DOMESTICIZATION – MUSINGS ON THE ROOTS OF SPECIESISM & OPPRESSION

my mind is an ocean.
it is deep, it can be terrifying, but it gives me sustenance.
i spend my days navigating the ceaseless waves of thoughts, ideas, memories and expectations. or in other words, i like to think a lot. because i choose to speak little most days, my mind seems to have adapted well in creating complex internal dialogues – both to my entertainment and misery. i tend to think so much, so often, that many times i find that all i can do is just try to keep myself above the water and wait for the tides to recede.
and during some of these mental floods, my mind is pulled down strange new currents of thought, where i quickly disorient myself with an idea, and become hopelessly lost and confused, but eventually find myself returning back to my mental landmarks that i use to navigate waking life.
sometimes though, as the waters recede, i come to realize that the flood has eroded the old landmarks that i drew meaning and sense from. they look different, and make me feel different. i mean to say that sometimes my thinking-thinking-thinking can lead me to experience interesting mental shifts that seem to forever change how i perceive and relate to myself, to others and to everything else.

okay – what i am rambling about and why should you care to continue reading this?
basically, what i am describing in this spontaneous analogy is my occasional experiences with epiphanies. and i don’t mean some kind of egocentric type of epiphany where “you need to buy my book so you can be happy like me”, nor the ones describing famed scientific breakthroughs like germ theory or we-aren’t-the-center-of-the-universe-after-all, nor some kind of pseudo-religious discovery such as there is no santa claus or maybe there is a flying spaghetti monster.

i mean simply the type of epiphany in which an enlightening realization within me allows a problem, or an experience, to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.

of course, what blows my mind today might easily be old-news to someone else. what might shock and surprise me as revolutionary can be a daily lived experience of another. that’s because my many privileges afford me to be ignorant and casually offensive. and it is quite easy for my “good intentions” of “only trying to help” to become tools of appropriation, disrespect, and white humyn guilt.
so please, my intention in what i am writing here is meant to be nothing more than me sharing some recent musings that might be of interest and maybe help to a few others.
if this isn’t your cup of tea, you don’t need to drink it.

deep roots

okay then – i’d like to share with you that in my recent mental adventures, i found myself trying to unpack the origins of humynity’s normalized conformity to exploit and abuse one another, our animal cousins, and our Earth home.
i found myself trying to glean some rawer unfiltered form of clarity into the root of oppression, into the first seeds that bloomed into the now-accepted-and-unseen personal and political relationships of power, of power used to disempower and silence another social group for the purposes of further empowering and privileging the oppressor.

to illustrate what i mean when i say a “root” of oppression:
when we attempt to respond to incidents of misogyny in our community (such as an individual report of assault or a transphobic “joke”, or that of a larger-scale example of sexism in government hiring practices or rigid gender-conformity expectations in office work), we also have the potential to slowly dig up its deeper root of cis-hetero-patriarchy (obviously pending the specific capacity of each community to do this safely).
or when we attempt to respond to incidents of racism in our community (such as an individual slur or a hate crime on a campus or that of a larger-scale police brutality and residential schools and anti-immigration fear-mongering), we also have the potential to slowly dig up its deeper root of white settler-colonial supremacy (obviously pending the specific capacity of each community to do this safely).

and so i thought to myself, is there a deeper root for speciesism?
i mean, there must be right?

  • like, what created speciesism?
  • why are people speciesist?
  • where did this oppression come from?
  • when did we stop seeing this bias against other species, stop seeing ourselves as fellow earthlings, and begin assuming this harmful discrimination as inevitable and natural?
  • who really benefits from such a violent relationship of hollowed existence, deprived of potential for more meaningful connection to the wild, natural environments?
  • how do humyns, as individuals and as a collective, continue to commit unabated, large-scale industrial enterprises of self-harm that we all experience as toxic pollution, the organized assault against all animals, repeated environmental genocides, routine species extinctions, and the looming total self-destruction of our planet’s climate?

these rhetorical questions may be familiar to you, as well as the subsequent panicked existential crises that tend to fill the empty silence left by any such daunting query.
but these kinds of conversations, right here, are radical. they are grasping at the roots by unpacking whole suitcases of different privileges that most folx are too uncomfortable to ever even acknowledge its mere existence, no less our continued collusion with at the expense of the many. you have people who talk lots about white privilege, but balk at species privilege – and you have people who preach endlessly about humyn privilege but disappear in a flash when the conversation brings up racism. but nevertheless, these privileges just become more real with all of us who continue to deny it. and that is why these conversations are radical. they are dangerous to the system because it brings us closer to pulling back the curtains to see who or what is controlling the land of oz.

animal politics & Eco resistance

because i find myself drawn to practicing animal politics and ecological resistance that is radically anti-oppressive (anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-ableist, anti-classist, anti-capitalist, anti-etc.), i am familiar with usual definitions of oppression found in these conversations.
in particular, there is anthropocentrism which assumes humyns to be the most significant species and so teaches us to interpret everything exclusively in terms of humyn-made values and experiences.
as well, there is speciesism, which assigns different values and rights to individuals & communities on the basis of their species. with this, we see humyn discrimination between animals (westerners loving dogs, eating pigs and wearing cows), as well as the wider oppressive realities of “human supremacy” in all of its nasty forms.
really, i think most animal allies are familiar with these two concepts. when people “go vegan” or leaflet to strangers or watch sad documentaries about animal abuse, i’d imagine that all of the emphasis revolves around recognizing that humyns are a species too who should learn to live on this planet without making war on the animal “kingdom”.
and if you have the time to immerse yourself in these lengthy conversations, you’ll find camps and lines drawn between animal welfare (we can exploit animals but still be best friends e.g. happy meat propaganda) vs. animal rights (we should create yet more charters and laws that now include other species, so that governments and corporations can trample them too) vs. animal liberation (animals are doomed if they don’t get out of our toxic reach ASAP, so run forrest run).
and more recently, we see animal allies attempting to slap the term intersectionality onto their campaigns, saying that “hey! speciesism is just like racism!”. they think something like “well, racism is discrimination by race, and if speciesism is discrimination by species, then why would it be offensive to compare them? i’m not being racist okay?”. but of course, how this looks on the outside is just more privileged people trying to appropriate other ongoing struggles to claim credit and legitimacy for their own self-serving agenda (in this case, a clean moral conscience). it’s like “oh yeah, i totally get colonialism because as a white persyn who doesn’t want to see seals & deer hunted, i know what it must feel like to be resisting colonization before it finally ended a hundred years ago or something…”.

i am well acquainted with all of the above. i’ve identified with each one at one time or another. i’ve tripped on the privileges that come with each one. i’ve been humiliated upon learning the failures of each one. i’ve gotten angry at the foolishness of each one. i’ve cried over the hopelessness of each one.
and so for the purposes of this post, i’m simply going to say i want to null all of the above terms so as to not let my mind be stifled by the way each defines how i can perceive and interact with the wider questions i wish to get lost in.

intentions

so, onwards.
as i said, my mind was looking to understand the origins of oppression.
and by origins, i mean a more definitive manifestation of where all different forms of oppression grew out of originally.

and in searching for such a root, if it even exists, my intentions are not to then claim somehow that different oppressions are all essentially the same and so should be solved with the same solution. no, not at all. so to be perfectly clear:
this is not another attempt to feed the myth of shared oppression.
conversations around a common root for oppression can quickly turn to conversations where space is taken up by privileged peoples, who relate to “sharing” oppression in ways that effectively erase many of the historical and current experiences of violence against communities that the wider systems target.
as such, when i engage in conversations about such content, please make clear that i am in no way attempting to appropriate any struggle – past or present or future – as my own, nor to lessen the [white] guilt associated with the privileges i possess as a white humyn settler residing on stolen indigenous territory.

further, this writing is not meant to be yet another example a white persyn trying to coin some abstract terminology to describe something they have no lived understanding of. nor is it intended to be some armchair academic theorizing without intentions to make any conclusions or clarity gained accessible and relevant to our collective lived experiences.
really, i hope this to be somewhat practical information as i continue unpacking it all.

finally, this is also not an attempt to claim a “new” idea that i expect to receive some credit or praise or whatever. it is quite likely that something of this effect has already been written, and most definitely been thought of and articulated to another in one expression or another.
in fact, it would prove that this whole idea itself was quite false and empty if this wasn’t a very relateable concept that different people could identify with through different ways.

i am merely trying to offer a new perspective on familiar struggles.
perhaps in all this, we can slowly identify more core ingredients at the center of oppression, the things that multiple or all oppressions rely upon us – especially us privileged peoples – accepting to be normal, and necessary and natural.
my intention is a small hope that i may gather some new clarity in these writings, and even potentially manage to foster some solutions that could be applied to help transform our communities and ourselves towards more liberated ways of existing.

colonization of white people

did an organized relationship of exploitation just one day happen to pop into the humyn consciousness? or at what point was it when imbalances of power became systematized, and accepted, and defended?

and if such a thing did happen, how would anyone remember what life looked like before it? like, how we can really understand something like “oppression” if we cannot recognize where it begins and where it ends? if something as ubiquitous as “oppression” – in the ways that i identify it anyway – can not exist, then would anyone ever be able to manifest what its absence would feel like?
really, can you convince a fish that they live in water, when all that this particular fish has ever known has been water and so the fish doesn’t actually “see” the water around them?

to begin to articulate what a root of species-based oppression might look like, i’ll draw upon the root of colonialism as an example to try to illustrate what i mean:
i once heard this expression that “white people have just been colonized longer”.
that is a pretty fascinating idea, because it makes a lot of sense in explaining the oppressive nature of white culture – white people as a whole tend to view ourselves as the norm, as the neutral template upon which “exotic” beliefs, customs and traditions can be sampled freely and safely. white people tend to not even perceive themselves as an ethnicity, because the grocery stores have aisles marked “ethnic food” to mean “non-totally white appropriated food”.
so white culture tends to be pretty empty, like a blackhole of sorts, and it relies upon “the other”, stealing their cultural identities (like white people loving Black rap music and Black jazz music, and white people dressing up as indigenous people for hallowe’en costumes, and white people fetichizing the teachings and fashion and technologies of cultures throughout east asia) and making war to steal their resources (like white governments stealing land from indigenous peoples all around the globe, and creating wars of terror with Muslims to feed our oil addiction).

recognizing white people as being colonized the longest, it explains why white people live as colonial cultures that depend on outsiders to support us – physically, mentally, spiritually. and of course, none of this premise ever, ever means white people acknowledging this history of theft and dependence. in fact, it means quite the opposite – white people continue to benefit from the atrocities of our ancestors, where we are rewarded for our unconsciousness to this history and to the invisible knapsacks of privilege that we all carry.

sooo what does that mean for species-based oppression?

domesticization

so i made up this word for that root i’ve been talking about: domesticization.

it draws upon the word “domestication“, which i’d imagine a lot of people are familiar with, even if not particularly informed about the word’s etymology or precise definition.

  1. etymology
    • domestication comes from directly from the Latin word domesticus, which means: “belonging to the household”.
    • so domus is to mean: “house” or “household”.
    • and from it we find similar words coming from the same history, like Greek despotes to mean: “master, lord;”, and the Latin dominus to mean: “master of a household”.
  2. definition:
    • the cultivating or taming of a population of organisms in order to accentuate traits that are desirable to the cultivator or tamer. [1]
    • the desired traits may include a particular physical appearance, behavioral characteristic, individual size, litter size, hair/fur quality or color, growth rate, fecundity, lifespan, ability to use marginal grazing resources, production of certain by-products, and many others. [2]
    • domesticated organisms may become dependent on humans or human activities, since they sometimes lose their ability to survive in the wild. [3]

so – we can see that “domestication” concerns notions of “household” “belonging” and “master”. in application, it involves “taming” and “dependency” for the purposes of acquiring “desired traits”. putting these together, it can mean something to the effect of:
a master taming another to their property for the use of wanted characteristics.

and that sounds about right, doesn’t it?
i know that when i would think of domestication, i picture either:
A) the cats and dogs who have been bred into domestication as companions, and now rely upon humynity to care for them to ensure their well-being, or
B) “farmed animals” like cows and pigs and chickens, who have also been bred into domestication, not for the purposes of companionship but instead for the purposes of organized slaughter and consumption.
both are very different relationships with humyns, but both experiencing domestication.

but to interpret “domestication” from a more critical, radical perspective – especially within the context of oppressive humyn histories – we can understand domestication as an active process pressed upon animals, and one which brings about the “conquering and enslaving of another as property, to be exploited for food, clothing, labour, transportation and warfare”, as well as other forms of exploitation such like that of herding, confinement, forced breeding, branding, and killing. [4]

with such a wide array of wanted characteristics among animals – like beauty, like forced labour, like entertainment, like protection, like capital, like food – humyns have acted as “masters” to tame and exploit non-humyns for our own benefit and privileges. for example, with each generation of domestication, the desired traits within each species can be nurtured while the undesired traits can be extinguished. this is why we see how race-horses run faster than wild horses, or dairy cows give much more milk than wild cattle, and sheep-dogs do the exact opposite of what their ancestral wolf would have done around sheep.
in each example, the same process is at work: the “purpose” of a species continues to be refined, over centuries of selective breeding, into an increasingly specialized role in the humyn community – with many going so far that they would not be able to return to the wild safely.

tame animal is an individually domesticated animal that is capable of obeying their respective “master”. like a gorilla tamed to sign ASL to their humyn captors.
domesticated animal is a member of a domesticated species that is docile enough to follow their intended responsibilities. like pets walking on leashes and eating processed foods.
domesticized animal is that which conforms to the wider process of conquering, dominion and oppression, experienced in sync with the domestication of their respective ecologies and fellow species.

in other words, domesticization is the systematic taming of everything.
it is the opposing force of mother nature, which sees the unsystematic wilding of everything.

civilized DOMESTICATED HUMyNS

so of course, domesticization includes the domestication of humynity.

and who are these domesticated humyns?
well, we are, clearly.

we the people who have been long conditioned by the systems of control (among them being systems of capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism).
we the people who have lost our rhythms to the natural world.
we the people who have forgotten our wild imagination to see things outside of the system’s preconceived definitions and expectations.

we humyns exist in herds (no matter whether we call them religions or political parties or genders or races or classes or nations), and in these herds we attempt to prosper and grow like all animals do.
but the ease of survival is defined
according to the exclusive standards set by these systems of oppression. so the desired traits – as set out by the capitalists and the patriarchs and the colonialists and the white supremacists – become characteristics that we are all collectively tamed and nurtured to produce.
we are born into systems of racism, and cis-hetero-sexism, and classism, and ableism. the attributes that mirror these discriminations are encouraged by society – we are encouraged to compete and conform and to be afraid and to step over others to climb endless ladders of social hierarchies.

and the undesired traits, those that resist and rebel, are discouraged, like the unproductive hands and the unwanted wanderings of the mind.
these undesired traits are punished, as deviant and dangerous to those with the desired traits, and those who wish they possessed the desired traits.
these undesired traits are 
repressed. and this is no exaggeration, for the same process of domesticization of nonhumyns and ecology – domination through force and violence, leading to control through confinement and subordination, leading to enslavement through forced reproduction and labour, leading to extermination through genocide of physical bodies and identities – have been mirrored widely throughout humyn histories of colonization, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.

and no where is the domesticization of humyns more evident than in the basic construction of “humanity”, of “man”, of “humankind”, of the “non-animal”.
the boundaries between humyns and animals is something rigidly policed.
this binary fosters the deep internalisation of domination and of entitlement to be self-entitled masters over all other species.
the domesticated humyn involves the active denial and repression of our animal needs and desires. whole expressions of life – like sex, dancing and nakedness – have been denounced by religions throughout history as “bestial”. womyn have been policed by the verbal abuse of men who identify them as “dogs, bitches, shrews, vixens and cows”. people of color and indigenous peoples have been attacked and vilified through political language casting them as “wild animals” requiring white colonial governments to “civilize” [read domesticate] them. and in the scientific age, we still see an applied effort to subjugate the natural, animal and primitive instincts (like emotions, like empathy, like subjectivity) to the rigid norms and complex ideologies of control and order, of precision and industry, of progress and immortality.
we too, us humyns, are domesticated. like the animals trapped in zoos and marine parks, we humyns are trapped in our mental prisons. We are trapped and yet cannot even see the bars that contain us. we are domesticated animals, tamed to be obedient to our masters but dangerous to one another.

domesticization has scarred our spirits and confused our mental psyches.
domesticization has repressed our wild selves, our autonomy, and our subjectivity. domesticization is the seemingly universal goals of endless expansion and domination at the expense of another. domesticization has served to distort, to domesticize, our humyn worldview – in how we relate to ourselves, to other humyns, to non-humyns and to the natural world. from domesticization has come conceptual paradigms of human supremacism, speciesism, and other toxic beliefs of superiority over the proverbial “other”. from domesticization has come cultures of exploitation, of violence, of alienation, of hierarchy.
i consider this all to be one simultaneous process of domesticization, and so its why i understand it to be the deep root of oppression.

“We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce,
and that is who we are.”

– Anthony Marra

[1] “Domesticate”. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2014.
[2]  Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton Press. ISBN 0-393-31755-2.
[3] “Domestication.” Dictionary.com. Based on the Random House Dictionary (Random House, Inc. 2013).
[4] The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century, By Steven Best, Page 7.

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