Questions for 2/26/13

1) How do you think paleofantasies stem from a general nostalgia for the past, and how are they their own specific phenomena?

2) Bulliet spends a great deal of time talking about the rise of vegetarianism due to a post-domestic society. Why hasn’t a paleo lifestyle, almost acting as the antithesis of vegetarianism, arisen as well?

3) Does a malleable rate of change in evolution alter how we view Diamond’s geography theory? Could the rate of how animals were domesticated determine which societies achieved technological dominance first?

4) Do reindeer possibly demonstrate a ‘slower’ domestication process, explaining the various potential stages of domestication found within their species, or is such domestic potential static?

5) Can we envision a future where paleofantasies are more prevalent, especially in media, food culture, etc.?

6) Robb Wolf, a proponent of the paleo diet, suggests that early hominid activity does not dictate a healthy lifestyle. He says that ‘normal is rarely healthy,’ and that humans are evolved to operate in a constant state of disease. Does this inherently invalidate the arguments of any paleofantasy?

7) Has our process of artificial selection on domesticates sped up the rate of evolution within those species? Can we or have we ‘domesticated’ them quicker? Have we sped up the rate of evolution on ourselves through this relationship?

8) Proponents of the paleo diet specifically point to the dawn of the agriculture revolution as the decline of human nutrition. However, the ability for societies to achieve western ‘progress’ was originally built entirely upon the adoption of agriculture. Does this suggest a definite clash between how we live and how evolution intended us to live? Is the agricultural revolution the point where we ‘broke’ from other species and evolution (suggesting evolution had an intent)? Note: this is the thesis presented in the novel Ishmael by Dan Quinn):
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

A Paleo Lifestyle – Relatively Useful

I’ll start with my disclaimer: I am a half-hearted supporter and former follower of the paleo diet. Even so, I found myself agreeing with a good bit of what Marlene Zuk has to say regarding the rise of ‘paleofantasies,’ a term she seems to define as the

“idea that our modern lives are out of touch with the way human beings evolved and that we need to redress the imbalance…it would be more natural, and healthier, to live more like our ancestors. A corollary to this notion is that we are good at things we had to do back in the Pleistocene, like keeping an eye out for cheaters in our small groups, and bad at things we didn’t, like negotiating with people we can’t see and have never met.”

For some insight on just how far the paleo lifestyle can go, check out:

Now back to our article. My first contention goes against Zuk’s general definition of what the paleo movement is really focused on. I was introduced to the paleo diet through a general interest in fitness (every single CrossFit gym advocates paleo). The general argument isn’t that we should radically alter our lives to better replicate a romanticized notion of early hominid life, it’s rather the idea that we are healthier when engaging in certain activities that elicit better gene expression. For example, unless you belong to the very small section of the population adapted to grains or dairy, it’s best to avoid those foods and eat plants and animals instead (although we evolved to handle a broad diet, so you can still eat them if you desire). Paleo lifestyles also advocate exercise in the form of ‘functional movement,’ which can be considered walking, sprinting, gymnastics, sport, and basic weight lifting. We essentially don’t want to see someone going to the gym to burn 300 calories on the treadmill, then hopping on the bicep curl machine, and calling that fitness.

That’s how my paleofantasy goes, and it has decent support from prominent strength and conditioning coaches such as Charles Poliquin, Mark Rippetoe, and Greg Glassman. However, there are plenty of points Zuk makes that should be considered, particularly with an eye for the vapid money-whoring buzzwords that the monstrosity of modern marketing will soon be touting out to millions of gullible shoppers. Zuk only briefly touches on this, “Newspaper articles, morning TV, dozens of books, and self-help advocates promoting slow-food or no-cook diets, barefoot running, sleeping with our infants, and other measures large and small claim that it would be more natural, and healthier, to live more like our ancestors.” But I think it’s a trend worth examining further. Can’t we all imagine a not-so-distant future where grocery foods contain labels such as ‘paleo’ and ‘primal’ are touted alongside the vegan, vegetarian, and ten different variations of ‘organic’ labels? Where Dr. Oz (who, by the way, is a huge promoter of pseudoscience and general idiocy) supports the latest paleo-endorsing author whose core message (like every other diet writer) is ‘it’s not your fault for being fat,’ in front of hordes of unhealthy housewives? Where the ideas of avoiding processed grains and sticking to basic exercise are co-opted by some ridiculous hippie-colon-cleansing-in-tune-with-your-inner-energy movement and companies start selling a bunch of silly weight loss supplements incorrectly branded as paleo. The whole thing terrifies me. The hipster in me doesn’t want to see something that holds a soft spot in my heart get bastardized by this country’s health trend sensationalism.

And for the most part, Zuk’s main thesis isn’t anything I’ve written about so far. The idea of evolution having different rates of effect brings a new level of examination to this subject (and for a math major, makes evolution much more interesting). So if evolution does happen faster than we thought, what does that mean for our adaption and our domesticates? Can animals be domesticated faster than we previously believed? Does this add another factor to consider when examining and comparing the quality of various domesticates? Would such a factor be enough to either support or dent Diamond’s theory of domesticate geography influencing societal dominance?

And how quickly and to what degree can humans as a species change? Maintaining a tolerance to dairy (especially cow milk) throughout adulthood is one thing, but I seriously doubt we will ever evolve a metabolic system that can utilize refined carbohydrates well.Tolerate seems like a possibility, but beneficial use? Here’s the thing, man-made refined carbs are terrible for you. They’re garbage. Milk is natural, with growth hormone and a decent macro nutrient ratio. Fun fact – cow’s milk contains the same kind of growth hormone as human milk, essentially putting it just a step below anabolic steroids for facilitating muscle growth.

Zuk makes a convincing argument against our growing paleofantasies, particularly with the research she references throughout her piece. The discovery that evolution has it’s own rate seems completely obvious and intuitive, yet so many public authorities regard it as an ancient and minor force in today’s world. Despite Zuk’s argument, I still contend there are some very good aspects of examining the science behind ‘paleo’ habits for a healthier life. If you’d like to learn more about the fitness side of the paleo movement, I’d recommend you check out Robb Wolf, a former competitive weightlifter, gym owner, evolutionary biologist, and author of The Paleo Solution. Beyond that, the early articles found in the CrossFit Journal are useful as well. I still fall slightly on the paleo side, because I’ve seen the science used by those who argue against Zuk, but paleofantasies certainly seem to be a very real phenomena.


The Reindeer People

This post will be little different than previous ones. Rather than rant about a single point made throughout the reading, I’ll be jumping around between smaller pieces of the reading I’d like to write about, as I’m having trouble finding a large enough theme that I can really write passionately (read: angrily) about.

I was rather excited to learn that the link between reindeers and flying has its roots in history, and goes beyond the trappings of Santa-Claus-Western-Commercialization. I’d like to make a note on an almost passing remark by Vitebsky, “On earlier stones the image of the reindeer is simple, but some 500 years later it has become more ornate.” So the Eveny experienced relatively little cultural change for at least 500 years? I’m always astounded by how long indigenous and native peoples can maintain a way of life. Now, the author goes into more depth about how the Eveny have survived thousands of years with the reindeer, but I thought I’d use this quote as it’s the first real mention of their exceptionally long time span that I’ve seen.

Now on to my point: does the Eveny’s existence contradict Diamond’s theory of geography, particularly animal domestication, playing the most pivotal role in societal and technological development? Certainly these people have made advancements, such as transitioning from nomadic to domestic livelihoods, and they’ve certainly had a degree of success surviving for thousands of years in Siberia. But I would have expected these people to achieve a more ‘Westernized’ society by now. I generally agree with Diamond’s hypothesis, but hasn’t this society shown that reindeer are a major domestic species? Are they not used for thigns that other European domestic animals are, such as food, transportation, work, and ceremony? While the reindeer is certainly unique compared to the traditional banal animals domesticated by Europe, like the cow, pig, and horse, it appears to fulfill many of the same functions that Diamond touts as the keys to societal abundance and domination. I’d ultimately like to see Diamond’s paradigm remain accurate, so any criticisms as to why my question is flawed are very welcome.

Let’s talk about the deeply religious role the reindeer plays in Eveny society. Vitebsky goes into great breadth and depth describing the ceremonies of the shamans, and the more I read, the more I’m confused as to how it was all accepted by the people. Flying reindeer? Really? The shamans clearly couldn’t fly, so how did they convince themselves and the onlookers that such a thing actually happened? Vitebsky even writes “I do not understand how the old Eveny acted out the experience of flying through the air, but they would mime their return to Earth by sitting on their reindeer as if they were arriving from a long journey, expressing tiredness, unsaddling their mount, pitching a tent, and lighting a fire.” I suppose my confusion, in some ways, reflects my expectations of Diamond’s theory. I don’t understand how a people with a potentially domestic relationship (at the time these ceremonies were being performed) were so unenlightened on reason and science (I think my arrogant Westernism might be showing). Everything I’ve read about these people makes me suspect they’re some form of anomaly, something beyond Diamond’s theories that never ‘advanced’ in the same manner that Western cultures did as a result of domestication. I can think of a number of reasons why: religious ceremonies that never allowed the Eveny to view their animals as property, extremely harsh environments that prohibit technological advancement regardless of society, the reindeer being too poor of a domesticate to properly increase ‘progress’.

I’ve searched online for summaries of this book, and it seems that Vitebsky focuses the Eveny throughout the book more than their reindeer counterparts. I’m not entirely sure where this is all going and how I can fit it into the larger ‘domestication worldview’ I’ve developed so far through this course. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m a little wary about this. Not in the same way I view Bulliet, I just haven’t found out how to approach reading this book.

Response on ‘From trust to domination’

I’d like to start by just quoting Tim Ingold’s opening paragraph here, as he offers a very succinct summary of a few points I’d like to tackle throughout this post.

“Just as humans have a history of their relations with animals, so also animals have a history of their relations with humans. Only humans, however, construct narratives of this history. Such narratives range from what we might regard as myths of totemic origin to supposedly ‘scientific’ accounts of the origins of domestication. And however we might choose to distinguish between myth and science, if indeed the distinction can be made at all, they have in common that they tell us as much about how the narrators view their own humanity as they do about their attitudes and relations to non-human animals. In this chapter I aim to show that the story we tell in the West about the human exploita- tion and eventual domestication of animals is part of a more encompassing story about how humans have risen above, and have sought to bring under control, a world of nature that includes their own animality.”

So why exactly do humans create stories about their relationships with animals? Why is our history of animal relations told primarily through stories and not the standard template of facts, records, and concluded trends and themes?

First, we posses exceptional communication abilities; we create languages. Regardless of how sophisticated or close other primate and animal communication systems are, humanity is quite clearly above other species in at least some manner in this category.  As Ingold notes, our ability to tell stories is one of the main qualifiers of this proclaimed superiority. We should note, however, that fictional storytelling is rather unique to more primitive societies, societies that rely more on superstition, myth, and stories than science. And these stories go beyond human-animal relations; such stories are used to explain the world and environment in which the creator lives. With this in mind, stories between human-animal relationships are just another piece of a broader list of phenomena that societies explain without science.

Now certainly there are unique qualities regarding human-animal stories. Firstly, there are a great deal of them, and I suspect they played a particularly important part in primitive societies. A casual example might be the cave paintings of ancient man that seem to place a significant emphasis on animals they came in contact to.

Let’s discuss this section section of Ingold’s essay – “humans have risen above, and have sought to bring under control, a world of nature that includes their own animality. In this story, a special role is created for that category of human beings who have yet to achieve such emancipation from the natural world: known in the past as wild men or savages, they are now more politely designated as hunters and gatherers. I shall be looking at how hunter-gatherers have come to be stereotypically portrayed, in Western anthropo- logical accounts, as surviving exemplars of the ‘natural’ condition of mankind.”

I disagree wholeheartedly that the hunter-gatherer necessarily represents man’s ‘natural’ state. I believe that while man has a kinship with animals and the wilderness, he cannot survive in the same ‘natural’ state that other animals seem to be comfortable with. Perhaps this is because we have no adaptions to make us comfortable. Our adaption of intelligence allows us to mold or create our environment, rancher than our environment molding us. We are both belong and do not belong to nature. Before the influences of western society (or any society), humanity has sought to tamper with its environment, to escape its harshness. I suspect this is was the precursor to ‘enlightenment’, to that state of detachment from nature. Together, we might tentatively conclude that man has two competing drives: that to be a part of nature, and that to rise above it. Many a society’s stance on how people should live in regard to their habitat, and the surrounding natural world is a reconciliation between the two. I feel comfortable stating that what we consider to be morality and enlightenment are mutually divisive against natural urges and animal desire (or at least what this animal relationship lens call ‘animal’).

Bulliet, in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgersalso quotes enlightenment authors as he discusses the western philosophy of humanity being separate and above the rest of the natural world. While he applies the conclusions to the development of two separate lifestyles in post-domestic society, it’s interesting to see this discussion of man’s natural or unnatural place in nature reappear in several different works. This is one of my favorite topics in the subject of domestication, and while I don’t entirely subscribe to Bulliet’s presentation of the enlightenment philosophy of human superiority, I certainly feel there is something to be said for man’s awkward place in nature, rather than calling the hunter-gather his inherent and intended state.


2/05/13 Discussion Google Doc

Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

Richard Bulliet – Old man. Farming Background.

Sex and Blood

  • what does it mean when our childhood is part of seeing and exposure to sex and blood?
  • Differences: Domestic vs. Post-Domestic
  • Our experiences on… farms, with animals, Media: 16 and pregnant,
  • What is the reason for these differences? Animal relationships? Or is it caused by other things?
  • Humane Slaughter – Does it matter how?
    • matters more – the conditions in which they were raised
  • Efficiency? of slaughter “Production in the modern area” that’s the parallel. After WWII
    • Using animal slaughter techniques on humans! Woah!
    • The opposite – and “correct” reaction as opposite to the animals rights group message.
  • How long was the domestic era? What about sex and blood / violence in the pre-domestic era?
  • Beastiality- a common thing at Bulliet’s time?
    • is this superior to fantasy?
    • You still can get your milk delivered. or otherwise conveniently.
    • The “Domestic Era” is actually 10,000 years – and beastiality was more common then than it is now. The experience with Sex and Blood and violence is fundamentally different than ours now.
    • Switzerland.

Motivations for vegetarianism:
post-domestic guilt (about the conditions of modern agriculture / food animals)
environmentalism – nature is important
social conscience – first world guilt

Real Experience …. to …. Fantasy

  • Roman blood sports and now Football Stadium… Things were more “realistic” … Is getting the experience very very good for people?

Evolutionary speaking, we are omnivores.

Are we part of nature or separate / above it? Us. Woman. Man. Human.
Our role in earth stewardship?
Are we limited by its carrying capacity? Does technology make it infinitely exploitable?
Our evolution – adapted to “think” and so we use it to create/alter animals and nature. So maybe that’s just what nature intended. right? right.
All organisms have altered their environment. We are similar in our impacts. So how are humans and animals different?

It’s Human Nature.
That’s what we say to justify ALL of our actions.
we differ by only… such a tiny percent of DNA.

Hunting – the way we hunt if different. Domesticating – a way to overcome hunting.
How does science define life? (see fig 1.1)

  • A fundamental tension about the category of “animal” to tell us about us.
  • Animals don’t do that. or You’re acting like an ANIMAL.
  • EVIL: makes us unique….
  • Oh, but we’re the different ones.

Biology defines life as having these requirements (

  1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature.
  2. Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells — the basic units of life.
  3. Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
  5. Adaptation: The ability to change over time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism’s heredity, diet, and external factors.
  6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion; for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism), and chemotaxis.
  7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms.

Philosophy of Life

  • Our place in the universe…Cf:

The Human situation
Main article: Human situation
The human situation appears to be a struggle between what is (existence) and what ought (essence) to be.

Four eras: of the human-animal relationship

  1. Seperation
  2. Pre-Domestic
  3. Domestic
  4. Post-Domestic

Powerful and True forces but they are not all encompassing ones. ???
Man-eating tiger. Predation. Motivation. “Theory of Mind” Read this Book.
Spiders, Snakes, Being Eaten Alive: Hard-wired. from our evolution. unconscious reactions.

This distance between these eras becoming shorter?
Future of animal-human relations. What do we predict?

Unique – Group vs. Individual vs. Species
Now are we better?
Personalities and Animals. Are animals individuals? group consensus is that they are.
Check out Tinbergen….

  • perception and stimuli from environment determines your being.
  • Survival Strategy.


Contradictions in this day and age
Vegetarians that wear leather and keep dogs and cats as pets

ANCIENT ALIENS: George Washington

Thoughts on Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

Richard Bulliet begins his book with sex and violence, giving an inverse relationship between fantasy and experience. That is, the current child-sheltering from violence and sex that takes place in our society is a product of post-domestication. He says living around animals while young provided children with introductions into killing, slaughter, and sexual intercourse, ultimately conditioning people against novelty interest in the subjects. I’d like to mainly talk about a few of his points found later in the chapter, but I feel I can make a few comments about his initial premise and explanations.

Let’s start with violence – are children really sheltered from violence in this country? Violence is glorified in every medium of entertainment, and specifically targeted for adolescent and teenage males. Even beyond the teenage years, violence is touted as legitimizing force in entertainment. The darker and more gruesome the subject material – the more ‘serious’ a work of art. Now, this may be exactly what Bulliet describes as our glorification and fantasy with violence – but I take issue with his claim that children are ‘sheltered’ to it.

And while sex certainly seems to be a more taboo subject (I’ve read it is otherwise in European nations), youth certainly haven’t stopped having sexual experiences. While the ‘adult’ culture may have a general consensus against youth sex, the reality is otherwise. I may have just started a roundabout semantic argument with myself that ultimately affirms Bulliet’s assertions, but I felt I needed to give an opinion on this.

Bulliet goes on to cover the history and origins of vegetarianism, and humanity’s self-separation from animal kinship. I would like to hear more about Bulliet’s personal opinion with vegetarianism/veganism, etc., as I’m a tad confused as to why he wrote this section of the chapter. There’s no direct affirmation or condemnation of it, rather an articulation of the claims made by prominent members of those ideologies. The main assertion seems to be that animals – because they are able to suffer – have rights, and we should therefore refrain from eating them. Or that we are animals as well, and are therefore practicing a form of mild cannibalism. But this seems to contradict the intentions of evolution. It seems pretty clear that humans evolved to eat meat, that being a carnivore is a natural part of being human.  How do we, as a society, begin to reconcile this? Is meat-eating only acceptable when necessary, or when we are live in a more domestic partnership with our animals? Interestingly, we might find a parallel between the evolution of human violence with animal violence. The more advanced societies are, the more they distance themselves from a natural evolutionary state, the less their survival is hinged upon slaughter and killing. History often ascribes less blame and immorality to those who have killed and committed atrocities in previous, less forgiving ages than it does to those who live in times and/or places of wealth. While the same currently cannot be said for animals, we have a useful template to follow for an evolution of morality on animal treatment (if we desire). As the killing humans was necessary in more survival-oriented times, so was the killing of animals. Now that many societies live comfortably, and violence is condemned and generally outlawed, so may be violence against animals, as we no longer require such ‘atrocity’ to survive.

I’m certainly not endorsing this. It’s just a thought. We may also consider a few logical extensions of the ‘vegetarian premise’ that Bulliet presents. Let’s look at it this way:

We are evolved to eat me. If we choose to abstain from this, in pursuit of morality, we are separating ourselves from other animals, particularly if our choice is (I’d say hypocritically) from a pre-domestic view of ‘animal kinship.’ Animals eat meat; If we do not, we are implying that we are ‘above’ that. But if we have created a distance between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom, haven’t we achieved a similar mindset to those who eat meat in the domestic and post-domestic era? Bulliet discusses the enlightenment, and its assertion that humanity lords over animals, and he has this point to the current post-domestic culture of eating whatever we please. So we essentially have two entirely different conclusions on animal violence stemming from the same premise of humanity at least being different than other animals. Whether we are ‘above’ or ‘rulers of’ those animals may be up for debate.

The point is meat-eating is not necessarily a terrible violation of an animal’s natural rights. We have different conclusions stemming from the same assertions, and that should be considered when condemning the other side of this debate. We’re caught somewhere between domestication, evolution, and philosophy, and I suspect we’ll never have a genuine or clear discussion of these subjects. In this case I have to agree with a piece of the thesis and conclusion from last week’s video – many of these problems that are rooted in evolution aren’t really solvable, and they may not even be problems, they just are.

I’d like to finish with what I think is a humorous (and semi-vulgar) quote about chickens from Mark Rippetoe, a strength and conditioning coach who firmly supports meat-eating as an expression of evolution.

“Okay, have you ever been around chickens? They are stupid, uncooperative, inconvenient, ill-tempered creatures. They get what they deserve. Fuck chickens.”