Postdomestic Guilt

Bulliet’s stages of human-animal are very interesting and mostly correct.  It seems obvious that societies change over time in regards to their relationships with their animals.  I for one have only been on an actual farm once, and that was a grade school field trip.  Other than that, my closest contact with domesticated animals is petting my cat or seeing some cows or horses while driving down 460.  I probably have very different feelings concerning animals than  someone who had grown up on a farm.

I do disagree with his idea that our postdomestic separation from animals explains our fascination with graphic violence.  Humans enjoyed graphic violence before people moved off farms.  Ancient Romans made a spectacle of brutal violence in the Coliseum.  Public executions are common throughout history and make a display of violence.  Bulliet mentions these as part of being desensitized from violence, but I fail to see how they are meaningfully different from a violent film or other modern depiction of violence.  People went to see these things because people like to see violence.  I think it has less to do with how we interact with animals and is just a basic part of being human.  I don’t mean to imply that we all enjoy seeing violence all the time, just that, at some level, some part of us enjoys seeing violence.

Bulliet’s description of vegetarianism is somewhat shallow.  He characterizes elective vegetarianism being based on a feeling of guilt, which is a totally reductive claim.  Elective vegetarianism is based on a wide variety of moral and health reasons.  Bulliet’s claim that people become vegetarians just because they feel guilty about the way animals are treated simplifies the matter unfairly.  Guilt can play in to the decision to become a vegetarian, but it is more than a simple knee jerk reaction to being guilty about animals being treated poorly.  Being a vegetarian myself, I can say my choice was driven by more than just guilt.

How do non vegetarians feel about Bulliet’s claims?  I’m interested in how someone who isn’t a vegetarian felt about it because I feel like I might be biased.  So, how does everyone else feel about guilt and vegetarianism?



5 thoughts on “Postdomestic Guilt

  1. I agree there’s room for a more nuanced discussion of vegetarianism than Bulliet provides! I do find his assertion that the same processes that are responsible for the expansion of meat-eating in the “post-domestic” era (standardization, economies of scale, factory farming, increased physical and psychological distance between humans and the animals they eat) and the uptick in elective vegetarianism intriguing. To my mind, nuance matters here — vegetarianism and animal rights advocates certainly share some motivations, but the broad brush strokes of guilt don’t adequately explain either one of them.

  2. I guess It should not come as a surprise that you’ve only been on a farm once. But it was a surprise. For me, farm life was basically my childhood. It was not a traditional farm. We had (and have) small-scale chickens, eggs, beef cattle, and also a garden. I remember the first time my parents slaughtered chickens in our back yard. My grandma came over, each chicken was hung by its feet while its head was cut off and then it was dipped into a giant boiling cauldron of water for de-feathering. Some chickens weren’t tied by their feet well and I would help chase after the beheaded chickens running though the yard (that is after I screamed the first time). I think I was six years old or so.

    I’m not a vegetarian but I do only eat meet that has been locally and sustainably produced. It’s not that I have guilt associated with our treatment of animals. I experience guilt with how our treatment of the animals transfers all the cost to the environment (and thus, the consumer). It is perhaps of this cost transfer that we know the meat is less-healthy and possibly unethical through many more lenses than just animal treatment.

  3. It is very interesting to see the different backgrounds of each of you in this thread. I myself have been to a farm on at most 2 or 3 occasions and I certainly wasn’t exposed to any animal slaughter during my visits. I have always had the childhood vision of farms as my mental image; smiling cows and sheep and pigs and chickens parading around happily without a care in the world. I feel like I would be traumatized even today, let alone at 6, if I actually witnessed a chicken get beheaded. I have always just glossed over that thought in my mind whenever I heat up some chicken nuggets. I really look forward to hearing the opinions of the few individuals, like erica, in the class that actually have grown up with and experienced farm life because I am interested in getting a first hand, realistic account of what it means to live on a farm.

    In addition, I didn’t particularly agree with Bulliets ideas about vegetarianism either. To claim that the whole movement of people to a non meat diet was caused solely by a feeling of guilt seems kind of silly. Nothing is that simple in life and I found it sort of strange that he bothered to include that section in his book when he really didn’t have a strong argument or accurate perspective. I am not a vegetarian myself but I do have multiple friends that are, and like Ben, they were not driven to it by a feeling of guilt. I think this will be a big topic of discussion when we meet on Tuesday.

  4. I, too, am weighinig in on the topic of vegetarianism. I am a vegetarian and though my reasons for being a vegetarian have changed a lot during the 10 years I have been a vegetarian, they are now pretty simple. I don’t want to eat meat if I didn’t raise it and kill it myself and I don’t currently have the facilities to do so. If I am going to be responsible for deaths so I can eat, I am going to be directly responsible for those deaths.

    I also take issue with Bulliet’s discussion of the animal rights movement and its connection with vegetarianism. Although most animal rights activists are vegetarians, I do not believe that the reverse is the case–most vegetarians are not animal rights activists and are vegetarian for a wide variety of reasons.

  5. My love and compassion for animals has influenced me enough to actually pursue a career that deals with daily contact with animals. Before I came to Tech, I too had little to no experience with animals outside of cats and dogs. This makes me the minority in my major, Animal and Poultry Science and also makes me a minority in the way I look at animals. It is true that people who grow up on a farm think differently, it is evident in my peers as well as my professors. When I volunteered on the Virginia Tech farms last semester I saw animals treated in a way I had never experience before. I do understand the necessity in such acts however and understand that the discomfort of a cow can mean a human not going hungry.
    I completely agree with your point that our need for violence does not come from our separation from animals. Even those of us who aren’t separated from the violence (farmers) must still be drawn other acts of violence. Violence would between humans despite the presence of animals and despite any relationships with animals.
    I am not a vegetarian but I agree in the lameness of Bulliet’s claims. I come across vegetarians often and it’s rarely the case that their substantial decision is based on guilt. This is one of several cases that Bulliet simplifies in order to provide support for his point of view.

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