We will be spending lots of time on “animal culture” in the next few weeks. Later in the book, Derr elaborates on the aspects of wolf-dog ethology that has made the interaction between humans and dogs so fruitful for so long. For now, check out the “founding fathers” of ethological inquiry: Lorenz, Tinbergen and Uexkuell…
I like your support that humans could easily take pity on a scavenging wolf. I’m reminded of a theory (and I forget the name – I’m still looking for it) that people are more attracted to animals with friendly, human-like faces, and a pitiful looking wolf would certainly fulfill those qualities. Imagine the effects of just one human-wolf relationship within a tribe/group of humans? It would certainly seem (as another blog alluded to) almost mythical, and I suspect that desire to interact more with such wolves would skyrocket.
Bill, I appreciate your rejection of cancer being some kind of ‘population control.’ The claim reminds me of a preacher condemning human sin as the cause of some terrible natural disaster. From what I’ve read, the primary cause in the rise in cancer is simply increasing lifespan. We’re always bombarded on how some previously benign activity has been discovered to cause cancer. It’s as if EVERYTHING causes cancer, and to a point, I think it does. If cancer is a natural phenomena, the rampant spread of mutated cells, then a longer life for an organism simply increases the chance of cell mutation.
I too admit that as humans we would be able to be perfectly adapted to our environment but the article convinced me otherwise. With the trade-offs between adaption and environment it seems impossible to actually be perfectly suited for one’s environment. I agree that wolves played a larger part in their domestication than other domesticates did but I am still cautious with how much credit Derr gives the wolves. Derr makes it seem that humans imposed no will upon wolves in their journey to become the dog which I find hard to believe just because of human nature and our controlling ways. I wish the author discussed wolf culture more but enough was said for me to agree that animals can have a culture. If you were to compare cats and dogs they obviously live by separate ideals, wants and needs which is enough to be classified as culture I believe.
I found the paleo life style very interesting and unique and I was impressed that you were still able to sympathize with some of the points in the article. As you said, I think it is possible to advocate such a life style without showing “paleofantasies” necessarily. I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that some of the synthetic things out there may not be good for us and a natural approach would be better. With evolution apparently able to occur in a much faster rate than I originally thought it makes sense that animals can be domesticated faster. I think this notion proves that other factors such as evolution play a more vital role in domestication than geography. Is it hard to maintain your diet on a college campus?
That is a much more succinct way to say what I was trying to get across, Ben–not changing genetics, but environmental pressures (Which includes, of course, science and how it’s changed our diet in the last generation or so). I think that’s the best way to talk about something like Diabetes.
In regards to cancer, though, I did some basic searching and found some information that actually makes me doubt my own claims about carcinogens. I thought of this as a modern disease for a very long time, mostly because now we have the means to detect it before it’s fatal. But apparently cancer has been a killer even back into ancient Greece–I just imagine that since lifespans in general were shorter then, less people died from it and therefore it has the illusion of being less fatal then than it is now. And of course, since we couldn’t detect it we have no idea how many people either lived long lives even with cancer or died but weren’t identified as cancer patients.
I agree with the difficulty of defining domestication–it definitely seems to exist more as a continuum than a pendulum, if that makes any sense. It got me thinking. Of course, domestication is a concept that we invented to describe a phenomena. But that, to me, raises a critical question–how do we know when it’s done? Is it ever done?
I also agree with you that one can’t underestimate our nurturing tendencies–I don’t know if I would write that feeling off as dog bias, so to speak. I think that there’s a lot to be said about the way we care for pets as though they were our children. My father believes that pets often take the place of children for people who either can’t or don’t have children of their own. If a pitiful, even tempered looking wolf was hungry and scavenging, maybe one of our ancestors would have picked it up.
I am interested in your ideas about diseases. I think cancer as a check to overpopulation has less to do with changing genetics and more to do with changing environmental pressures. Through overpopulation humans are exposed to things that make cancer more likely, like pollution and such. I also think that as humans live longer we have a better chance to get cancer because you can get cancer if you died at 30 because you’re a hunter-gather in Eurasia. I am not a doctor or biologist, so I might be completely off base, but I am interested in talking about this more.
Nothing is static. There are some who romance about the idea of living life today like our ancestors did in a particular past time. Are these thoughts too irrational to be actually achievable? Culture is dynamic and it stands to reason that any future way of life will evolve not from a perfect ideal of how it should be… (as you explained, if we go back too far we’re a single cell organism!) The culture that emerges in the future will come from today’s foundations and other relative social, political, economic, and environmental influences.
Will this create a subspecies of humans? I have no idea. Maybe we have already seen this in the differences across cultures modern agriculturalist vs. hunter-gatherer society. There are lots of grey areas. What are our duties to domestic animals? is it different for wild animals? Welcome to the grey area. What should we be thinking about our lives today as we learn about the deep evolutionary history of domestic animals from multiple view points? Welcome to the grey area.
Interesting post. I think that your points and Zuk’s go hand-in-hand more than you perhaps think that they do. Your point, unless I am completely mistaken, is that the paleodiet works for some people with some goals. Zuk’s final point was that one should do what works best for one’s own lifestyle. Paleodiet obviously works well for some people, but not for everyone.
You say that highly processed grains are bad for us. However, they aren’t bad for us because our bodies cannot process them (have not evolved to process them). they are bad for us because our bodies can process them too well. We derive too much energy and fat from refined grains. It is when we eat these in excess that we see problems.
Overall, I think you did a lovely job defending the paleodiet.