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How Humans Became “Domesticated”

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

We place animals into two categories: wild and domesticated. Wild animals hunt for themselves while domesticated animals are dependent on humans. The domestication of animals is a distinct step forward in the complexification of society along with the development of agriculture.

While describing plants or animals, the word 'wild' means “living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated.” While describing humans, it means “not civilized; primitive,” which inevitably carries negative connotations. For example, when we comment that someone has a “wild personality,” it often implies that they are undisciplined, unconventional, or fun-driven at best.

Are humans wild or domesticated?

When I heard this question in history class, my first reaction was that we are all domesticated, unless you grew up in the wild and were raised by wolves. In modern society, we are trapped in buildings and factories and we have long lost the ability to live in the wild.

Domesticated animals evolve to become dependent on humans. They are tamed and bred to serve a species higher than themselves on the food chain, just like corn or weed or apples. My friend thinks that hunters and gatherers are closer to “wild humans” because they are not dependent on a shared economy to sustain themselves. In other words, their lifestyle is closer to wild animals in herds than a society based on agriculture and trade.

We can argue that the jump from wild to domesticated for humans is also highly correlated to the complexification of society. In other words, as society becomes more complicated, we become more domesticated. As society evolves, we invent more and more constructs for ourselves, such as the notion of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. We seek explanations for behaviors outside of the norms and label them as deviant.

Twenty years ago, Jared Diamond wrote an article titled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” arguing that the invention of agriculture was the beginning of all disasters, like the spread of disease due to population density and systematic issues like classism and misogyny. Looking back on his article during this global pandemic, I couldn’t help but wonder if he is right. What if COVID-19 is the result of 'population correction' (ie. the resources that we have are insufficient for the number of people on earth) or the earth trying to salvage itself from the human race?

Did we make a mistake?

If Jared Diamond is right, without the invention of agriculture, our society would not be nearly as congested as it is now. If we still lived in tribal communities, a disease like COVID-19 would kill most people in a tribe, but it would not spread widely. From a modern-day teenager’s self-centered perspective, however, I couldn’t imagine a life without the literature, art, and music I enjoy that have sprung from civilization and globalization. I’m grateful for the technologies that allow me to connect with people across the globe. The Incandescent Review, for one, wouldn’t be here without social media.

This doesn't bring an end to the questions. In the last decade, technology has advanced at an exponential rate. Could this be potential co-evolution with another "species," in a sense? Our generation especially has become more and more dependent on digital devices. For some of us, it is simply unimaginable to live without our phones and laptops. Perhaps a more relevant question to ask is: Are our devices "domesticating" us?



Diamond, J. (1987) “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” Accessed 20 April 2020.

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