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The Domestication of Basic Instincts

Our history is the story of the means we had to use to manage our instincts in an environment to which they were no longer adapted when we switched, for reasons unknown, from a feral type of lifestyle to an agrarian one.

What happened to our species is the dilemma of all wild animals that find themselves in captivity. In fact, all the morphological and psychological changes that animals underwent during their domestication in a relatively short period of time are not unlike those that humans themselves underwent during the same period. (1)(2)

In other words, the techniques of animal domestication such as confinement, food deprivation, physical castration, selection for docility, and the civilization of basic instincts by various techniques of coercion have also served to domesticate man.

The human condition is very much an unconscious transposition of the animal condition, the shadow of the animal saga. (3) Or is it the other way around? Did we first self-domesticate before domesticating animals?


In order to domesticate some of the bigger or more dangerous species such as the Aurochs, the ancestors of cattle, size and character had to be acted upon. Two of the techniques used to this end were confinement and food deprivation. Studies have shown that food quality and conditions of captivity have an impact on the weight of offspring at birth, on their vitality, and on longevity. According to specialists, these remarkable physiological changes are attributable to the stress linked to captivity and to hormonal disturbances associated with a physically and psychologically abnormal state of dependence. The increased frequency of disease and the decrease in mobility and general activity also have a strong impact on the size and vigor of the offspring. (4)

After only a few generations of this treatment, the facial bones are flattened and saggy, the jaw is shorter, and the teeth, smaller. Chewing is done less efficiently. The brain shrinks and there is a distinct degeneration of sensorial faculties; because domestic animals live less intense lives than their wild counterparts, their senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch are less solicited, and thus become dulled. Limbs are also shorter, and the biomechanics of the body are transformed. Fatty tissues are more abundant and musculature is less developed. At archeological sites, size is one of the criteria used by anthropologists to identify animals as either domesticated or at least as no longer having lived in their natural habitat. (5)

Modern-day breeders of Pot-bellied Vietnamese pigs, for example, are quite familiar with the effects of a lack of exercise and nutritional deprivation on animals. Some do not hesitate to keep theirs hungry and in miniscule cages to hinder growth. (6) These methods have actually been known for a very long time and have even been applied to humans. As such, two thousand years ago, the Greeks closed up their children in chests, called gloottokoma, made for this purpose. The Romans underfed their children with the same goal in mind. Some even tried to breed midgets. (7)

Food deprivation or an inadequate diet also has a marked effect on sexuality. In order to adapt to a chronic lack of nourishment and a short life expectancy, captive animals reproduce more quickly. Instead of having one heat cycle per year like wolves, dogs can have two, three, or even four. They are also sexually precocious. A female dog can come into heat at five or six months of age, while a wolf is mature at only two years.  Promiscuity and unusual sexual behavior are the norm in captivity, whereas it is nearly absent in most species living in their own ecosystems. (8)

It is worth noting that totally dependent animals, those whose owners make them lead an almost vegetative existence with limited or no contact with other members of their species, often do not show any sexual impulses; when they do, the impulses are not pronounced or are abnormal and directed towards their masters. Some hyper-domesticated males do not raise their leg to urinate and some females do not go into heat, if they do at all, before two or three years of age.

The brain of a captive animal is smaller than that of his wild counterpart and his senses are much less sharp. Dependence is associated with a degeneration of sensorial faculties. Because domestic animals live less intense lives than wild animals, their senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch are less solicited; as a result, they become dulled.

Humans were also affected in the same matter. In Greece and Turkey for instance, paleopathologists have uncovered thousands of deformed human skeletons dating back to the beginning of sedentary life and agriculture, which show the unmistakable signs of nutritional disease and stunted growth. (9) As noted by Konrad Lorenz, like other domesticated animals, humans no longer subjected to natural selection accumulate irregularities and malformations, which would otherwise be quickly eliminated. (10)


In addition to acting on the size of animals by food deprivation and confinement, we have sought to calm the natural ardors of more aggressive species and to inhibit unbridled sexual instincts. Castration has been the favored method of doing so since the beginning of domestication.

In the New World, only a few centuries ago, castration was also used to calm those black slaves who tended to revolt or escape a little too often. Theirs is a lesser-known story than that of the eunuchs, or castrated men, in China, Greece, Persia, and ancient Rome. Eunuchs were charged with protecting the harem and some became the irreplaceable confidants of the lords. In the 16th century Chinese imperial court, more than 20,000 eunuchs served as functionaries, guards, messengers, and servants. (11)

Finally, there was a time of partiality to castrated choral singers. Farinelli (1705-1782) was among these; he had a brilliant singing career that put him at the personal service of Spain’s Philippe V. The king, who was afflicted with chronic melancholy, found relief only in listening to the miraculous voice of Farinelli, (12) the world’s best-known human songbird, with Celine Dion and most of today’s Western politicians.


While neutering has always been the favored method of making animals tamer and more docile, it has its limitations: for obvious reasons, you cannot sterilize animals you intend to breed. So, creating animals that were more subdued and manageable also required selecting for docility. (13)(14)

As mentioned earlier, animals with the most pronounced juvenile characteristics were also the most attaching and the most moving; they were the ones that received the most mercy. In other words, the most docile and submissive animals, those that obeyed the most, that let themselves be picked up or taken along, were those which had the best chance of being kept and bred. A recent study has shown that wild foxes raised for fur and selected for their docility towards man will behave like dogs within only twenty generations or so. They seek out human company more and more, and wag their tails. Physically, they shed for longer periods, their ears become floppy, their tails straighten, and their coats change color. (15)

The persistence into adulthood of juvenile physical traits and infantile behavior constitutes one of the most striking features of the domestic animal. An adult dog demonstrates behaviors typical of a wolf cub: he seeks frequent attention, he likes to play, he barks, he wiggles, and he crawls submissively. Like a child, he is extremely dependent and, consequently, easily bored. The dog is an eternal adolescent, impetuous and extravagant, and this is probably what makes him so endearing. We would feel very differently about dogs if they outgrew these qualities and acquired social maturity. (16)

In human beings, the shift from nature to culture has favored a form of evolution, which caused some profound changes in our morphology and in our psychology. Man’s flat face, high domed skull and large brain, reduced pelt, large eyes, and small teeth are all infant features that we retain into adulthood. (17)

Additionally, the civilization process has resulted in a tightly woven network of social interdependency that is directly related to an increase in docility and submissive behavior. In our present consumer world, adults, like children, are extremely sensitive to a lack of attention. Unless they are constantly entertained and encouraged, they are prone to anxiety, boredom, and depression; and that’s without mentioning the size of the cerebral cortex of children and teenagers, which shrinks after a certain number of daily screen hours. (18) In the long run, the smartphone and the lowering of education as a whole led to a general dumbing down (19) where, as the school specialist Arnauld de Tocquesaint says, “virtuosity, harmony, and genius no longer matter.” (20)

Is this the ultimate goal of domestication and technological progress? In the age of 5G and artificial intelligence, will humans become for all practical purposes simple slaves unable to think or to revolt against the superclass that will have programmed its voluntary servitude? It sure looks like it!

To sum up, the hallmark of domestication for animals and humans is a genetic drift that cumulates into marked physical, psychological, and sexual decadence.


The final step in the domestication process is training. A domesticated animal must learn to obey and behave in a civilized manner. This process of civilization is accomplished by positive and negative conditioning or more often by a combination of both. Several methods are used:

1) Positive conditioning, aka, the carrot: a subject is rewarded with some form of reward, such as praise, petting, games, or food, when it performs a desired behavior.

2) Negative conditioning: a subject is punished by depriving him of a reward.

3) Positive punishment, aka, the stick: a subject may be beaten with a leash, momentarily choked with a collar, slapped on the head, etc.

In general, farm animals are trained using the third method exclusively.

In dogs, techniques number two and three are commonly used together or separately. Thus, the owner will often use the “stick” and immediately follow with the “carrot” in the form of a caress or a treat accompanied by some conciliatory words. In some cases, the more adept in the art of domination will use only method two.

For the cat, an animal impervious to the “stick,” the preferred technique is the “carrot” in the form of petting, kibbles, and snacks made ultra-appetizing by chemical flavor enhancers. (21)

The carrot method is also popular among humans, especially in older democracies where the stick is used less and less, with some exceptions, to train hardheads that do not respond to gentle methods of coercion. (22)(23)(24)

On the other hand, in totalitarian countries, where people are usually openly treated as beasts of burden, the stick is still the preferred means of training.

But make no mistake, farm animal or pet, totalitarianism or democracy, it’s all the same, the common objective is the domestication of basic instincts.

References and Notes

  1. John A. Livingston, The Rogue Primate. An Exploration of Human Domestication, Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1994.
  2. 2. Peter J. Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species, Yale University Press, 1998.
  3. André G. Haudricourt, “Domestication des animaux, culture des plantes et traitement d’autrui,” L’Homme, 1962, (2), no 1, p. 40-50.
  4. Avishag Ginzburg, “The beginnings of domestication: Osteological criteria for the identification of domesticated mammals in archeological sites,” Israel Journal of Veterinary Medicine; 1996, vol. 51, no2: 83-92.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Linda K. Lord, “A Survey of Humane Organizations and Slaughter Plants Regarding Experiences with Vietnamese Potbellied Pigs,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; 1997, vol. 211: 562.
  7. Yi-Fu Tuan, Dominance and affection: The making of pets, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992.
  8. L. Brisbin and T. Rich, “Primitive Dogs, their Ecology and Behavior: Unique Opportunities to Study the Early Development of the Human-Canine bond,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; 1997, vol. 210, No. 8 : 1122-1126.
  9. Michael Shermer, “The Beautiful People Myth: Why the Grass is Always Greener in the Other Century,” The Border Lands of Science. Where Science meets Nonsense. Oxford, 2001, p. 250.
  10. Konrad Lorenz, Le tout et la partie dans la société animale, Trois essais sur le comportement animal et humain. Seuil, 1970.
  11. Yi-Fu Tuan, work cited.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Juliet Clutton-Brock, and Peter Jewell, “Origin and Domestication of the Dog,” Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog. Saunders, 1993.
  14. Juliet Clutton-Brock, “Man-Made Dogs.” Science ; vol. 197, no 30 : 1340-1342.
  15. Lyudmila N. Trut, “Early Canid Domestication. The Farm-Fox Experiment,” American Scientist, 1999, vol. 87 : 160-169. This article is a good summary of the work of the Russian scientist, D. K. Belyaev:
  16. Ibid; Juliet Clutton-Brock, work cited. The retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood is technically referred to as “pedomorphosis”.
  17. Neoteny: “neos” in Greek means “young” and “teinen,” “to extend, to prolong.” In biology: temporary or permanent persistence of larval forms during the development of an organism. Neoteny can be a way out for species on the verge of extinction. See Stephen Jay Gould who has written extensively on the subject in: A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse; The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History, WW Norton, 1980; see also Konrad Lorenz, work cited. Gould and Lorenz make the connection between the neotenization of domestic animals and that which man has undergone since he left the state of nature.
  18. See:
  19. Jon Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down. The Hiden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, New Society Publishers, 2005.
  20. Arnaud de Tocquesaint, La face cachée de l’école, Kontre Kulture.
  21. Charles Danten, « Le chat, animal fétiche de la servitude volontaire », Nexus, sept.-oct. 2020.
  22. Charles Danten, « La démocratisation des pulsions », Nexus, nov.-dec. 2020.
  23. Elias Norbert, La civilisation des mœurs and La Dynamique de l’Occident, Calmann-Levy, 1991. (Translated from German by Pierre Kamnitzer).
  24. Melton James, Absolutism and the Eighteenth-Century Origins of Compulsory Schooling in Prussia and Austria, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 40.
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