What Domestication Has Done

it’s a variation on Wrangham’s chapter title, in “The Goodness Paradox,” I’m writing a commentary as I read. For background, domesticated animals show a group of changes that add up to a domesticated species never quite growing up. As a nice, clear example, for a very long time, everyone thought that the bonobo skulls in Britain’s museum were juvenile chimpanzees, before they were sen as their own, and now, somewhat domesticated species. I’m afraid I’m just giving you a snippet in the middle of a conversation I’m having with myself. But if anyone were following this train of thought, they’d see this is an important connection.


. . . I got nuthin’. Questions about the infantilization aspect of it – it fits, I really think I’ve been all for it, more infantilization, I mean if violence is maturity – but I wasn’t so explicit about it, it’s a scary thing to ponder that we seem to have opted for arrested development, a little difficult to ask for more when you put it that way. Again, leaping from anthropology to today’s problems, I suppose.

Definitely a loaded idea.

I mean, extreme violence sometimes has the character of infantile rage, infantile disregard for the future. I fear that this may be an important thing, part of the explanation for how we can go quiet for years and then explode in a world war . . . Good Lord, these are times of us as a species or a nation cutting our teeth, deciding we’re the grownups now and doing what a grownup does? There’s a large component of juvenile rebellion in the far right memes about totalitarianism and not treading on me, isn’t there? Hold on . . . maturity is when aggression – rage? – gets expressed (the inverse of the point that docility is a paedomorphic trait, juvenile chimps etc., fight less than adults), so by AST childhood is when rage is . . . gathered.

If there is anything to this psychological sort of idea, then domestication – selected infantilization – only avoids the release at the end? We never mature to a stage where we kill when we feel like it? And we gather frustrations, etc., all of our lives, socially controlled, any vestigial personal space deeply and dangerously frowned upon,  we amass our aggression, reactive or otherwise and wait for times when we can put it to use? We’re allowed to flex our grownup muscles and kill when somebody else, or everybody else feels like it.

It think it is possible that this puzzle is nearly complete here, Doctor.



June 25th., 2020

Civil Suit: AST is already on record

So, the idea, AST, is that our punitive abuse of one another makes us more aggressive.

So we spank the kids when they’re little and jail them when they’re grown, the kids all need to be tough, it’s a tough, competitive world out there. For many these days, it seems overly so, and for some, when they seem to be losing, the American doctors are providing testosterone supplements, you know, it’s a competition, maybe a little more fire will straighten your life out. I get it sort, of. I mean, I’m on record as saying I don’t like it, but I get it.

I’m not actually here to argue that point today, I simply want to draw my usual conclusion, and this time a form of proof, from the scenario just described.

If the prescription for the milder, less aggressive folks is to gain some aggression, if that’s a solution for people, then that is proof of the motivations I and AST ascribe to the abuse of punishments – we already agree to my premise, the perceived need to artificially increase our aggression.

I’ve been looking for something like that!

It’s all right here, right in front of me, in front of all of us, but seeing it is still an exceedingly difficult thing.




June 8th., 2020

Expedient Racism

It’s a cult of violence, punishment gone mad, people apparently thinking if a little abuse is good for us, a lot must be better, and we are all raised in it, it is the most heritable thing in the  world, transmitted by force, from all to all. This abuse is a feedback loop, reinforcing itself, the abused abuse, and are abused again “to stop them.”

The threat never ceases, as many have observed, humans live in threat response constantly, always on guard. In this world, where there is always the pain of authority and power over your head, stress is a condition of human life.

Our aboriginal world was largely monochromatic, as the chimpanzee Gombe secession and war showed, our neighbors were our cousins, and they look just like us. Many human societies have customs designed to differentiate themselves from the neighbors, who probably started out as identical to ourselves, scarification and such. I don’t think our aboriginal condition meant different coloured neighbors; I don’t think skin-colour racism is an old thing in the world, certainly it isn’t primal.

Fighting is, though, violence is, and in a world of threat, finding an obvious, visible other to deflect to . . . priceless, to make an Amex commercial out of it. This is racism – convenience, visibility. The function it serves – othering, threat, war, the dominance of warriors, is older than racism, and apparently not suffering any criticism, everyone loves punishing, everyone worships strength.

I think racism doesn’t need to be taught.

I think in this setup, this competitive, punitive, police state cult of punishing and violence, I think the kids will be looking for victims, and find their own way to racism, whether you model exactly that particular sort of hate or not.

I mean, that would be terrific, I guess if we were just a cult of violence all day long, but not a racist one, an equal opportunity police state . . . OK, you see it now? I hate racism too, but if this were a non-violent world, where people wouldn’t hurt us, then racism would just be mean comedy, right? I just think if there’s a racial murder, the murder should get top billing, like it might be a murder prosecution, but . . . no, it’s an op-ed about race. I’m not getting there.

I would happily wake up to a world that is racist, misogynist, queerist and everything else, if it weren’t violent, if nobody killed nobody. Conversely, I will still fear a world where every verifiable form of discrimination has been outlawed but violence has not – and it has not if we still allow someone to do it, like the police and the military.



June 7th., 2020

The Myth of the Stick

I’m reading Wrangham’s “the Goodness Paradox,” and I’m writing an entire corollary as I read it, but in the middle of that, out popped this

The Myth of the Stick

There was a mother and a child, alone on their farm, the child born while the father was away at war. The mother was kind, and doting, satisfying the child’s every need, nourishment, protection, warmth, but as the child grew and found its feet, while tottering about, it found a stick.

The child turned the stick about and poked at the ground with it, and when he found it in his hand at one end and he flailed, he saw it struck the Earth and made a noise. Soon, this was the game, find a stick and strike the ground. The mother worried a little for the animals, if one got struck and reacted, and she took the stick away, giving the child some food instead. The child liked his sticks though and found one when he could and one day when the mother was taking it away, the child struck her with it.

The mother worried but doing what she could to oppose the behaviour didn’t seem to be working, the child seemed wild and unwilling to talk about it. She worried, and she prayed and was amazed when Apollo himself appeared to answer her.

The god gave her a stout stick, the length and girth of her arm.

She didn’t object, but looked confused, thinking, surely I could find my own stick?

The god smiled.

“This rod is your answer. It is too long and heavy for the child, even when he has grown many years and can carry it, he will have his own children to deal with before he can swing it as fast as you can.”

When the woman still looked lost, Apollo frowned, also in wonderment.

“It will make him stop hitting you.” He said. “But it makes him want to even more. Use it sparingly.” The god disappeared again in a flash of light and the mother found herself alone, staring at the wood in her hands and promising herself to never, ever use it.

And the rest is history.



June 6th., 2020

The First Three Monkeys

The point, what I always fail to say:

We have a mostly unconscious strategy to hurt ourselves/one another, to mold ourselves as hurt, and so aggressive – because of what is reflected in expressions like ‘fortune favours the bold,’ and ‘the best defense is a good offense,’ – somehow we feel safest from the tip of the spear when we are holding the dull end ourselves. I think that’s my best effort yet to express that awful game theory . . . bias or whatever it is. Strategy, I have settled upon, right.

We have this strategy, and because we keep it in the dark, we are subject to it and our conflicting peaceful efforts are suborned by it every time, and everyone who has ever heard of psychology knows the cure: we must make the unconscious conscious. We must simply become aware of it. We must learn our self-destructive tendency and watch for it. There is a hundredth monkey event in process about it, I only hope it’s not too little too late.

So far, I’m aware of three such monkeys, myself, primatologist Richard Wrangham, and psychiatrist author Iain McGilchrist. There is some overlap in this connected world, but basically, we all came to it from different directions. Primatology and bonobo research, per Wrangham certainly influenced me, and ideas of psychiatry and psychology certainly did as well, but McGilchrist came at it by asking why we have two hemispheres, not really psychiatry. I asked what punishment is, not really psychology or primatology.

If Wrangham had a single question like that, I haven’t gleaned it just yet. In the preface to the Goodness Paradox, he said “All that I wanted to do was study animal behaviour . . . ” but the behaviour raised questions. “What is aggression?” perhaps.

I haven’t yet read the Divided Brain, McGilchrist’s latest as of this writing, but in the documentary film version, he states that our measures for social control, conformity and punishments, etc., stress us out and keep us in the fight or flight mode, a part of which is left brain hemisphere dominance, which has our big picture, long range thinking attenuated, basically that we’re moving from emergency to emergency and never sitting back to analyze and assess the entire situation. Sorry – the left hemisphere seems to excel at details in the present, while the right seems to deal in more abstract things, bigger things. He’s drawn that division of labour somewhat differently than the previous popular version of rational and emotional.

Wrangham’s thing these last few years at least, is that he has broken down the noun “aggression” for us in a useful way, making a distinction between reactive and proactive aggression or violence. For me at least, he has finally called what our punishers do “aggression,” finally placed it as a behaviour in itself, not some quasi-divine intervention for lowly animal behaviours, not somehow “rational” as opposed to behavioural or evolved or anything else that means we would study it, which means we would acknowledge it.

I believe he’s suggested that we have basically cured our reactive violence problems, but that now it’s time to look at the proactive kind of violence, that that is where the trouble is coming from now – but I could be reading too much into the paper I’ve read. I should finish the book before I mis-promote anybody. So not sure if that’s exactly his point – but it’s mine, absolutely. I think a planned murder is proactive violence – whether planned by Jack the Ripper or by the Texas State Supreme Court and I wouldn’t want to be at the mercy of either of them. All in all, as long as I could know it had no compelling reason to kill me, a full belly, no kill or cubs to protect – I’d rather take my chances with a polar bear’s reactive violence. Some chance is better than none. I might catch the bear in a good mood, like those sled dogs did!

What are my odds of finding the Texas State Supreme Court in a good mood?

Ha. I break myself up. Jokes tailored specifically for my DNA, of course, no kidding.

I don’t suppose those other two fellows have taken it to the logical extreme like I have and basically gone “anti-punishment,” but they have clearly and squarely confirmed a basis for why I did.

So, wanted: ninety-seven more monkeys that can see our control is the problem now, and it’s time to solve the new problem. I think a hundred monkeys is a unit, maybe one live meme, and until there’s a hundred, this idea doesn’t quite exist yet.

Anybody out there?



June 3rd., 2020