Oh Bulliet

As I continue my readings on domestication, I admit that I had grossly underestimated its importance before taking this class.  I imagined the studying of domestication would simply involve discussing animals subject to its effect.  I never imagined the investigation of its entire cause and effect.  Now that I have been confronted with this challenge, I must admit that I have become obsessed with all it involves.  I appreciate the difficulty and controversies Bulliet must overcome in order to adequately address this topic.  I have come to learn that domestication is the cause for much of what is today, and there can be no definite definition or origin for something so encompassing.  As Bulliet delves deeper into this topic I find myself questioning the motives for his logic as well as conclusions he makes along the way.
I was really excited for this reading because it felt like Bulliet was actually heading towards a well-grounded conclusion at times.  His conclusion that the sequence of hunter to herder to famer was unlikely, was well received in my mind.  In my previous reading of this book I thought that Bulliet had made it clear that the domestication of flora and fauna were not as linked as some may think.  He cited civilizations that existed on the basis of just flora or just fauna, a view that seemed to contradict both mine and Diamond’s opinion.  Whether I misunderstood Bulliet’s stance on the relationship between the domestication of plants and animals, his conclusion that animal domestication must have followed agriculture improvement restored my confidence in him.  Bulliet continues to gain my respect when he refutes Galton’s claim that all large animals had been tested for domestication by our ancestors.  As cited in the book, domestication is able to be achieved even now in species like foxes and reindeer.  This is where I am glad Bulliet and Diamond have a difference in opinion.  Diamond seemed satisfied with the notion that only a set amount of animals could be domesticate while others could not.  I believe that some species are more ideal to succumb to domestication but I also believe it can be achieved on a larger scope than Diamond cares to admit, a view that I gathered Bulliet shares in too.
Regarding the question of why some animals respond better to the stress of domesticity, Bulliet compares adrenaline in tame and wild species.  This sparked my immediate interest because it presented some of the first scientific evidence behind why some animals are easier to manage than others.  I also believe that these results support my stance that many if not all animals can eventually be domesticated.  Using this science it seems possible to me that humans can target things like lower adrenaline and lower production of certain chemicals in species that seem particularly difficult to domesticate.  It makes sense to me that just because a certain species does not have lowered adrenaline, does not mean that this is not achievable.  Some unseen variable that humans are in charge of must be able to be tweaked to achieve this affect.
As my reading continued I agreed with some other substantial claims that Bulliet made such as the voluntary cohabitation of species and the tameness of some species arising from the lack of predators.  What I disagree with is the lack of credit Bulliet gives to humans regarding domestication.  His canary example meant to illustrate the dumb luck and obliviousness of humans to domestication was ridiculous to me.  He made the point that no other birds were domesticated despite the popularity of canaries.   According to him this lack of attempt shows that we did not have the means or will to accomplish domestication as we wanted it.   My point is why would a business seeking man attempt to domesticate something that is close to a current fad but not the exact thing?  Canaries were what people wanted, so canaries were what people domesticated.
My last qualm comes from what I see as a cop out of Bulliet.  His dismissal of meat, milk and power as a reason for domestication seemed unlikely at first but ultimately had me convinced.  I was disappointed that he believed animal sacrifice was the reason behind undertaking the difficulties of domestication.  It being rooted in religion makes sense because as we travel deeper into human motives and history, religion usually presents a starting point.  I still do not know if I’m completely convinced but I do know that this answer raises more questions than a true answer would.

3 Responses to “Oh Bulliet”
  1. Bill Libby 12 February 2013 at 12:09 am #

    Someone else went off on him this time. Hooray! I noticed a lot of what you’re saying as well but chose not to mention it because I beat that horse to death last week and I’m discussion leader. In any case, I think by now we’re understanding that HHH is really Bulliet’s opinions on things and should therefore be considered with the same skepticism as you’d examine anyone’s opinion. I think that as students we’re so used to the things we read for class being fact that it’s not immediately obvious when someone else is feeding us their own ideas.

    On another note, I agree with you that most species should be domesticatable (New word I just made up) eventually. It’s just a matter of resources we have today that our ancestors did not–not for a lack of trying or an inherent deficit. Our ancestors simply did not have the means to keep dangerous or flighty animals around long enough for domestication to happen.

  2. erica 12 February 2013 at 12:55 am #

    I like how your post begins with the idea that there is no set definition or origin for domestication, which is so encompassing. To begin framing in this way you allow your thoughts to be valid while leaving room for more interpretation and analysis.

    Just as you have built and refuted Bulliet’s assertions, I will elaborate further on some of your contributions questioning motives (an ax to grind!) and logic.

    The idea that only a select few animals can ever be domesticated is an interesting concept. On one hand it appears that the evolutionary human-animal relationships were such to make domestication possible for only a few species a long time ago. Thus, those animals who were not domesticated can reasonably be expected to be lacking the qualities needed for humans to effectively do so. On the other hand, your logic of a business man intentionally domesticating canaries (and only canaries) because canaries are what was desirable makes sense. Following that same logic it can be reasoned that the domesticated animals came to be this way simply because those were the useful animals, not the others.

    Bill also brings up an interesting point. Do we have the means to keep non-domesticated animals around long enough to make domestication happen in other animals? The to-be-discovered answer to that question will tell us in time what qualities had to be tamed and how long it takes… if, that is, we can prove it possible.

  3. cmurri 12 February 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    I’m glad you discuss the introduction of some harder science into our readings. While we haven’t actually proved causation with the adrenaline theory, the correlation certainly adds a few guidelines to the debate of how far humanity can domesticate animals. I suppose I fall in between you and Diamond with my opinion on domestication potential. I agree that we can probably domesticate more animals than Diamond cares to admit, but I would qualify that by saying it doesn’t matter to Diamond’s hypothesis on human development. I’d say Diamond has already accounted for all the species whose domestication would lead to significant societal superiority. Other animals that he may not consider or admit to, like the silkworm, probably don’t provide enough of a benefit to be (in my opinion) a center part of a discussion regarding the development of human civilization through domestication.

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