The two readings for this week, the beginning of How The Dog Became the Dog by Mark Derr and “Misguided Nostalgia for our Paleo Past” by Marlene Zuk, are peripherally related to each other, in that they address the history of the dog and the history of the human species, respectively. However, as we learn in the first reading, the history of our species and the history of the dog are inextricably linked. I address the history of the dog directly and the history of the human race indirectly in the first section of this post. Then I directly address human history and ideas related to destiny in the second section.
Dogs were always dogs
Logically, it makes sense that the dog was always in the wolf, and emerged very easily to befriend us. Wolves are highly sociable animals and live in packs with complicated hierarchy-based social structure. Or, alternately, you could just as easily say: humans are highly sociable animals and live in groups with complicated hierarchy-based social structure.
Social structure. What exactly do I mean? Wolves have a single alpha in a pack. Primitive humans often looked up to a single leader. Wolves in a pack all help to raise the pups belonging to the alpha and his mate. Humans look after others’ young. The lowest ranking wolf in the pack often retains some puppy-like characteristics for its whole life. This returns to the idea discussed in an earlier post–the idea of humans domesticating animals successful in part because they are such good nurturers. They nurture their own young and the young of others of their species, so nurturing animals of other species was not a particularly large change. I believe that modern humans view their pets almost in the same way that they view their own young.
My point is that wolves were naturally compatible with us before they became dogs. I am planning to read the rest of How the Dog Became the Dog (probably after school is over), because I like the author’s tone, but also because I am curious as to whether he agrees with my theory–that wolf social structure produced animals predisposed to incorporate into human social structure.
Paleolithic man (Or: Are Our Genes Our Destiny?)
Is there truly anything that we are “meant to be”? Is that even a thing? If we are meant to eat diets and live lives like our paleolithic ancestors, then aren’t dogs meant to be wolves? Aren’t all livestock animals meant to run free and feed upon wild plant materials? Maybe we are all meant to return to the primordial soup.
I jest, but I am also quite serious.
I do not believe in destiny. I do not believe that I am meant to be anything, least of all a paleolithic human. Zuk’s points are valid, and I agree with him that humans are evolving more rapidly than they are often given credit for. Evolution can happen quite rapidly, particularly in response to environmental stresses. However, at the root of the argument that Zuk makes is the idea that our genes are our destiny and that we must do what our genes require us to do. I am a scientist, but I cannot believe that. We all are more than the sum total of our parts, more than our genes. An Olympic champion will not necessarily produce an Olympic champion. a genius will not necessarily produce a genius. There are countless stories of people rising to fame from completely unremarkable backgrounds (and equally unremarkable genetic material).
I do not think that our genes bind us to any certain fates. I think that it is silly, in this day and age, to make life decisions based upon what we are “meant” to do. I would argue that the human race is meant to do anything that it can innovate. If we are meant to do anything, we are meant to make choices.