There has been a recent shift in favor of things considered natural. People are choosing clothing, food, cleansers and building materials that come from simple, natural sources. The supposed purposes for this trend are the preservation of the environment through the use of renewable resources and the promotion of our health and well-being.

An example of this way of thinking is the Paleolithic diet. This eating regimen is built on the premise that we humans, like other creatures, should eat what is natural for our species to eat, which apparently is whatever our ancestors evolved to eat during the Paleolithic era. There are at least three problems with this idea.

The first is that we are only presuming to know what our ancestors were eating at the time of their most recent evolutionary dietary transition. The second issue is that what is natural is not always the superior choice (most medicines are not natural). The third problem is that the evolution of humans was drastically altered when we became self-aware. We are no longer wild, for we took control of our evolutionary destiny and, along with it, the destiny of the creatures we domesticated.

We’ve already discussed the natural state of humans and how it is largely determined by the presence of human society, but what is the natural state of an animal? More specifically, what is the natural state of a tamed animal, if there is such a thing? There are four general responses to this question, each embodied by a group of people.

The first group believes that animals, or at least the more important animals, must remain wild. They would define a wild animal as one living in its natural habitat without human interference. Those from this camp would argue that what is best for the animal is what is natural, even if that means a high risk of starvation, predation, disease, isolation, etc. To them, the concept of owning and using animals for our benefit is comparable to slavery.

The second group has no concern for the animal’s nature, seeking only to cater to the whims of their captive critter. These are pet owners who will purchase their pets extravagant toys, food and even clothing in an effort to appease them. Rather than the animal functioning as companion or slave, it is essentially elevated to the level of a human child in a demented effort to satisfy lingering or neglected parental instincts.

The third group tolerates the captivity and ownership of animals, but also believes that animals were not meant to exist in the human world. Because of this, their creatures are given ample room to roam and are often fed a diet that resembles what they would eat in the wild. These people attempt to respect animals even as they profit from and consume them.

The fourth and final group sees animals as a commodity and cares nothing for their natural state or desires. To them, animals are merely a resource to be harvested, like plants. And much like plants, they are often packed closely together and only given what is necessary to grow.

So who is right? Well the answer depends not only on how we value animals, but also our understanding of what it means to be wild. The first group would argue that animals are wild by nature, meaning that their natural and therefore best state is one of freedom from human intervention. This sounds like a wonderful idea, but we know from examining the nature of humans that we share a similar state of natural wildness, yet few would argue that feral humans are our finest incarnation. The second and third group both acknowledge that animals have a natural wild state, but also believe that their lives are improved through taming. The final group has no interest in what it means to be wild apart from how it can benefit their ability to cultivate their creatures and maximize profit. Few would argue that this last approach is the most beneficial for the animal.

So the crux of the disagreement is whether or not animals benefit from being tamed. But since most animals are unable express their emotions in ways we can understand, especially wild ones, the answer is largely left to our interpretation. However, there are some who argue that it’s okay to tame some species but not others. Let’s explore this claim.

We often hear stories of pets (usually exotic ones) who turn on their masters, attacking them for no apparent reason. This sparks comments like, “that’s what happens when you keep a wild animal in your house,” implying that some animals are wild and others are not. In a historical sense, this is somewhat accurate, since there are certain species that are traditionally tamed or domesticated (bred by humans for certain purposes). However, to assert that some animals remain wild after taming is both a semantic and logical error.

Animals, like humans, have two basic behavioral states: wild and tame. Since we described a wild animal as one that is free from human intervention, then a tame animal must be one that has integrated with humans. Here are some simple statements that may help us understand the situation:

  • A creature cannot be both wild and tame.
  • All creatures are inherently wild.
  • A wild creature, when properly tamed, loses its wildness.
  • A poorly or partially tamed creature may retain a degree of wildness.
  • Some creatures are more difficult to tame than others.

Now that we share an understanding of the situation, we can dissect the definition of tame. Taming is traditionally defined as the process by which humans integrate animals into their own society, but this does not explain what’s really going on. When we tame an animal, we raise its social compatibility. But this begs some interesting questions: is the process of elevating a human to be compatible with human society not a form of taming as well? If so, is a wolf teaching its pups to behave like wolves also taming them? What about when a human is raised by wolves to integrate with wolf society? A more holistic definition of taming would be the process by which a creature of one species is attuned to the society of another species, but this merely confuses the matter.

Since humans are the highest form of creature and the only species capable of understanding the concept of taming, we perceive a tamed animal as one that is attuned to our society. However, a wolf might consider an adopted squirrel tamed, if it were able to contemplate such things, while we would not. And if a wild wolf is one raised by wolves, then a wild human must be one raised by humans. This is illogical, however, because we traditionally define wildness as an inherent quality of untamed creatures and because we consider ourselves tame; both of these things can’t be true. If taming is the attunement of one species to another species, then humans can’t be tame.

We must use the traditional definition of taming as the process by which a creature of any species is attuned to human society. But that raises the question of how a higher form of intelligence, such as an advanced alien civilization or a race of genetically-enhanced humans, might perceive us. To them, we would be wild beasts in need of taming. That brings up another interesting question: if taming is the attunement of a creature to human society, can we tame each other? Indeed, it was common knowledge in colonial times that native tribes were primitive, lower races in need of taming. The rejection of this idea may be tied to our growing affection for natural things, since it’s easy to argue that these tribes could have benefited from Western medicine and technology.

In any case, taming animals causes enough debate. Just remember that a pet wolf is not wild animal.