What domesticating does to us and how to get out from under

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By robert wolff. Republished from OpEdNews with author permission.

If one day my cats discover they can catch their own food, they free not only themselves, but they leave me with a bag of catfood that I cannot use. I would love to see the very very rich with trillions in their banks that are worthless, because there are no more consumers; we don’t need their money any more.

My third cat story. Cats are of the same family as tigers, but tigers do not domesticate well, if at all. It takes cats one day.

It began a few years ago when my next door neighbors, my son and his family, discovered a nest of feral cats. “Feral” in this context means wild, untamed, cats that hid from people, hunted at night probably, and found more than enough food to thrive and multiply. Perhaps it was because there were so many, that my daughter-in-law found them, hidden in the many wild spots on this land. She started feeding them scraps. When she ran out of scraps she fed them catfood.

Every year during the long summer vacation they go to the Marquesas islands, 25000 miles south of us. As far south from the equator as we are north of it. Same climate, but our summer is their winter,  their summer our winter. Naturally while they were away I would feed the cats.

Feeding cats meant not only spreading many handfulls of catfood on the tile floor of their lanai, but seeing to it that the chickens would not eat the catfood. Chickens are much more aggressive than cats; wild chickens at least. So I learned to feed the chickens first and then quickly go to the house and feed the cats. Not always successful but the staff I carry reaches far and the chickens know and respect it.

The first year I fed cats, now some years ago, I thought my family was burdened having to feed sixteen cats. The second day I fed the cats on top of a long table. They learned that immediately. The third day I put a cage with an open door on the end of the table, fed them at the other end. The next two or three days I spread the food closer and closer to the cage with the open door. Then, one day I put the catfood in the cage, and when there were ten cats inside the cage I closed the door. I brought the cage holding ten frantic cats to the Humane Society — they accept wild cats but if you want to get rid of a house cat that costs you $50.- They believed me when I told them these were feral cats. They did not quite believe how I could have captured ten cats in one cage, but did not ask too many questions. Now there were only six cats here. I knew that my grandson had a favorite, I saw to it that she was not in the cage.

But the family was not happy with only six cats when they came home. The next year there were a dozen cats again when they went away.  Among the kittens was one all black, a sort of smoky black, with green eyes. I like black cats, and that kitten allowed me to touch her. All the others were sufficiently wild that even though they knew I was their feeder, I could not touch them. And, frankly, I had no desire to touch these cats. As you know I admire tigers, but cats, although related, are not tigers.

The little black cat grew up. She evidently liked me sufficiently to follow me on some of my walks. She still lived next door until, early this year, now grown, she moved here. I was careful not to feed her, but she made this her home.

One day she came up on my little porch, six steps above ground level, whining. I knew by then enough cat language to know that kind of whining means “I’m hungry.” It was late morning, many hours from the feeding time next door. I gave her some bread which she did not eat, then found a sardine that she did. Two or three days later I bought a bag of catfood.

At first she was hungry every other hour, but I decided twice a day was good enough next door, it would have to be enough here. Once in the morning, the second time about four in the afternoon when I go to the pond to feed the fish. The fish eat anything: bread and other leftovers, and catfood. Chickens prefer catfood over chicken food. So I had to stand guard while the black cat ate.

About two or three weeks after she moved here, another cat from the neighbors’ dozen came to join the black cat. She is also black, but has white feet and a white bib, and the black is that shiny black that people find cute. That cat learned the first day that I also feed cats here. And it was more than obvious that this cute cat ate at least twice as fast as the smokey black cat.  I had to name them; the first fatal step to the end of a friendship with animals. The first, the all smokey black with green eyes, I call Hitam, which means black. The new black cat with white feet I now call Fatso, she is getting quite plump. They are obviously in love with each other, or at least dear friends. They follow me on my daily walk, usually in front of me. They walk touching each other, side by side, both their tails up high, but making a black X: their tails cross. They often groom each other, play with each other. And they have very different personalities. Hitam is adventurous, she is gone for hours, exploring the place. Fatso hangs around here all day, she cannot miss an opportunity to eat. When I open the door early morning he (I call her he because she is so aggressive and pushy) is on the threshold, panting for the morning feeding.  This morning he had somehow been able to get on top of two storage cupboards outside, at least 8 feet high, almost under the window in front of where I was working on the computer. He was looking at me.  When I stood up he jumped to the ground. Cats do that very well. He also climbs trees. Hitam doesn’t.

Now I have learned what domestication does to the domesticator. It takes cats one day to learn that I have catfood. Now they rely on me for their very lives they tell me in no uncertain terms. I “own” them, their life is dependent on me. But I don’t want to own anybody, animal, plant or human. I know perfectly well that they can catch enough lizards and other wildlife that is plentiful around here to survive, if they have to. But as long as I feed them, they don’t have to make the effort. I have seen them catch a mouse or a lizard and play with them, letting them go then catch them again. But they tire of the game and let the poor mauled mouse go. Evidently catfood tastes better.

Unfortunately I seem to need to nurture needy humans, animals and plants. Definitely not to own them, but to help them,. But by feeding them they become dependent on me. Actually, plants don’t because I don’t give them artificial fertilizer. They do fine by themselves. I no longer feed chickens. Once that was my job, until I realized that by feeding them they multiplied beyond the ability of this land to support them. But they remain wild enough to lay eggs where we cannot find them. They multiply, require more chicken food. More expensive.

Now I am learning again that as we, humans, domesticate animals we are also doing something to ourselves. Once we control the wild the wild ceases to be wild and becomes our responsibility.

We make ourselves slaves to ownership. As Ursula LeGuin wrote in one of her books “Owning is owing, having is hoarding.” How true, how true.

As long as I feed these cats they attach themselves to me, and I am attached to them. I am their provider. If I stopped feeding them they would disappear–at least Fatso would. I think Hitam would continue to visit and walk with me, even if she were fed next door.

I have never liked the idea of pets. An animal that sits on your lap, sleeps on my bed. When you let dogs or cats in your house they sleep on our bed; sleep on our pillows. I have never bought a pet. A few times animals have chosen to come to me, and we became friends. Two dogs came to me that way. The first I did not feed, he was fed elsewhere; he just came to visit. And he came here to die of old age. The other I fed when I ate my own meals. Sometimes I gave him from my plate. But there was a respect between us. One day He came to me after a long walk together and I am certain he told me he had to leave. He was never on a leash, I told him he was always free to go. He went.  And, many years ago, someone gave me a cat. I fed her, until she produced a dozen kittens and they all found their own food. I don’t let animals in my house. There are little lizards on the walls, I cannot catch them, but I don’t feed them. They eat insects, and probably tiny bits of food I spill.

Had a dream last night that reminded me that humans can have friendships between equals. We can be hospitable, will feed you for a few days, but we both know that we can feed ourselves. We are equals. It is being friends that is important, not who is feeding a friend. Even feeding starving people, helping, can be done without losing that feeling of equality. I have read stories of such friendships between Native Americans and bears and wolves. Mutual respect.

Now I can’t stand that whine that says feed me, I am hungry. One of these days I am going to NOT feed them. I know full well that it would take them but half a day to discover that next door there still are mass feedings, twice a day. Or they remember to eat mice and perhaps even rats. They won’t starve.

Trouble is that one of the two I am kind of fond of. I like her when she follows me as she did when still feeding next door. She must have felt something like attraction, as I felt for her.

There are times that she comes up the steps and whines very softly. Obviously that means “feed me, Fatso is not around.” I feed her alone, out of sight of Fatso. But Fatso never goes very far from the trough. As soon as he comes around she stops eating and walks down to her lover. They are not lovers of course; they may be sisters, from the same nest. From the same dozen and more clump of cats that was fed next door anyway. They are both female and both “fixed.”

My family has theories about why we feed the (wild) chickens. They eat centipedes. That’s true, since we fed the chickens none of us have had 8 inch centipedes in our homes. They feed the cats because they keep rats away. That is obviously not true, however, because it is the rats who eat my passionfruit before I get out of bed; chickens eat them when I am too late to pick the fallen fruit. The rats learned that cats are not dangerous any more because they are fat, lazy, human-fed. Nobody understands why we have never had mongooses on this land. They are everywhere. Mongooses are day people, rats are night people. Is it the cats that keep mongooses away? Or is it the wild chickens? Who knows. It is not we, humans, who would feed mongooses or rats and mice. They too could be domesticated as many stories tell.

I have known many non-western people who have animals around them. They don’t feed cats and dogs. They tolerate them as being there. Dogs like to be around humans even when they have to fight to find enough to eat. Where dogs are tolerated someone might take pity on a dog or two, but soon will find out that providing enough to feed even one dog is more than s/he can afford, and they stop feeding them. Children make friends with animals without feeding them. It is quite possible to befriend other life forms without domestication which implies one species to be responsible to feed another.

In the old days we used to “break” horses. Applying force to have the animal do my will. And then of course having to feed them. Here people make dogs dangerous by keeping them on very short steel chains to make them dangerous attack dogs to strangers. And, of course, feeding them. The dogs that have chosen to live with me have never had even a collar, the cats are free to come or go.

Many people have demonstrated that making friends with animals works an awful lot better by praise than by punishment. Isn’t the same true between humans? Why do we fight wars when making friends would work much better? We never learn”

It is a kind of domestication what the so-called “elite,” the rich, have done to us. For many generations they have fed us by paying us to work for them. Then we have to buy food from places they control. For many years that was the policy of the IMF and the World Bank. They loaned money to a country on condition that farmers no longer grow food for themselves, but cotton for export — requiring the farmers to buy food for money. Often food that came from us, so the banks were paid back twice, from the interest the country had to pay and from the money the farmers paid for food made by companies owned by the banks.

Now the big banks have discovered they no longer need us, they can make money between themselves. Undoubtedly now banks eat smaller banks. Soon all the money in the world will be at the top.

We must understand that we have done that to ourselves by accepting the system. We work for someone who pays us and so feeds us. We have made ourselves dependent on our bosses, we have made ourselves slaves. But bosses too are slaves of the dependency system. Now the bosses are beginning to wake up and have found ways to make money without us working for them.

It is time that we, the 99%, find our own food, something most of us no longer know to do. Food comes from supermarkets, no? NO, food grows. We can grow it. We can be independent, get out of the domestic animal role.

The bosses revel in their new power. When we worked for them they could suggest to us who to vote for. Now they don’t need to suggest,  they spend their own millions to buy a government. They, the 1% (actually more like 0.01%) have shaken off their ownership of slaves and we have not learned to find our own food without their money.

We can, you know. Many millions of people did, not all that long ago. I’ve been thinking how to live without money. I eat what grows around here, my shopping list gets shorter every month. I still need electricity. I am trying to figure out whether I can live without a phone. Clothes? What I have will last a long time, I can patch worn out elbows myself. I don’t pay for water, I use rain water.  I need protein, I can catch fish, eat a chicken. I can eat cats; we did during the war.

What would happen if the 1% had all the money in the world, but we the 99% had food enough without needing money to survive? We would win.

Can we invent ways to make our own electricity to have at least one lamp at night, and perhaps run a computer? Certainly. there are already lamps that are charged by sunlight. There are flashlights run on electricity produced by squeezing a lever. A bicycle can produce some electricity. A windmill can make lots of power. Yes, we would be poor in terms of money, we could not travel all over the world as we like to do, we could not eat food imported from everywhere else, we could not change clothes, or wash them in washers and dryers. I have done without dryers for 40 years and there are times when it takes two days for towels to dry. But I do without; no problem. It is work but it is much more satisfying to work for myself than work for someone else. Can we do without refrigerators? We used to, only a few generations back.

I am convinced that the way to free ourselves is to do without money. We used to barter; it is coming back in some of our farmers markets. I exchanged wonderful soap someone made for a basket of fruit from our trees. I know someone who makes beautiful boots and moccasins. If I wanted his work I would have to pay him, but if I had an animal skin we could trade. There are wild pigs here, so un-hunted that they are easy to capture. The skin of a pig would make many shoes; their meat would feed many of us. Even today there are small farmers who can (preserve) vegetables and fruit for well beyond the winter. They barter canned beans for a shirt, ten pounds of sweet potatoes for a pair of jeans.

We all say we need jobs. The battle cry of the Republicans is jobs, jobs, jobs. In fact that is the code word for make abortion impossible. And while they talk jobs they do everything possible to prevent the creation of jobs.

What if we show them we can live without.

If one day my cats discover they can catch their own food, they free not only themselves, but they leave me with a bag of catfood that  I cannot use. I would love to see the very very rich with trillions in their banks that are worthless, because there are no more consumers; we don’t need their money any more.

The very very very rich are buying the next election with billions. We can’t fight them with money; they have it all. What else can we do than showing them we can do without their damned money. I can hire someone to do some heavy gardening I can no longer do by bartering a shirt he admired and a dozen fresh chicken eggs I have been able to find, and a ripe papaya for a tip.

I can dream, can’t I?

 _____________________
robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai’i. His website is wildwolff.com

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