Domesticating humans as well as animals

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright September 2015


Betrayal is profitable when it brings big short-term benefits.
Cooperation is profitable when it brings steady long-term benefits.

-- Roger White

One of mankind's well recognized skills is the ability to domesticate animals. Through breeding an animal is transformed from a wild variety into a domesticated version. Two famous examples of this are dogs and cattle.

What is not as well recognized is that humans must be domesticated as well. This happens as they transform from living in the Neolithic Village environment (the Stone Age) to living in the Agricultural Age and then the Industrial Age environments.

In the case of both humans and animals, much of what get changed by domestication is thinking style.

This essay will talk about changes in thinking styles, the most pervasive one being changes in who to cooperate with and who to betray.

Animals cooperating with humans

One of the critical skills an animal must learn to become successfully domesticated by humans is how to cooperate with them. An animal which can't learn this skill, and there are many, is not likely to become valuable to humans, so the humans will spend little effort on trying to "improve the breed".

Spectacularly successful examples of breeding, and cooperating, are dogs, horses and cattle. Examples of failures are deer, zebra and gazelle.

Again, what the successes have in common is they learn how to cooperate with humans. They learn how to pay attention to them and they learn how to trust them. Becoming "man's best friend" is all about attitude, and it turns out that attitude can be changed by breeding. (Curiously, this thinking change is often accompanied by changes in appearance as well -- as an animal becomes a domestic thinker its body shape changes as well. What the linkage is is not known at this time.)

Humans who watch this domesticating process happen often say the animal becomes dumber or more child-like as it domesticates. These are side effects of the important change: learning to cooperate and trust.

Humans cooperating with humans

In the same vein, humans must learn new thinking skills as they move from living in the Neolithic Village environment into the Agricultural Age setting, and once again as they move into the Industrial Age setting.

Lots of new skills and thinking styles must be learned. One example is sedentary living instead of semi-nomadic living in the case of the agricultural setting, and another is punctuality in the case of the industrial setting. But the really important one in both cases is learning the changes needed in who to cooperate with.

In the Neolithic Village environment cooperation centers around other people who live in the village. The village is typically small and consists of one-to-three extended families. These people are "Us". These are people who can be trusted and should be cooperated with. Other humans, those in the surrounding villages, are strangers. Strangers can be trusted... sometimes... but it is no crime to the home village when betraying the others brings benefit.

In the Agricultural Age environment who to cooperate with changes. The village gets bigger and sedentary, which also means the nearby neighbors rarely change, the village projects get bigger and more complex, and local priests, warriors and nobles should also be cooperated with as well. All these changes require different thinking for a person to be successful.

And "good breeding" can help bring about the required change. Those who can't adapt their thinking are called "born losers" for good reason.

When the Industrial Age comes to a community, thinking must change yet again. This transition to Industrial Age thinking is even more difficult than the transition to Agricultural Age thinking because there are so many more differences.

Fortunately for humans, a tool to help this change happen has been invented: It is called schooling.

Universal Education

This need to change thinking skills is why universal education becomes so important as a community becomes industrialized. Everyone has a lot to learn to fit in. And, once again, one of the key lessons that must be learned is who to cooperate with.

This need to teach everyone new thinking styles is why universal education pays off so well in Industrial Age communities.

Case Study: The Middle East

One of the biggest problems the people of the Middle East have faced since the Ottoman Empire dissolved after World War One is learning who to cooperate with and who to trust.

As World War One ended the region was solidly Agricultural Age in culture, and there were many different cultures thoroughly mixed together. Ottoman imperialism had kept a lid on betrayal in the region for many decades, but industrialization was on the horizon.

Much changed as the Ottoman Empire dissolved. Politically, the British and French took over the imperialist keeping-a-lid-on-things function, until World War Two made world-wide imperialism too expensive for them to maintain. They withdrew, and nationalism was supposed to take their place. Economically and technically, lots of oil was discovered in the region and exploiting that change was bringing resource-extracting-style industrializing to the region. All of the above where changing the cooperation-betrayal relations for the people and local communities in strange new ways.

All this change in cooperation and betrayal relations is why the Middle East has been having such a rough time staying peaceful for the last century.


Cooperation and betrayal are thinking skills. As an animal or human domesticates, their cooperation and betrayal thinking must be updated to match the new environment. For both animals and humans, breeding accomplishes part of the change. For humans formal education is also a big player in making changes to cooperation and betrayal thinking.

This is why formal education is so important to getting people and communities adapted to Industrial Age living.


--The End--