All posts by mollyo92

Rats: Another animal taking the blame

I was most interested in the portion of Burt which discussed the parallel universe of rats and humans. It seems to me that this concept fits well into many themes common to domestication, which is that humans don’t wish to acknowledge a portion of themselves, and instead portray that portion onto an animal. As humans create massive, complex and complicated cities, rats serve as the ‘disgusting’ side effect of that construction. What we don’t see, or at least want to think about when we build a massive city, is the pollution and destruction that is left in the wake. Rats are the living reminder that underneath the world we have created for ourselves, there remains a wild influence we cannot control. As described by the readings, humans ultimately always have the intention of killing rats, whether for the purpose of exterminating an unsightly addition to our ‘pristine’ cities, or for scientific exploration. What strikes me as interesting is that rats are such a strong symbol of dirt and filth in our cities. Why are rats blamed for the pollution and garbage that humans have created? Rats do indeed symbolize this filth, however it’s humans who have created their environment. Why do the rats stand for trash that is our own fault? It’s because the rats are able to take blame for something we don’t want to accept blame for. Why should we accept the consequences of the mess we’ve created when we can instead say, oh that disgusting rat. It’s so filthy. Not, oh those disgusting humans. They’ve created such filth. Although I was interested in Shapiro’s discussion of the social construction of the laboratory animal, I do find the context of the rat in our society more interesting. I liked that Burt described a history of the rat and it’s place in society, describing the way it has arrived in its current role. I was intrigued of Burt’s adoration for the rat, and that his blame for the opinion of the rat lies mostly in it’s proximity to humanity. As with other animals that have experienced domestication, the rat has been molded into an undeserved role by humans.

Viewing domestication with a biased lens

I’ll have to admit that it’s difficult for me to read Darwin. I’m not much of a scientific mind, and especially this early, somewhat crude science is hard for me to follow, given that he tends to use vocabulary and discuss topics that I’m not at all familiar with. However, I was able to follow Brantz, and I was very interested by her work. I was grabbed from the start by the opening statement, a quote by Darwin: “From a remote period, in all parts of the world, man has subjected many plants and animals to domestication and culture…He unintentionally exposes his animals and plants to to various conditions of life, and variability supervenes, which he cannot even prevent or check.” This quote is so interesting to me as it completely portrays the subject of animals and plant/human relationships from what I see as a bias anthropocentric viewpoint. The story is of human history, but also of man allowing animals and plants to enter into their society, a society which is totally separate from what appears to be the rest of the natural world. This separation does not sit well with me, and I think it’s part of the reason humans have become so removed from animals and nature in modern times. As explained in the article, animals were used as status symbols for humans; they were always seen as something man could manipulate. Even the fact that organizations were created for the protection of pets before the protection of wild animals makes it clear that human actions have long revolved around selfishness rather than a concern for other living creatures. Additionally, the fact that stray animals are seen as a nuisance because they don’t have their place serving the needs of a human family just goes to show what a bias view humans have always maintained towards plants and animals. How can they serve me? What rights should they have? Should they have any rights at all? All these common discussions on animal topics make it clear that the whole subject of domestication is just bound to take place with humans squarely in the center. I’m not really convinced domestication ever happened as a mutually beneficial arrangement. I believe there was a point in history when humans began to see themselves as better than all other species, and since that point our outlook on the other living creatures in the world has been that they are all a step below us. I think what is needed is a change in mindset. Before humans can have a discussion about the place that animals should have in ‘our’ world, we must first understand that it is their world too.

Discussion for Reindeer People

I’ve listed a few topics that I’ve picked out of the blogs this week for the discussion of Reindeer People
-Conflicting beliefs about Bayanay, specifically on the topic of hunting
-Given that reindeer are such a good candidate for domestication, why did reindeer domestication happen in Russia and not elsewhere?
-The effect of Soviet communism on the relationship between domesticated reindeer and the Eveny people
-Treatment of animals in a capital vs Soviet communist society
-Commodification of animals: how did the relationship change between humans and reindeer as the animals changed from partners to commodities?
-Division between domesticated and wild reindeer: change of genes? What accounts for the differences?
-Relationship of animal treatment in correlation with religion in pastoral and nomadic societies
-How we treat our pets vs animals that are domesticated for food
-Domesticated people: can humans be domesticated in the same way that animals can? Did this happen to the reindeer people?
-Dream interpretation

Reindeer People

I was very interested by the reading this week, and I’m looking forward to the great discussion that I know will result from the reading. I really like the context the book is written in. Specifically, I like that reindeer are explained in a way that shows how vital they are to the people they are connected with. The book uses powerful expressions like, “reindeer has been giving life to humans” (page 17), to show their role in the culture. Obviously, Vitebsky’s journey to the Eveny people shows in depth exactly how important the reindeer are to the population. One of the highlights for me was the discussion of animals souls. I love the beliefs of the Eveny people, in which all living things have their own spirits, and therefore all have some sort of consciousness. This type of belief system allows for a respect of nature that isn’t typically found, in my opinion, in Christianity and many other religions today. Instead of respecting nature because it was created by God, it seems to me that the Eveny people respect nature as they would fellow humans, for its inherent value, and they have a full awareness of the importance of each and every living thing on the planet. This segment made me retrospectively consider the discussion of how domestication began that was brought up earlier on in the book. On page 25, Vitebsky discusses the mystery of domestication, and why taming wild animals, here referencing reindeer, “was once possible, but it seems almost impossible to domesticate wild reindeer today.” After reading about the Eveny beliefs, this made me consider the type of society that may have existed back then. Was domestication possible because the people who lived all that time ago had a different view of nature? I think most scientists agree that animals don’t have the same level of intelligence that humans do, but I do understand that animals have been known to sense what is around them. The image that comes to mind is a dog cowering in fear sensing the anger in an owner’s voice. Were reindeer able to be domesticated because they sensed the respect those early humans had for them? The sense of equality and mutual benefit? Perhaps all traces of that sort of respect is lost in most people today, which is why domestication no longer occurs as easily. I’ll admit that it’s a crazy thought, but even the mere idea of such a prospect does at least make one consider how animals are treated in modern society, and at the very least think for a moment on whether or not the human/animal relationship was different in the dawn of animal domestication. Was something done with the best intentions developed into something cruel as humanity slowly lost its respect for the beauty of nature?

Goat Song

I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed Brad Kessler’s Goat Song. Kessler does an incredible job of making his story relevant and surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down as I read about the process of raising the goats, to getting them through heat, to the milking process. The part that personally interested me the most was Kessler’s use of socialist and communist theory in his narrative. On page 59, Kessler discusses the theory of political theorist Friedrich Engels:

“…the domestication of cattle was a pivotal point for human society. Once the wild bull was broken and used to plow fields he could also be used for trade. Some humans inevitably accumulated more cattle wealth than others….led to a growing inequality between those who had and those who hadn’t…”

I’m less familiar with Engels than I am with Karl Marx, but having read the Marx-Engels Reader almost from cover to cover, I understand that Engels and Marx somewhat coincide, and I can say with confidence that the passage Kessler uses is describing the original commodification of  goods that ultimately led to our current capitalist society. I was so thrilled to see Kessler use this idea, partially due to the fact that I’m somewhat biased in my favoritism for Marx, but also because I really enjoy seeing Marx’s ideals used in such a modern way. Many argue that Marx and Engels are outdated, but Kessler gives us the reminder, with this passage and with his overall message, that our society has too great of a focus on goods, trading, and capital. In this particular passage, I believe Engels isn’t necessarily arguing against the whole idea of domestication, but rather the way that domestication led to the creation of another good; something else that people could own and therefore trade to collect wealth. Kessler’s message seems to be that the bond between humans and domesticated animals, that perhaps never really completely existed everywhere, needs some work.

Kessler brings up Marx several more times, including his mention of the fetishism of  commodities, which is part of Marx’s theory that basically describes what happens when the labor used to create a product is added into the exchange value of the product, meaning the laborer also becomes an exchangeable good or commodity. I like that Kessler described the strenuous and meaningful process of bonding with his goats and putting the labor into creating cheese from their milk, and then brings up this idea of the fetishism to emphasize how this important process has turned into something meaningless in our society today. Although it wasn’t Marx’s original intent, I believe this idea can be applied to the animals as well. We have stopped (or perhaps never really did) valuing the animals that provide us with food and labor. We have added them into the mix of trading commodities. Kessler avoids changing his farm in order to be able to legally sell his cheese, only because he believes it will take away the meaning of what he’s doing, and I think he’s right. As Kessler so perfectly explains, “Largeness curses everything too; smallness was key” (p. 238). Our booming society, with its focus on mass production and rolling out goods to meet demand, has created a disconnect between our consciousness and how our food is really created, thus leading to a loss of appreciation for what the earth provides for us. I don’t mean to come across as some tree-hugging hippie, but I do think our society could really benefit from having a little deeper understanding of our connection to animals, like Kessler’s goats. As Kessler says, “Animal domestication is often thought of as a symbiotic relationship,” (p. 148) meaning it should be mutually beneficial. Animals have lost their benefits in our society, and our human benefits have lost meaning. Animals are raised in short and brutal lives and used as commodities, and if you ask me, it’s time we humans start living up to our end of the bargain.

Ancient humans and nature: not so harmonious afterall?

Wildlife of Our Bodies really brought up some interesting points during this section of reading. I really tried to focus more on what Dunn was trying to convey rather than his writing style as we discussed in class. There was definitely one thought that stood out to me the most from the reading. Dunn explains the way in which we tend to think about ancient humans living in a perfect world, in complete harmony with nature. Dunn discusses this idea on page 114…

“Let’s return to the Amazon. Across much of what we now tend to think of as the ‘pristine’ Amazon, civilizations and agriculture once flourished. They flourished at the margins of the forest in seasonal lands where good years are good, but bad years are very, very bad.”

It’s in this section that Dunn explains the theory created by Leigh Binford. which descirbes the notion that agriculture was a measure taken by ancient humans when they were desperate, rather than being a product of invention as we tend to imagine. This idea hit me particularly hard, due to the fact that it’s something I’ve often considered. I’ve taken a course in environmental ethics, and we spent a lot of time talking about humans’ ideal relationship with nature. Commonly, I pictured ancient humans, running around with animals by their side, living in harmony with nature and taking only what they needed. I often felt that the relationship between humans and nature began to go downhill when humans became greedy and selfish and demanded more than nature could produce. However, the theory Dunn describes does not explain the actual course of events in this way. It seems that it was not human demand that spoiled the relationship, but rather the simple inability of nature to provide enough. Granted this is only one theory, it does hold some weight with me. Dunn also discusses a portion of this theory that describes humans having to move their settlements approximately every fifteen years as their communities became rampant with fleas, lice, and a lack of food supply. This paints a clear picture of a civilization of ancient humans that are struggling to assimilate to their surroundings. It’s important to remember that this is only one theory, and Dunn does go on to  explain other theories that could offer a different explanation. But regardless, I was glad to be given a alternative perspective to what I always imagined. It’s interesting to think that  despite the idea we often discussed in my ethics class that humans need to revert back to more harmonious relationship with nature, that perfect relationship may have never really existed. Is it possible that the development of agriculture and the process of humans exerting their control over nature was the only way to create a somewhat civil relationship between humans and nature? Based on this theory, it seems that agriculture was always destined to a part of the development of the earth; it seems like agriculture is just another step in evolution. I know we’ve had discussions about “natural” and how nothing is actually “natural,” therefore it could be interesting to bring up this discussion again including Binford’s theory and having the perspective that without agriculture and domestication of animals, humans, and perhaps many various animal and plant species, had no chance of survival in the natural world. The development of this relationship as it occurred may actually being mutually beneficial instead of parasitic.

Part Wild

I am extremely intrigued by Part Wild so far. It’s interesting to read about domestication in this way. Up to this point in class, I’ve pictured domestication as some far, distant process that occurred thousands of years ago. I didn’t imagine the struggle and complications that must have been involved with taking wild animals and turning them into domesticated companions. Sure, we’ve mentioned that it was difficult, but I never really imagined it. But Part Wild definitely paints that picture. I understand that Terrill’s journey with Inyo is not the same process that our ancestors endured in order to domesticate wild animals, but it does show some of the struggles that a person would face as they introduced a wild (in this case part wild) animal into human civilization.  At times, I feel a deep sadness for Inyo. It’s clear she just doesn’t belong in a human world. It made me wonder how could ancient humans have pushed and pushed through this struggle for generation after generation in order to domesticate the wolf all those thousands of years ago? Especially without the modern technology like locks and electric fences. On the other hand, perhaps it was easier then, given that human society was not yet so highly developed. Thousands of years ago, newly domesticated dogs wouldn’t have to refrain from howling, tearing up linoleum, or digging up a flowerbed and face a city citation as Inyo had to. I mean, it’s clear how much easier it is for Terrill and Inyo out in the wilderness, far away from other people. It’s definitely a perplexing thought process to try and imagine exactly how domestication took place.

Aside from my thoughts on dog domestication, I have to admit that I thought about cats very often while reading Part Wild. I know, that probably goes against every intent that ultra dog-lover Ceiridwen Terrill had in mind when she wrote the book, but just like Inyo, I can’t help my nature. I’m a cat person, plain and simple. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like dogs as well, but deep down, I’ll always just be a cat person. Despite my interest in cats, I know about as little about the domestication of cats as I do about the domestication of dogs, which is very, very little. But just based on the reading and personal experience, I think I can see some major differences. At one point, Part Wild enters a discussion about the intelligence of wolves vs dogs. Are wolves smarter because they can more easily fend for themselves, communicate with other dogs, and overall adapt to the wild? Terrill offers a somewhat half hearted rebuttal to the argument by saying that dogs would be considered smarter if we judged them on their ability to fit into human society. Well in my opinion, this is complete rubbish. And I know, it’s only my opinion, but it seems to me that dogs have simply been dumbed down to the point of only existing with permission of humans. Struggling to live independently does not equal smart in my book. It seems that Inyo, even only part wolf, is MUCH smarter than all dogs she encounters. Just look at how she can easily escape any enclosure, find her own food, and avoid dangers such as snake bites and traffic. That, to me, makes her highly intelligent. Now it could just be the biased cat person in me, but in this comparison I believe that cats seem more similar to wolves than dogs. They’re unwillingness to be trained by humans gives them an independence which seems to me to translate to intelligence. For example, my cat, who is now going on two years old, hasn’t been outside since she was a kitten. But I’m almost positive that if I released her into the wild, she could survive. At least for a while. But would say, a Chihuahua, survive? I really don’t think so. Even though she hasn’t been outside for over a year and a half, my cat still can jump 3 feet in the air and grasp a moth between her paws, she still jumps to the top of a 5 foot shelf to try to reach our hamster in its cage almost every day, and she still sits by the window and cackles loudly, wide-eyed, at every passing bird. She seems to have held on to her wild instincts, something that I think many dogs have lost. Terrill constantly discusses the way that dog food brands appeal to the wolf ancestors of the dog, when in reality most domesticated dogs lost that part of them long ago. But why does cat food never appeal to the “wild cat inside your house cat” when it seems to me that the wild side is still much more present than it is in dogs? But I’m no expert, and once again, these are most likely the biased musing of a cat lover.

Snakes, Eagles, and Foxes, oh my

The best word I have for the readings this week is dynamic. From imagining humans running around, being attacked by various predators swooping in from all directions, to the visual of a snake violently striking a poor, innocent biologist, to the somewhat depressing image of a fox being shot by Soviet researchers, there was certainly a wide range of discussion. I became somewhat more hooked by Wildlife of Our Bodies than I was initially. Dunn certainly has an exciting writing style. I was a little distracted by his “storytelling,” seeing as he wove what was probably a two page story about the tiger being hunted by Jim Corbett throughout approximately 20 pages of reading. It definitely was an interesting story, however I began to get somewhat confused by the points he was trying to make as I was pushed and pulled in and out of this tale. The next portion of the book about the venomous snake theory was presented a little more clearly, though I felt it was somewhat biased. Dunn only includes a very small blurb about how not all scientists agree on Lynne Isbell’s theory. I’m no scientist, but I think even a narrative-style book needs to include slightly more diversification of opinion in order to transmit a believable idea. And once again, Isbell’s entire theory was convoluted by stories of Dunn’s friends being bitten by venomous snakes, and by the somewhat more detailed than necessary example of the blind man, Vermeij. Overall, I was intrigued,  I kind of felt like I was left hanging with some underdeveloped theories that I was actually somewhat interested in.

Moving on to the topic of foxes, I think I was fairly distracted with the radio show and article by the points that were glazed over. I somehow couldn’t stop thinking about the foxes being killed and their limp, dead carcasses being draped around the neck of some plump, rich Soviet woman. Getting to the science, however, it was a really interesting story. I couldn’t stop looking up images of the wild and domestic foxes. It’s absolutely insane that they look so vastly different. And this happened after only 10 years of experimentation. That seems incredible to me. The image is below, for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet.

foxes

But beyond the actual experiment, I picked up on something in the National Geographic article that I think we will inevitably discuss based on our past discussions. The article states, “At the beginning of the domestication process, only natural selection was at work,” as Trut puts it. “Down the road, this natural selection was replaced with artificial selection.” This is really a big point of contention. Can it be called “artificial selection” just because humans are doing the selecting? Furthermore, the radio show discussed the way in which humans have domesticated themselves, and they made this seem like an artificial process in which humans were unnaturally (I know we don’t like that word, but it works here) changing the course of evolution. The evolutionary history article discusses the many ways that humans have altered evolution of multiple species, but the question about these thoughts is can we call this process “artificial” or, because humans are just as organic as every other living thing on this planet, can our alterations of evolution still fall under the category of “natural selection?” This is definitely a lingering question.

And in conclusion, I may be the only one who was horrified to learn that eagles were such violent enemies of humans, and I was further traumatized by the idea of a beautiful, majestic eagle diving down and swiping up a human child. For anyone who had trouble picturing this image, check out this horrifying eagle attack. Although it’s fake, it still provides a good image of the threat our ancestors faced daily.

Finally understanding domestication

I’m really glad we read Animals as Domesticates by Clutton-Brock this week. It seems we’re finally getting in to really discussing domestication and I’m starting to grasp the process. Unlike Bulliet, Clutton-Brock began her book with a basic background of domestication. In class it kept being mentioned that dogs were the first domesticated animals. This is something that seemed obvious to everyone but me, given that I really know nothing about domesticated animals. But this fact started to really make sense with this week’s readings. Strangely, the Bulliet book seemed to begin to discuss the actual process of domestication more this week than the introduction did. It’s confusing to me that Bulliet chose to begin his book with a lot of confusing, and dare I say nonsense, about the postdomestic era and an obsession with blood and sex, and then finally in the middle of the book he begins explaining the process of domestication. As someone with zero prior knowledge on the subject, I would have appreciated this discussion a lot earlier. His points in the beginning would probably have made a lot more sense as well.

But moving away from Bulliet and back to Clutton-Brock, I’m also glad she is picking up on the question of whether humans are natural or artificial. This is something I’m very interested in exploring during the course, and it’s starting to come together. As I begin to read some of the theories of domestication, I can’t help but think of domestication as being similar to co-evolution. I’m definitely no scientist, but it seems to me that the way in which humans have changed the evolution of certain species, has also changed the evolution humans. We have changed our eating habits, hunting habits, we don’t need to run as fast, or work as hard because we have certain animals to assist us. Although people may call human activity, including domestication of animals “artificial,” it appears to me at this point to be very natural. Perhaps the development of certain animals species was also supposed to be affected by humans, just as some species of parasites and hosts have co-evolved and affected each other. I’ll end my rambling thoughts here, in the hopes that this is something we can further talk over in class, and perhaps someone with a lot more scientific knowledge than I have can offer me some clarity. I lastly wanted to share an article I came across the other day. I know in Clutton-Brock, it’s somewhat a question as to where and when dogs were first domesticated, and this article brings some new evidence to light. Given the class interest in dog domestication, it may be a good article to look over.

 

Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised as I began to read this week’s reading. I didn’t expect the topic of the book to be “blood and sex,” as it’s so often mentioned throughout the several beginning chapters. I was honestly a little taken aback as the book just jumped right in and began to discuss bestiality and it’s prevalence in previous centuries. For starters, I had no idea that it was such a normal thing in the past, and to continue, I didn’t exactly understand what the subject had to do with domestication. It seemed to me that bestiality would be more like a setback in the history of animal domestication; kind of like a mistake in the process of forging a successful, positive relationship between animals and humans. Despite my initial hesitation, I quickly began to understand the importance of the subject of “blood and sex.” It seems that it’s actually very important to understand the relationship humans have had with animals on a sexual level and also in how our view of animal slaughter has changed. As the readings progressed, I began to see the increased complications of animal/human relationships. Not only have sexual relationships towards animals developed over time, but as have our moral and religious connections to animals. As I have thought about domestication previously, I kind of imagined domestication occurring at one point and history, and after that point the relationship between humans and animals has been static and unchanging. This book has made me begin to understand that the development of the animal/human relationship takes place on so many levels, and furthermore how that relationship has been changing almost constantly with the development of society.

Although I was able to overcome my initial hesitation with the book as it started off discussing “blood and sex,” I still wasn’t entirely convinced by all of Bulliet’s points. I believe Bulliet did a good job of making the reader aware of a change in animal/human relationships developing with the changes of society, but I think there wasn’t enough exploration into those changes. I mainly got this impression from the portion on elective vegetarianism. Personally, I do not eat red meat, and I tend to avoid most meats overall, and as I read this portion of the book I began to feel somewhat ashamed. It was as if Bulliet’s message was for people to suck it up and eat meat like humans used to and are supposed to. However, Bulliet ignores the fact that our society has drastically changed from the domestic era in which most people saw many animals slaughtered during their childhood. And apparently unlike Bulliet, I don’t really feel that this is such a negative change. For example, Bulliet mentions the way that meat gives people more energy than only vegetation can. This point was brought up as if it was a case for why people are making a mistake in shying away from meat, however Bulliet never mentions that most people no longer work on farms and exert as much energy as they used to. Therefore, it seems that eating foods that give less energy really isn’t such a big deal. Unlike Bulliet, I really think that the change in the eating habits of society that have arisen from the drastic change in the activities and lifestyles of many societies overall is not a bad thing. Obviously, these thoughts are mostly focused on American society, given that many countries around the world are still primarily farming societies. But in general, I didn’t have the same negative impression of the shift towards vegetarianism. I may have interpreted this section incorrectly, and I probably simply felt this way because I felt guilty while reading this portion of the book, but I do know for sure that Bulliet was attempting to place a negative connotation on vegetarianism, which I do not agree with. The book so far has been eye-opening, but I’m not yet fully convinced by Bulliet.