Thoughts on Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

Richard Bulliet begins his book with sex and violence, giving an inverse relationship between fantasy and experience. That is, the current child-sheltering from violence and sex that takes place in our society is a product of post-domestication. He says living around animals while young provided children with introductions into killing, slaughter, and sexual intercourse, ultimately conditioning people against novelty interest in the subjects. I’d like to mainly talk about a few of his points found later in the chapter, but I feel I can make a few comments about his initial premise and explanations.

Let’s start with violence – are children really sheltered from violence in this country? Violence is glorified in every medium of entertainment, and specifically targeted for adolescent and teenage males. Even beyond the teenage years, violence is touted as legitimizing force in entertainment. The darker and more gruesome the subject material – the more ‘serious’ a work of art. Now, this may be exactly what Bulliet describes as our glorification and fantasy with violence – but I take issue with his claim that children are ‘sheltered’ to it.

And while sex certainly seems to be a more taboo subject (I’ve read it is otherwise in European nations), youth certainly haven’t stopped having sexual experiences. While the ‘adult’ culture may have a general consensus against youth sex, the reality is otherwise. I may have just started a roundabout semantic argument with myself that ultimately affirms Bulliet’s assertions, but I felt I needed to give an opinion on this.

Bulliet goes on to cover the history and origins of vegetarianism, and humanity’s self-separation from animal kinship. I would like to hear more about Bulliet’s personal opinion with vegetarianism/veganism, etc., as I’m a tad confused as to why he wrote this section of the chapter. There’s no direct affirmation or condemnation of it, rather an articulation of the claims made by prominent members of those ideologies. The main assertion seems to be that animals – because they are able to suffer – have rights, and we should therefore refrain from eating them. Or that we are animals as well, and are therefore practicing a form of mild cannibalism. But this seems to contradict the intentions of evolution. It seems pretty clear that humans evolved to eat meat, that being a carnivore is a natural part of being human.  How do we, as a society, begin to reconcile this? Is meat-eating only acceptable when necessary, or when we are live in a more domestic partnership with our animals? Interestingly, we might find a parallel between the evolution of human violence with animal violence. The more advanced societies are, the more they distance themselves from a natural evolutionary state, the less their survival is hinged upon slaughter and killing. History often ascribes less blame and immorality to those who have killed and committed atrocities in previous, less forgiving ages than it does to those who live in times and/or places of wealth. While the same currently cannot be said for animals, we have a useful template to follow for an evolution of morality on animal treatment (if we desire). As the killing humans was necessary in more survival-oriented times, so was the killing of animals. Now that many societies live comfortably, and violence is condemned and generally outlawed, so may be violence against animals, as we no longer require such ‘atrocity’ to survive.

I’m certainly not endorsing this. It’s just a thought. We may also consider a few logical extensions of the ‘vegetarian premise’ that Bulliet presents. Let’s look at it this way:

We are evolved to eat me. If we choose to abstain from this, in pursuit of morality, we are separating ourselves from other animals, particularly if our choice is (I’d say hypocritically) from a pre-domestic view of ‘animal kinship.’ Animals eat meat; If we do not, we are implying that we are ‘above’ that. But if we have created a distance between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom, haven’t we achieved a similar mindset to those who eat meat in the domestic and post-domestic era? Bulliet discusses the enlightenment, and its assertion that humanity lords over animals, and he has this point to the current post-domestic culture of eating whatever we please. So we essentially have two entirely different conclusions on animal violence stemming from the same premise of humanity at least being different than other animals. Whether we are ‘above’ or ‘rulers of’ those animals may be up for debate.

The point is meat-eating is not necessarily a terrible violation of an animal’s natural rights. We have different conclusions stemming from the same assertions, and that should be considered when condemning the other side of this debate. We’re caught somewhere between domestication, evolution, and philosophy, and I suspect we’ll never have a genuine or clear discussion of these subjects. In this case I have to agree with a piece of the thesis and conclusion from last week’s video – many of these problems that are rooted in evolution aren’t really solvable, and they may not even be problems, they just are.

I’d like to finish with what I think is a humorous (and semi-vulgar) quote about chickens from Mark Rippetoe, a strength and conditioning coach who firmly supports meat-eating as an expression of evolution.

“Okay, have you ever been around chickens? They are stupid, uncooperative, inconvenient, ill-tempered creatures. They get what they deserve. Fuck chickens.”