Domestication and the Concurrent Loss of Responsibility

(photo by Duchamp, Flickr Creative Commons)

(photo by Duchamp, Flickr Creative Commons)

If people were to examine the lives of wild animals, they would clearly see that these organisms are responsible for every aspect of their lives—acquiring nutrition, keeping warm, avoiding predators, rearing young, and so on.  If we contrast this with farm animals, we see a completely different existence.  Domesticated animals do not need to secure their own food, find protective cover, and keep themselves safe.  These are all performed by their human keepers.  In fact, in some farming systems, animals need not raise their own offspring because young animals are removed from their parents to be raised by humans (or human-controlled machinery).  And if the human keepers turn out not to be conscientious people, the treatment the animals receive can be less than humane.  Fortunately, we humans live a completely different life than farm animals and do not have to worry about other people controlling aspects of our living and potentially infringing on our health.  We are responsible for ourselves.  Or are we?

It’s hard to know where to even begin in answering this question.  We (contemporary people) have turned over the responsibility in so many parts of our life, and have for so long, that we don’t even know we’ve done it.  I’m going to use a few examples to help illustrate this.  Let’s start with education.  Are you involved in what your child learns while at school?  Have you been involved in determining what methods of teaching will be used?  If you think your children are in good hands, then please be aware that the United States ranks behind many countries in reading, math, and science.  We don’t even break into the top twenty nations in any of these topics.  Whereas education used to be the responsibility of the parents and community, most parents have turned that responsibility over to federal and state agencies.  While we could dive into a detailed discussion of many topics, it is clear that our schools are inefficient at what they do given that we spend twice as much money per student as some countries that score similarly on student performance tests as the United States.  And with standardized testing, the United States is interested in producing homogeneity.  I would argue right now we need diversity of thought, ingenuity, awareness, and people willing to break from social norms.  Let’s face it, our social norms are apathy for the well-being of anything that isn’t human, pollution of the very resources we need to live, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what health really is (hint, it isn’t just about how long you live).  In short, we gave away the responsibility for educating the next generation.  Perhaps this is a responsibility we should (at least in part) take back.

Given that it is the holiday season, let’s briefly discuss consumer awareness of safety, specifically, with children’s toys.  A study in 2008 found that 1 in 3 toys tested consumed hazardous levels of toxic substances, such as lead, bisphenol-A, flame retardants, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.  Given this, you would expect that a number of agencies are working to repair this situation and insure the toys your children play with are not going to contribute to illness.  Though that may be partly true, a number of organizations, including the Toy Industry Association and the American Chemical Council, are lobbying hard to block efforts to make toys safer.  Considering that your children put toys in their mouths, food, and baths, one would assume that anything that can lead to cognitive impairment, delayed development, and cancer would be the last thing included in children’s toys.  But, if you assume that, you would be wrong.  Allowing manufacturers and legislators to protect the safety of our children has exposed the next generation to serious health risks.  Perhaps this is a responsibility we should (at least in part) take back.

What about clothing?  People used to make their own.  We gave that responsibility to manufacturers who use fabrics that require massive amounts of chemicals to grow or use synthetic products that break down (in the wash) and deposit microscopic plastic filaments in our waters.  What about health?  We gave that responsibility to pharmaceutical companies who manufacture vaccines to protect us from disease.  What about nutrition?  We gave that over to the United States Department of Agriculture who creates dietary recommendations based on the foods that are abundantly produced (not the foods that create vibrant health).  By now, I assume you are getting point.

We will spend due diligence to determine which smart phone we will purchase, the appropriate plan we would sign up for, and which protective case we will enclose the new phone in.  But we rarely spend any time learning what our children were taught at school, what they come into contact with, and what is fed to them.  We simply trust all kinds of organizations and agencies to do this for us.  Farm animals were domesticated from wild (i.e., aware) animals.  The domestication process created animals that were tame (i.e., were not dangerous to human keepers).  Today, the animals are tended so they will produce a particular product (or products).  They don’t ask questions and they sit or stand quietly, enduring whatever their keepers ask of them.  I would politely argue most of us do the same.  We ask no questions and we produce products for our keepers (i.e., we are domesticated).  We gave away our responsibility for healthy bodies and healthy ecosystems.  Perhaps this is a responsibility we should (at least in part) take back.