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Cats vs. Dogs, or Mavericks? Observations on human social models.

In reading “The Horse” by Wendy Williams, she points out that very, very few of the animal species in the world could truly be domesticated by mankind, notably dogs, cats, and horses. This is because these animals were adapted to very special ecological niches that required a social behavior. Mankind did not so much change these animals by quote “domesticating” them, rather he learned how to insinuate himself into the instinctive social fabric of these animals.

I want to suggest to you that today we hold these animal social models as archetypes of possible social behavior, from which to choose, and that so many of our problems today come from this limiting perspective on how we can choose to treat each other.

The horse ranged over arid foothills to find food alone by day, then assembled into herds for protection at night. They learned to constantly talk with each other over long distances about their locations, dangers they saw, and resources they had found — very social behavior that their lives depended upon. Zebras on the other hand, stayed in herds to feed in lush grasslands like cows, and did not have to develop the horse’s communication skills. For this reason, horses can be domesticated to become mankind’s partners; zebras cannot.

The social model of dogs and their ancestors, the wolves, is well known. They hunted in packs to bring down larger game. Their loyalty and status in the pack was everything in their lives.

Cats on the other hand have behaviors based on turf and territory regarding resources, personal dignity, and individual relationships with neighboring cats.

It is not much of a coincidence that in early Hunter-Gatherer societies, the Hunters adopted the social model of the dogs, and the Gatherers adopted the social model of the cats. And so began the age-old friction between the sexes. But, this conflict did not stop there.

The classic example is the clash between the Roman patriarchical society and the Celtic matriarchal society. Roman society stressed rank and loyalty and was well suited to massed military empires. Celts revered personal dignity and bravery, cherished art, and revered their womenfolk, while functioning as isolated tribes or communities. The result was slaughter verging on genocide.

You see it today in big business with pseudo-military chains of command, roles, and responsibilities, vs small businesses that are based on making a personal connection with each new customer that walks through the door.

You see it today in the spilt between Catholicism and the Protestant Churches. You see it right here in the resistance to growing from a family-size church to a program-based church.

And of course, you see it in the politics of the day where half the people can’t comprehend the blind loyalty shown by the other half to their own party. Liberals favor the individual and demand principled choices. Conservatives favor the organization, and the use of rules to control their individual behavior.

In all these cases, we are choosing the social model of either the cats, or of the dogs – picking sides and thinking that the others made the wrong choice. But there are more than two choices.

The social model of the wild horse or Maverick is still with us. Mavericks work as individuals, but they benefit from the support of community and make an effort to improve it. Pioneer families away from the protection of the fort — Merchant trading ships leaving the safety of their home harbor — consultants, computer programmers, writers and free-lancers. Scientists and artists work alone, but then come together to share resources, trade ideas, exhibit space, and seek grants and funding as a group. Social leaders and others who would change the fabric of society are all — Mavericks.

How often could we solve the problems of the world by stopping this fighting like cats and dogs, and instead work as mavericks, trusting each to do the best they can as individuals, to increase the strength and goodness of society?

Better yet, we can lift ourselves even further above these choices, using our capacity as reasoning human beings to say to one another, how can we decide for ourselves what social models best fit our needs, without being hobbled by having to choose one that occurred in nature? Why not design our own social system, suited to human beings?

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