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Are You a Trained or Practiced Animal?

Recently, owing to a post by Billy Beck on his blog, I've been mulling over the concept of "training."

They're trained, you see. This relieves them of the burden of thinking. This is especially handy for them in moral tests: they don't have to pause to evaluate the use of force. There is a training maxim that goes, "In a crisis, you don’t rise to the level of the situation, you sink to the level of your training." There is a very good Objectivist maxim that says, "Man is the only creature that can sink below his nature." Behold the terrible fix of these two X-lines on a graph: the ascent of anti-thought where thinking is most crucial — the application of force — and the sink of humans to the level of robots. These two lines cross at a concept of "training", which in this context and these applications is a rote substitution of formula in place of actual cognitive integration and ethical evaluation of all the facts at hand.

This really resonates with me and has wide application (and I think Billy's application to politics and the use of State force is spot on). We do use the concept of training quite a lot, and in particular, when we're talking about our workouts at the gym and so forth. So, there's an element of validity to it, I thought. Then I though otherwise.

Are wild animals trained? Of course not, and that goes to the principal distinction of wild vs. domesticated animals, or pets.

I also realized that my wife and I have never bothered to spend much time "training" our animals. I prefer to see them in a more natural state of behavior, and to actually take both verbal and non-verbal cues. I have never been overly impressed with animals that have been rigorously trained to jump through all sorts of hoops.

And so then I began to wonder at what concept we could arrive, where we take the good part of "training," i.e., acquired physical and mental skills, and ditch the bad, i.e., robotic unthinking. And that's when I arrived at a concept I believe fits the bill: practice.

Rather than training ourselves, like robotic zoo animals, performance animals, and State agents of force, how about we practice our skills in differing environments and circumstances, such that we are able to apply our skills to all of our perceptions, as gathered by our senses and integrated into a one-off context of reality at that moment in time — a moment and circumstances different than any other, before or after?

Imagine the hunter-gatherer as master of his domain with varying terrain, night, day, hot & cold weather, seasons, snow, ice, scorching heat, migrating animals, and all of these things and more combine into an impossibly complex array of possible scenarios at any given time. Now, add to that the element of survival, and how it's all up to him and perhaps a few fellow hunters (no social "safety net").

If he was "trained," rather than being superbly practiced over years and years to adeptly respond to and act (apply skills, knowledge, experience and principles to a moment-in-time context of facts and reality) in a wide range of different survival situations, then he would as surely perish as would a trained dog set into the wild.

"Training" is for domesticated, zoo humans. The wild human animal is highly practiced, competent, and independent.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

4 Comments

  1. AndrewS on April 9, 2009 at 14:05

    I'm going to differ with you here on word choice, because I think practice IS training. I don't think the problem is that we fall back on habits; it's that the habits we fall back on are mechanical and robotic.

    We should train ourselves to think, not just to jump or spout a catchphrase or point fingers.

    Someone says "this study says saturated fat is evil." The irrational response is to shout "they did it wrong!" The rational response is to shout "show me the proof!" Both are knee-jerk and animalistic. One tells the person not to think any further; the other says, check your premises.

  2. Jim on April 9, 2009 at 18:11

    Richard, you might enjoy the book "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales. He makes a similar point; versatility can be more important than training in survival situations.

  3. Tom on April 10, 2009 at 08:30

    Richard, I like your notion of 'practice'. It goes back to Aristotle and the Nicomachean Ethics. In order to attain skills, Aristotle believed that you needed to practice, practice, practice until those skills became habit or second nature. — Tom

  4. Richard Nikoley on April 11, 2009 at 09:36

    Thanks. It went on my (growing) book list.

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