homo domesticus

Rob Woutat

Man is a man, and not a chimpanzee, because for
millions and millions of evolving years we killed
for a living.

—Robert Ardrey, The Hunting Hypothesis

His belly empty, his family crying for food and depending on him for survival, The Domesticated Man heads out alone to kill for a living, a modern figure playing an ancient role.

To ensure a successful hunt, he carries out the hunter’s familiar ritual—he makes a list—then arms himself heavily with a checkbook and drives to the super market hunting grounds in air conditioned comfort, listening to a Mozart flute concerto on CD. He leaves his car in the parking lot, the better to stalk his prey.

He has hunted many times before and knows where to find his quarry. He moves stealthily forward, passing produce on the left and the checkout counters on the right. Cunningly, his eyes darting and alert and all his senses in readiness, he creeps between Chinese take-out and the mylar balloons, between deli sandwiches and wine, past cakes in navy blue and fluorescent yellow icing, then inches carefully past health foods and fish.

It is because we were hunters, because
we killed for a living, because we matched
wits against the whole of the animal world,
that we have the wit to survive even in a
world of our own creation.

—Ardrey

When he’s between health food and fish, he knows his prey is apt to be near—the spoor, he decides, is still fresh—so he slows his pace, constantly sniffing the air for the familiar scent, walking with painstaking care so as not to break any twigs, his muscles tense, his breathing all but suspended in anticipation and excitement.

Atavism has long since taken hold—all his bodily systems are primed and ready for pursuit, and he is is an instinctive killer, driven by hunger, trained by eons of breeding and biological urges, burning to do what those eons have bred him to do—to match wits against the whole of the animal world.

Still, because he is a modern Domesticated Man, he pauses long enough to reflect: I have survived, so I am fit. I am the fittest so I will prevail.

So he moves forward, peering around the corner by frozen meats and spotting his prey in its customary habitat—in the cooler on his left, between chicken parts and turkey hams. He pauses to be sure he’s approaching from up wind, then moves forward even more stealthily than before.

In spite of the undeniable forces than drive him, he is a model of patience as he approaches his objective. He is utterly silent, a slow motion version of slow motion.

Until . . .

Until The Moment of Truth—the sudden, wild, explosive act that is simultaneously beautiful in its grace and terrible in its savagery. The pounce and the kill are almost indistinguishable. Suddenly and dramatically, the hunt is over and he pants with excitement as he grips his prey in both hands—a fine, bottom round roast, $1.89 per pound, 2.59 pounds, neatly wrapped in plastic in a little styrofoam tray, $4.11. He heads for the checkout line.

If among all the members of our primate
family the human being is unique, even in our
noblest aspirations, it is because we alone,
through untold millions of years, were
continuously dependent on killing to survive.

—Ardrey

He has made his kill.
His family will eat.
His noblest aspiration is achieved.
The Domesticated Man survives to hunt another day.

TheScreamOnline regular Rob Woutat has contributed a wide variety of pieces to newspapers and magazines and to the National Public Radio affiliate in Seattle/Tacoma. He has written two family histories and a memoir and is now working on a novel. Please check the Talent Index to see his other work.
He can be reached at rwoutat[AT]tscnet.com.
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