Animal Instincts

Eukarya, Animalia, Chordata, Vertebrata, Mammalia, Primate, Hominidae, Homo, Homo sapiens sapiens.   That’s us.  The ‘wise man.’  We are animals, able to be taxonomically classified just like the rest.  And we have ‘primal’ instincts.  As a species, there was a time early on when those instincts served us in a more direct capacity, in matters of survival, and over time it seems they have been overshadowed and pushed to the back burner by Mother Culture.  Social cues.  There is tons of literature on this process, I just know it.  I’d love to read it some day. I’m sure it has to correlate with around the time we began practicing agriculture and creating permanent civilizations.   How appropriate to reflect on that matter in the field, where we are practicing agriculture for a living. 

The source I am referencing today is a documentary that was the topic of conversation one day in the okra.  My row-partner was telling my about it. The documentary was a look at one or two indigenous cultures as ‘case studies’ of what ‘primitive’ societies may have been like.  (Quotations are being used because this is the language I heard.  I don’t know if this is the language of the documentary, or of my coworker’s interpretation.)  I am not endorsing the Noble Savage idea or armchair anthropology, but I am glad that this documentary caught my coworker’s attention and got them thinking about history of the species enough to bring it up in the okra.  Great field talk.   His personal revelation was a comparison between the nature of our own farm crew with that of a primitive society.  Small in numbers, close-knit because of lots of time spent together, taking care of each other and having each others’ backs.  And also my coworker was fascinated by the origins of gossip.  He was commenting on the strict social codes that primitive societies observed, and how easily one could be extricated from the group for an infraction of the code.   According to the documentary.   The next thought he had was about society’s attachment to celebrity gossip—as a surrogate for our own, real, important problems.  That we don’t have.  Because we are surviving no problem, relatively.  We’ve domesticated ourselves, but our animal instincts cannot be quieted.   

Before adopting my dog, Tina, last winter, I was doing some reading on the care and keeping of dogs and a little bit about dog psychology.  One dog book was suggesting that by seeking to tune in to your dog’s psychology, which is very simple and linear, you are tuning into your own animal instincts a little bit more.  I admit I do think about that a lot and it’s become a great meditation at times.  An act to simplify your life and to trust yourself.  Clearing the cluttering thoughts from mind and, well, surviving.

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Amanda Wagstaff, “Dana and Tina” (dot-to-dot drawing created in collaboration with a child I was babysitting), 2014

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