Are Humans In Captivity?


The inspiration for this post came when I discovered that animals in captivity often develop mental illnesses. Captive chimps, for example, show behaviours such as rocking, pacing, pulling out their hair and self-mutilation. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and more are all thought to occur in animals as well as humans.

What interested me most was that these behaviours mirror the symptoms of mental illness in humans, but are not found in wild animals. This makes sense, as mentally ill animals would be unlikely to survive long in the wild. But it raises an interesting question – if humans were living ‘in the wild’, would mental illnesses still exist? And since we aren’t living in the wild, are we in captivity?

Are Humans In Captivity?

Although this question is tongue-in-cheek, it has implications which are worth thinking about. Our freedom may not be restricted by physical barriers, but most of us are trapped in the current system by various factors.

The primary factor is probably money. In our current system, money is necessary for even the most basic things which are supposed to be human rights – food, water and shelter, for instance. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to opt out of this system. In the UK, for example, virtually everyone has to pay council tax; we’re effectively charged for existing. I’m sure other countries have similar taxes.

Our society is effectively governed by fear – fear of starvation and homelessness, but also fear of rejection if we go against the tide. These fears trap us in jobs we hate and situations which make us deeply unhappy.

Some of us might as well be physically trapped. When I was studying, I travelled between home and university every day, but rarely went anywhere else. Since it was a journey of a few miles, I had to get the bus rather than walk. I spent virtually all my time indoors – if I didn’t have to go to campus on a certain day, I sometimes didn’t leave the house at all.

Unsurprisingly, I was stressed, anxious and unhappy. My behaviour was clearly unhealthy, but I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have time to go for a walk or otherwise get out of the house. In this instance, it was fear of failure which kept me trapped. In reality, I’d likely have been far more productive had I made time to go outside and get some fresh air.

Even now, I’m not completely free of this mentality. I’ve come to firmly believe that we should all get outside every day, whatever the weather, but there are still days where it’s hard to motivate myself to do so. The same applies to other healthy habits like meditation. I’ve often felt like a prisoner of my own mind; I’m sure many people can relate.

I’m trying not to let fear govern my mind any longer. Overcoming it is a slow journey, but I have faith that I’ll get there. For me, it’s a spiritual journey too – I’m coming to accept that true happiness comes from within, and can’t be taken away by external circumstances. In other words, I’ll always be OK, no matter what happens. Through recognising this, I believe I’ll release myself from ‘captivity’ and find freedom at last.

Some might say that this captivity is the price we pay for the luxuries of modern life – personally, I’m prepared to do without many of them in exchange for freedom. I feel that the system is broken, and as such am reluctant to participate in it.

I also believe that the majority of mental illnesses are linked to the way we live nowadays – we’re under a lot of pressure, and have become isolated from both nature and each other. Many others are also coming to the conclusion that our society may be responsible for the rapid rise in mental illnesses over the past few decades.

What about you? Do you feel trapped, or are you happy with the way things are? Let me know in the comments.

9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I temp on and off right now and I am astonished how many people do not take a lunch break and go outside. I have always walked daily no matter what the weather. And walked randomly too just to move and get air ?

    1. I definitely think it’s really important to take breaks and get outside! I used to have two-hour lectures in uni with a break halfway through, and I never even left the room during the break. I guess I felt too apathetic to move, but looking back I can’t believe I just sat there. It would’ve made the second half of the lecture so much more bearable if I’d got some fresh air!

  2. When I saw this post, I instantly thought of mother pigs. They are as bad off, if not worse than the captive chimps you mentioned. We all need freedom or we lose our minds and our health.

    1. Very true, I’ve seen footage of mother pigs chewing on the bars of their enclosures which is a sign of severe distress. No creature thrives in captivity.

  3. I found this post through searching the words “are humans in captivity,” because I’ve always felt like I’m trapped in the life I currently have and cannot get out, that there’s another life that I was always meant to live, a life farther from the city. One day, once I get my PhD, I’m going to leave this life. 🙂

    I’m surprised that nobody else has posted about this. At least, not on the first Google search page. Thanks for posting this!

  4. This has been a theme in my life. When ever I watch films like Castaway or recently Peanut Butter Falcon, I become envious. I’m envious of that sense of just living on the Earth where ever that may be. I’m not envious of Tom Hank’s character’s isolation. I start to feel like I belong to my home rather than the other way around. I wouldn’t mind feeling like I belong to the Earth. I tried to solve this with an outdoorsy job (arborist), didn’t work.

  5. I Googled this question today after feeling sad that my cats are too afraid to go outside and thinking about how animals get distressed in captivity. I feel that the way we live is not natural but I know there are people out there who are happy. I wonder if this is why a lot of people find nature to be healing. I know I crave being in nature sometimes, even when I’m super depressed.

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