From Terrestrial to Celestial
The readings this week provoked in me some cool thoughts that I thought I’d share. What I keyed in on, and what I intend to address with this post, is something we have discussed before—the difference, or lack thereof, between humans and animals. I think that this is something that really weaves itself into both of our readings for today, but moreso the Bulliet excerpt. I hope enough of this is relevant to the readings to count as a post. In regards Bulliet, I guess you could say that I think he’s noticed something important, but I don’t know if I agree with all of what he says about the objectification of domestic animals.
I don’t know when it happened, when humans woke up and realized they were different. But for as long as history seems to record, we have known it. Whether it is really true or not is something we’ve discussed for a long time, but for whatever reason people have believed it, and that is what is important. Our ability to reason, to abstract, to create, set us apart. And with that awareness came a desire to be unique, to be progressive and avant-garde because we were special and better than the savage world around us. I believe that we are still trying to distance ourselves from what we perceive as an antiquated savagery today. Bulliet mentions bullfighting in Hispanic countries—there is actually a strong anti-bullfight movement in these countries, spearheaded by organizations like PETA, that he does not mention. I won’t extrapolate on it, just know that it exists. It shows many people are ashamed of these cultural practices, practices that have existed for centuries in total acceptance. We grew more ashamed of them over time. The further separation from the human and the animal. But why? I believe it has to do with our mastery of nature. The more distance we put between ourselves and our natural environment, through cities, art, and culture, the more we crave our own uniqueness. And with that comes a desire to establish an identity as humans—not animals trying to survive in the world. Civilization creates savagery, and as it progresses the differences between the two only become more noticeable. Human becomes an adjective and a noun. This is reflected in changing religions across time.
In the beginning, we found apotheosis in our surroundings. The sun, the ocean, the donkey, even reindeer. But from Paganism to Christianity, we abandoned a connection with the earth for a connection with the stars, with the divine, for reasons I think I outline well in above. From the terrestrial to the celestial. We are the apex of perfection; the animal, the earthly, is equated with the uncivilized, the primal, and the stupid. We want nothing to do with these things. Primal lust, including the idolatry of the animal phallus, was beneath us. Thus human religions shifted from the animal to the image of divine people. We are the divine self portrait. Nothing any less deserving of that deserves worship. We deified ourselves because our differences with the natural world had grown too great to even consider it a part of our surroundings. What I find fascinating is that people can have very brutal tendencies and, instead of acknowledging them, we distance ourselves as a species from that behavior, calling it “Inhumane”.
So why the donkey? Even before this reading, I was always curious. Why is the donkey so consistently brought up as an image of mental slowness even though it was worshiped in the past? I don’t know of the ass as being particularly stupid—though I have heard of the stubborn mule. I know Camilla asked this question in her blog post too and I thought I’d provide a response here since it fits. I think it just comes back to trying to distance ourselves from what we think of as the barbaric (Though that is in itself our construction). I think this desire for distance between our idealized image of culture and everything else has grown into total rejection—on both a metaphysical and a cultural (Bullfighting, Asses) level. Even the smaller penises on Greek and Roman sculptures ties back into that—the large penis is a very animalistic image and we, according to our own narrative, are different, better, than that.