After the Renaissance, in the 16C at the dawn of the industrial revolution, a “mutation of sensibilities” begins which will result in the 19C century in a major change of the animal condition. Until then confined to the wealthy classes, the passion for pets spread to the rising classes of the bourgeoisie, and even to the working classes. (1)
A Terrible Plague
Before that, men lived like animals, in tune with their animality, without any clear demarcation between one and the other; pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, and cats, everyone crammed together in the same house, in the same yard and in the same street. Obvious violence, both towards humans and animals, was widespread, in all social strata. The men all carried knives in their belts, which they did not hesitate to draw at the slightest pretext. Fear was everywhere. One had to be constantly on one’s guard. (2)
The stick alone being ineffective, even counter-productive since it incited to revolt, the authorities of the time chose a gentler way to manage impulses and increase social cohesion: compulsory schooling.
This major renovation in the way of training the animal inside is a Prussian invention that forced all citizens to submit to a long process of socialization that guaranteed good behavior while preventing dissension. Its institution was painful, as parents of that time were strongly opposed to it; children were often led to school by soldiers at gunpoint. (3) Today, ironically, only the gun, and even then, could prevent parents from bringing their children to school for indoctrination.
The Instrumentalization of Writing
According to French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, to instill good behavior, everyone had to learn to read and write, so the production of books suddenly intensified on a massive scale:
Writing seems to favor the exploitation of men before their enlightenment. […] The primary function of written communication is to facilitate enslavement. […] The systemic action of European states in favor of compulsory education, which developed during the 19th century, went hand in hand with the extension of military service and proletarianization. The fight against illiteracy was thus confused with the reinforcement of the control of citizens by the Power. For it is necessary that all know how to read so that the latter can say: no one is supposed to ignore the law. (4)
The Civilizing Process
“The authority of the state and of the teacher must be transferred from the outside to the inside of the subject,” emphasizes the Prussian theologian Hermann Francke (1663-1727), one of the founders of the present-day educational system, “… that is why it is important to integrate the rules of power into the personality of the pupil as early as possible so that he will be self-disciplined.” (5)
Thus, the principles of virtue and good behavior must penetrate deep into the student’s psychology, internalized, somatized to the point of making him think that he is free to do as he wishes. (6)
If misbehavior was still punished by the stick (fear) or positive punishment, it was thought at that time, as it still is today, that passive domination, by the carrot (pleasure) was the ideal instrument of control.
“Excessive severity hardens or embitters the pupil, strive to be a father not a disciplinarian; as an instrument of pedagogical control, affection is far more effective than corporal punishment; use gentle rather than open violence, that way, genuine obedience is not merely outward, but comes from deep within the soul. It is not rendered out of [hard] coercion but with a willing heart,” argues Hermann Francke. (7)
In this training scheme, various handouts and treats quickly lead to dependence and submission to established rules. Replacing open violence with its anodyne, affection, what H. Francke calls “gentle violence,” (8) is much more efficient and revolt-proof. Anyone who doesn’t obey or act as is required receives no gratification or feel-good sensations. It’s as simple as that. In this form of training, the victim cannot revolt because there are no physical blows. All he feels is a void, or a vague, unpleasant sensation in the pit of his stomach. This makes this kind of invisible control much more perverse and crueler by its subtlety and sophistication than open violence.
In older democracies, where this training scheme has been perfected, citizens in general no longer have to be forced to comply with established rules. Obedience is second nature. Instincts are regulated with state-of-the-art domination, with a minimum of open violence, thereby creating the illusion that everyone is free to come and go as he pleases, to the point of loving it and asking for seconds in the spirit of this quote falsely attributed to Aldous Huxley, but often repeated:
The perfect dictatorship would be a dictatorship that would have the appearance of democracy, a prison without walls from which the prisoners would not think of escaping. A system of slavery where, thanks to consumption and entertainment, the slaves would have the love of their servitude. (9)
Civilization and Its Discontents
This kind of educational scheme based on affection and gentle violence quickly causes a disruption of the emotional regulator, or “emotionstat,” and a progressive emotional dependence that leads to infantilization and feelings of emptiness and loneliness. In short, a chronic anxiety develops that pushes one to compulsive indulgence in a never-ending vicious circle, which can culminate in bizarre and unpredictable ways.
While some will cope with this chronic anxiety by channeling it into various forms of escapes like cell-phone addiction, zootherapy, hoarding, smoking, bulimia, binge drinking, compulsive shopping, hypersexuality, others will simply channel it into various psychosomatic diseases like chronic urinary problems (interstitial cystitis), colitis, heart, skin problems, and self-mutilation. (10)
This portrait can be transposed on a larger scale to nations and civilizations. Extreme or neoliberal capitalism, an Orwellian type of “inclusive” capitalism — defined by the morally unrestricted exploitation of goods, people, animals, services, and capital under the mantle of democracy, humanism, philanthropy, goodness, and love — which could be considered as another form of flight from anxiety, has certainly led us into a planetary depression. Never-ending commercial expansion, war, social chaos, sexual dystopia, loss of biodiversity, pollution, and a growing gap between the rich and the poor are a few psychosomatic expressions of this deep depression. In the same line of thought, the 9/11 attacks, for example, can be seen as a bizarre outcome of this illness, a form of self-mutilation of the same nature as genocides.
The Bestiary, the Shadow and the Light of the Human Saga
Naturally, this radical change in the exercise of power and the management of our instincts transposes itself on the human-animal relationship. The master implanted within deals with the outside world, notably animals, in the only way he knows how, preferably using various forms of affection. Hence, the enhancement of our virtues by positive and negative conditioning and the repression of our defects by positive punishment translate on the outside by a greater fondness for those species which flatter us via their latent symbolism, and an increased brutality towards those which shame us via their latent symbolism.
This translates starting in the early 19th century into an inordinate affection for pets (the light) (11) and the birth and massive proliferation of factory farms in conditions of cruelty that are completely unjustified from a strictly production point of view (the shadow). (12)
To put it differently, our disturbing impulses are symbolically repressed in depth in factory farms, and our accommodating impulses are exalted on the surface in the homes.
The demarcation between the two is often fuzzy because training schemes between these two poles — pleasure and fear — can vary considerably between and within species. This makes the relationship to animals — and to people, since they are also trained in this way — sometimes difficult to interpret, since there are so many variations.
Broadly speaking, pets are situated towards the carrot pole and livestock at the other extreme, towards the stick pole. But within either extreme, the dynamics can vary considerably. The dog, for example, can be at either pole. However, the dog is usually trained with a mixture of fear and pleasure, while the cat, like the citizens of a well-oiled democracy, is trained almost exclusively with the carrot. The phenomenon must be seen on a global perspective rather than a case-by-case one.
And on a horizontal scale of cruelty and hypocrisy graded from the least cruel and hypocritical to the cruelest and most hypocritical, the glorified relationship with pets is skewed to the cruelest and least authentic end of the scale. Here, as we shall see in a future article, goodness is the instrument of power and its most evil manifestation.
Thus, according to this version of things, by its manifest violence and cruelty, the condition of farm animals would be a living dramatization of an openly totalitarian model of society, and, by its latent violence and cruelty, the condition of companion animals would be a living dramatization of a democratic model of society. The fact that these two categories of animals are present in a democracy indicates that within this political structure, totalitarianism is indeed still alive, but in a “declawed” or passive form, invisible to the naked eye, but ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity.
This Theory Raises a Number of Troubling Questions
Is our democracy authentic? Are children educated according to their own needs or are they instrumentalized for the same purposes as animals? Are women really nicer than men? And what about the people on the left, the so-called liberals and humanists? Are they more human than those of the so-called extreme right? Has humanity evolved to a higher level of consciousness? Does moral and spiritual evolution even exist? Is our current social structure an illusion collectively maintained with lies and deceit?
If we presuppose, that domestic animals are revelators of authenticity. Their absence by our side would mean nothing, but according to this theory, their presence by our side would be symptomatic of a confused mind that tries to manage its impulses by different means oscillating between affection and fear.
In this perspective, the human-animal bond would be a way to detect, with surgical precision, the evil that can sometimes hide in its opposite, goodness. Thus, if you want to know the true nature of a person — or on a larger scale, a nation like the US, a country with England and all Anglo-Saxon countries for that matter, considered to be the most pet-loving nation in the world — that looks down at you from the height of his moral and spiritual superiority, with a dog tethered to his feet or a cat on his lap, you will know where that person or nation is located on the scale of goodness. If the animal in question eats industrial kibble, even better, you will then smell for good the putrid odor of sulfur that emanates from its entrails… the devil’s favorite den, these days and ages.
In short, we try to obey the precepts that are written in some guide of good conduct of our invention; short of solutions and out of desperation, we blindly follow the leaders who best embody the human ideal that we covet.
In the meantime, the real problems are relegated to the back burner: how our brain works, how we fall victim to its traps, how our buried past leads us by the nose and how we refuse to question our founding creed.
In the end, our moral and spiritual evolution is not the result of understanding, but of mimicry and escape.
References and Notes
1. K. Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500-1800. Penguin, 1983.
2. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000.
3. John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, 2002; John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing us down, 2008; Weapons of Mass Instruction, 2011, New Society Publishers: www.johntaylorgatto.com.
4. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques. Plon, 1955, p. 344.
5. Melton James, Absolutism and the eighteenth-century origins of compulsory schooling in Prussia and Austria, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 40.
6. A more in-depth explanation of somatization of behavior is beyond the scope of this article. For those who are interested in this question see: Antonio R. Damasio, “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis,” Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Harper Collins, 1994, p. 174.
7. Melton James, work cited, p. 42.
10. “Troubles du contrôle des impulsions,” Catalogue and Index of French Medical Sites. http://www.chu-rouen.fr/ssf/psy/troublesducontroledesimpulsions.html.
11. Kathleen Kete, The Beast in the Boudoir: Petkeeping in Nineteenth-Century France, University of California Press, 1994.
12. Jean-Pierre Digard, “L’élevage industriel,” Les Français et leurs animaux : Ethnologie d’un phénomène de société, Fayard, Pluriel Ethnologie, p. 41.