceptable tradeoff for the benefits of society. But I will say this in closing: is it not strange that the majority of the human race now struggles to endure, let alone enjoy, extended periods of time in the wilderness? We used to feel, if not at home, at least at ease amongst nature, in the wild. Now, we are estranged from it and feel safe only in the gentle embrace of the constructs of society, where we know that subtle signals don’t matter. We only feel comfortable when we can trust that, if something is really and truly wrong, someone will say, “Shut the fuck up and pay attention.”