By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Carolyn Chute
Narration by: P. J. Ochlan
Carolyn Chute paints a picture that implies freedom in society is a fiction. “Treat Us like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves” gives definition to American militias and aberrant societies that grow into rages against conventional government.
In any aggregate of people in a society, a set of rules are created through dictatorship or representative government, with varying levels of individual apathy. Each society uses propaganda, advertising, and cultural norms to maintain its existence. If general acceptance of societies’ rules diminish, totalitarianism rises.
Chute writes a story that shows how human cognition militates against society based on a Pavlovian reward system. (Classical conditioning refers to a learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell).) Though the title is about bad treatment of dogs, Chute metaphorically reveals how Pavlovian treatment of human beings turns them into predatory beasts. Chute implies societies’ leaders, influencers, and propagandists attempt to treat people through self-interest and a reward system reminiscent of B. F. Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning. Failure is inevitable because human’s rebel when self-interest distorts the general good.
Chute’s story is about a cult-like commune set up by a charismatic leader. As with all human beings, this leader is both good and bad. Good is represented by the leader’s creation of a community of people who sustain the environment while feeding its citizens and increasing its financial and material reserves to allow further growth. Classical and religious education classes are emphasized and practiced within work-day assignments of the community’s adults and children. The bad is in the leader’s human desire for control. The commune’s leader is willing to exploit the sexual immaturity of the community’s youth, co-opt anger of the community’s militant factions, and psychologically trade on a human desire for belonging (belonging to something greater than one self); all to increase control of the community; not to advance freedom or equal opportunity for its residents.
The leader is loved by most in the community without clearly understanding a motive even the leader is unsure of. The leader uses many of the same, though more primitive, tools of societal control that are used in the wider world. Cooptation, community education, propaganda, restriction of rights, and sexual exploitation are as evident in the cult as in the wide world. Children exposed to this environment recognize its contradictions and form a rebellion; not unlike the rebellion of women in patriarchal societies.
What makes Chute’s story interesting is the way she draws listeners into the story. In the beginning, one sees the commune as a cult; then as heaven on earth, and finally as a venal form of community governance that reveals the truths of human nature and the fiction of societal freedom.
Chute reinforces belief in Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan”. There can be no perfect form of government in society because of the nature of humankind. Humans are both good and evil. To form a society, people need rules of governance that protects them from each other. In setting those rules, freedom is infringed upon; without infringement, there is only anarchy. Absolute freedom in society is a fiction.
Chute’s story is too long. It has more characters than are necessary and its narration could be improved with the addition of a female narrator. However, “Treat Us like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves” remains a valuable explanation of how militias and aberrant societies ironically grow in western economies that emphasize human rights and freedom.