Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers 1

In this post, I will focus primarily on content from Chapter 1 of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, as the subsequent three chapters failed to provide the level of stimulation and insight that I was looking for.  I could be wrong, but I found that Bulliet’s style collapsed into a scattered summary of historical events, mythology, and processes that lacked easily detectable substance.

I extracted several overarching themes from the reading. I’ll discuss two.

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

Bulliet seems to suggest at times, and I too suggest, that the stunning lack of authentic concern for the treatment of animals in our society is in large part results from our tendency to be concerned with what is “right in front of us.” Psychologists use the term “salience.” For instance, in a hypothetical photo of a beach, a giraffe’s presence in the photo is more salient than a sandcastle — in this case because the inappropriateness (and size) of the giraffe makes it more salient than the sandcastle.

Many agree the rationale for vegetarianism is quite compelling, even non-vegetarians. More would agree that the systems in place for housing and slaughtering animals in the U.S. as depicted by films such as Food, Inc. are appalling. That begs the question, why are we so content eating so much meat given our knowledge of what’s going on?

I think the answer, at least in part, may be a product of salience (or lack thereof). The other answer may be desensitization, as Bulliet mentions. While the people of domesticity were numbed from overexposure to animal slaughter and sexuality, the indifference of the people of postdomesticity may be attributable to psychological distance from the processes that eventually delivery meat to our grocery stores. In other words, what’s going on in the background is not salient and is therefore mostly irrelevant. I might say there is an unconscious, but also partially deliberate, effort on the part of society to block thoughts that might lead to discomforting realizations about animals. Discomforting realities are interpreted as psychological threats and are usually rejected by our brains automatically.

SEPARATION FROM THE ENVIRONMENT

Bulliet discuss the progression from a kind of fusion with animals in predomesticity to a separation in domesticity and postdomesticity. I will take it a step further: our separation from animals is a signal of a larger separation from the environment altogether. One could argue that the humans of predomesticity were immersed in the environment, were a part of it. With domesticity, we began to “stomp on top of” the environment. We increasingly manipulated the Earth’s species and resources and came to consider ourselves as “above” nature.

Postdomesticity goes a step further. Rather than sitting on top of the environment, there is reason to believe we are removing ourselves from it altogether, physically or psychologically. Our cell phones, movies, computers, and the like seem to being tearing us from the physical world that increasingly makes us uneasy and placing us in a cyberspatial vacuum that leaves us completely unconnected to our roots in the predomestic and domestic world. Bulliet notes that our conceptions of carnal reality today are a product of images and teachings without any concrete experience. Our knowledge of the “real world” is “installed” into us instead of developed from experience. I can elaborate more in class if needed.

 

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3 Responses to Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers 1

  1. Thanks for situating this in terms of “salience.” That’s pretty interesting. Another issue I think worth noting is that “people” (not everybody, but lots of people in the urbanized, post-domestic US) engage in a willing suspension of belief when they encounter meat in a grocery store or restaurant. They have seen Food Inc, heard about the environmental hazards of factory farming, and read about the brutal conditions faced by livestock and chickens in industrial agriculture. They know at some level that the meat on their plate probably doesn’t come from happy cows on Old MacDonald’s farm. But at the same time it’s just too easy to bracket that knowledge when you’re hungry and encounter a plastic-wrapped piece of meat in a store. It’s so far removed from the animal and the context it came from that it’s incredibly easy to either not think about the back story at all or console oneself with the hope that things are probably getting better, and that you don’t really know where what you are buying came from.
    Ok, I just re-read your post and think you said it best: “I might say there is an unconscious, but also partially deliberate, effort on the part of society to block thoughts that might lead to discomforting realizations about animals. Discomforting realities are interpreted as psychological threats and are usually rejected by our brains automatically.”

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