Human beings are a lot like dogs, and human societies are a lot like canine societies. The pattern of domestication in dogs by humans, follows very closely the pattern of increasing centralisation and control in human societies.
I write from the point of view of an individual living in a modern, liberal western democracy, in which we are constantly being told that this is the model for the world to follow, where all the members have representation and great freedoms are enjoyed. There is some truth in this, but the representation does not come from voting in elections every five years, but by long hard struggles of workers, protesters and minorities. Every major step towards liberation is strongly resisted by the state and usually only accepted once safeguards have been put in place to remove the threat to power that such steps may represent. As for freedom, there are so many restrictive laws in this country that it can seem everything is illegal. We are more observed than any other, cameras are everywhere. The fear of crime and stranger-danger, immigration and the outsider, the foreigner, the international terrorist, have been whipped up to the point of hysteria by the media, in the service of the state, so that the subjects will accept this level of observation, and even biometric passports and ID cards. Children are constantly observed and given no freedom at all to play apart from adults. They are taught to fear adults, and adults meanwhile are taught to condemn and fear children and especially ‘out of control teenagers’. In some ways we are less free now than we have ever been. The right to protest has been strongly curtailed. Demonstrations are now illegal within 5 miles of Parliament or without the permission of the police. The police are quite happy to give permission to any demonstration guaranteed to have no effect and to maintain the status quo, where people can vent a little anger and be given the illusory feeling of empowerment and having a say, by marching for a few hours with their like-minded protesters, as long as they go home again at the end of the day, and do not actually challenge any of the sources of their discontent. I could go on and on and on……..
We have no freedom in our daily lives either, since we have to work most of our time to pay our extortionate rent or mortgages, child care fees, fuel bills etc…… Most people have a couple of weeks holiday a year, which they are supposed to be grateful for; it was after all, one of the privileges fought hard for by the workers and trade union movement. We cannot build our shelter and live in the woods, or live as nomads, without constant harassment by the police and authorities. Everything is owned and controlled. Yet most of us still believe we are free. We happily accept the control over our lives in exchange for the only right we do possess, and that is the right to buy consumer goods, services, holidays, alcohol and leisure pursuits. Our relationships are controlled, as is how much we can express ourselves in public. We become more and more complicit in these controls as they become internalised into embarrassment and morals. Very few people have the confidence to attempt to break out from these accepted ways of living and not be concerned with what others may think of them. Many that do, only do so in the company of others who do the same, and immediately come under pressure to conform to another group with their own set of morals and code of behaviour.
So, let us look at dogs. We are probably at the stage of pampered pets. Some of us think we have a lovely life, with our luxurious houses, money and people to supply our every need and whim, and our ‘walk on the lead’ rewards every so often, like a night out partying or a two week holiday. As long as we wag our tails at the bosses and fetch the sticks they throw for us, they will continue to feed us and take us for walks. The trouble is, these dogs do not realise that everything in their lives is controlled; we decide when they get fed, when they get walks, where they go, when they are allowed off the lead, who they can sniff and how long for. Usually they are never allowed to mate and one day we might even take them to the vet for castration! But, we look after them, we treat their illnesses and injuries, protect them from harm and keep them warm, cosy and well fed. A pet dog who is kept outside in his kennel may think he has the best life possible until he compares it to another who is kept inside by the fire. He thinks he has the ultimate life until he meets another dog who curls up on his owners lap on the sofa or the owner’s bed and so it goes on. One dog may never be allowed off the lead, but is still very happy with his life, not realising that other dogs are allowed to run free all the time. There are relative levels of freedom and relative levels of comfort, varying lengths of leads and varying sizes of cages.
So, were wild dogs happier and freer? Obviously they had to suffer the tyranny of their own pack and of the harsh realities of living wild, food shortages, harsh climate etc. Life as a pampered pet is more comfortable and safer and so it is with us, which is probably why we are so happy to put up with the consequent lack of freedom. However, these animals were living according to their instincts, using their senses to the best of their abilities, at the peak of health, and fully living their lives, satisfying the dynamic drives of the life force itself. This is what we have lost. Most of us now live with a constant existential angst. Life has no meaning for us, and we are only half awake most of the time, going through the motions at work not putting our heart into it, because it is of no consequence to us. We only do it to pay for our shelter, food and nights on the booze at the weekend.
But before pampered pets, dogs were domesticated for work. We use dogs to round up cattle and sheep, to pull sledges, and to guard settlements and homesteads from wild animals and outsiders. These dogs seem to love their work. Work gives their lives meaning and this is because it fits in with their natural instincts. These roles are almost identical to their natural roles in the pack, hunting and guarding. Some people likewise get meaning from their work, some because their work involves instinctive behaviour, and some because their instincts are sublimated. For example, the instinct for the kill may be turned into an instinct for ‘making a killing’ with a good business deal and the prey may be a large sum of money or a new luxury car. Working dogs are usually not as pampered as pets. They tend to sleep outside and their owners are usually less sentimental about them. They are allowed to grow up, unlike pampered pets and ‘pampered pet humans’, both of which are kept in a state of emotionally arrested development and infantile dependency.
After pampered pets, some dogs, usually through no choice of their own, become feral. In less controlled cities, they tend to form packs, much reviled and treated with great cruelty by humans, and in more controlled areas, they hide away on their own until they are ‘arrested’. Some humans do make the choice to become feral and break out from the control around them. However, groups of feral humans, just like feral dogs have the hardest time of all. They may attempt to live closer to their instincts, but they are seen as outsiders and ruthlessly treated and hunted down by the mainstream society. Life is tough and many fall by the wayside.
So what is the best way for society to develop? I believe we need the freedom to be able to live in harmony with our instincts, rather than in constant conflict with them, but also with the security and relative stability of a modern society. There must be freedom to express ourselves, there must be mutual trust, no more observation, no more numbers, no more borders, freedom to roam and camp and set up shelters. This all requires a new openness to others, without division, labelling and suspicion. People must be valued as the unique individuals they are, rather than for the role they play as servants of the economy, and treated as mutual members of society, rather than potential criminals and suspects under surveillance. Ultimately, much more will have to be shared, otherwise we will continue to close up in isolation behind our locked gates and cameras to protect our ever-accumulating possessions. Most-importantly, work, life, leisure and family need to exist in our lives together, rather than in separate blocks as they do currently. Perhaps we will no longer be dogs at all, but we will always be animals; animals with the imagination to change the way we live, free at last from the tyranny of top dog and the hierarchical state; decisions made by consensus, everyone fulfilling their creativity and feeling a part of society, aware of the importance of the part they play. All will be valued, all will be respected, responsibility will be truly collective, rather than giving way to the blame game and scapegoating as it does at present, and those who remain outside will no longer be victimised and written off by the mainstream and media. They will no longer need to turn to crime, drugs and violence as is expected of them now and which, in turn, for many, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For me the domestication and state-enslavement of the human is symbolised by the brutal intolerance and persecution of the wolf (the wild and free male) and the persecution of the witch (the wild and free female). The last official record of a wolf killed in Scotland (and Britain) was at Killiekrankie in 1680 and by an eerie parallel, the last witch executed in England was two years later in Exeter in 1682, although the last to be hanged in Scotland was in 1727. This was the final nail in the coffin of our repression up to this point, but we will eventually arrive at a new freedom, because the human spirit will not tolerate being caged eternally.