After my post last week regarding my distaste for the first four chapters of Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, it may surprise you (as it surprised me) to learn that I found the next few chapters much more interesting and accessible. It probably helped that he finally started mentioning animals that were not domesticated for farming, such as DOGS (admittedly a bit of a sore spot for me). I also was surprised to read his critique of our old friend Jared Diamond’s take on the history of domestication, and to find that I agreed with Bulliet’s opinion of it- interesting, but too flawed to really be persuasive. As I have no prior knowledge of the domestication of rats, I found the passage on Dr. H. D. King’s experiment intriguing. I wonder if it would be possible to conduct similar experiments with other wild animals which we have domesticated over the years? It would of course be impractical and an expensive procedure to conduct, especially given the amount of time it would take before any publishable results were made, but wouldn’t it be interesting to watch a wild population turn domestic before our very eyes? I can’t help but wonder how enlightening it would be to try and replicate the process of turning wolves into dogs, if the wolf population were not as threatened as it is today. I wonder if it would be similar to that of Dimitry Belyaev’s research on the fox population he studied.
Despite my new gradual acceptance of Bulliet’s writings and theories, I still have my complaints. I wish that Bulliet had spent more time on the “secondary uses” of animals, since I find domestication in animals used for more than just food to be the most intriguing. I’d never thought about it before, but why did humans start drinking milk from other species? Who first came up with the idea of simply shearing a sheep, instead of skinning it, to use its wool? Bulliet places a lot of the blame on religion, but skeptic that I am I’m not so willing to believe that that is the case. Perhaps, as Tim Ingold suggests in Chapter 4 of his book Perceptions of the Environment, it came about due to an unwillingness to waste possible resources. It only takes the ingenuity of one person to try something new, so it’s not surprising that secondary uses of domestic animals arose. Seeing the accomplishments of those who came before us makes me wonder if those who live in our time are still just as resourceful. I believe they are, however, significantly less egalitarian. We are not so willing to share everything we have with everyone in our community. So what does this mean in terms of sharing knowledge and creativity? Is society progressing at a slower rate than it might if the world were more egalitarian?
I found it interesting that both Bulliet and Ingold mentioned society’s perception of other human cultures considered “less” than human. It highlights the importance we assign advanced culture in distinguishing ourselves from animals. Can it be said that any animals have culture? Recent research suggests that chimpanzees, in fact, to exhibit behavioral patterns akin to basic culture among separate populations. If we delved into the behaviors of other animals with higher degrees of intelligence than most (for example, dolphins), would we find primitive cultural behavior there as well?
Once last thought inspired by Bulliet’s writing. Are our domestic animals fundamentally more or less intelligent than their wild counterparts? One would think that a tendency to trust rather than run away would be indicative of an animal which may not survive long. We do slaughter most of our domestic animals- perhaps it’s not as obvious as when our ancestors would hunt them down with bows and spears, but the end game is the same. Yet we often consider our domestic animals to be of higher intelligence. One of my favorite comparisons between wolf and dog: when you point at something, a dog will look where you’ve pointed, however a wolf will continue to look at you. Is this an inbred tendency to trust and understand? We are able to train our animals to do amazing things, lauding their intelligence in their ability to learn new tricks, but is this really intelligence? Or does “train-ability” indicate a lesser inherent concern for safety and survival?
February 11, 2014 @ 9:01 am
I totally agree with the way that this section of Bulliet was much better than the first. He seemed to really begin to dig into the subject of domestication, which I thought would have served as a great background to some of his bold claims from the first several chapters. I was also interested by his assessment of Jared Diamond. I didn’t notice when I watched the video, but he does seem to skim over some really important facts when laying out his theory. One example was the Peccary that Bulliet discusses, and explains the way that none of Diamond’s explanations about why domestication could fail for certain animals applied to the Peccary. I believe we also mentioned several things in class that Diamond grazes over, including dogs. It seems to me that Bulliet is kind of picking up on Diamond’s unsound theories, which is one of the first things I’ve enjoyed about Bulliet.
February 10, 2014 @ 4:07 pm
Your second paragraph voices inquires I’ve had since I was little. I think it’s so bizarre that people one day discovered they can drink milk from other animals or even make food and clothing out of them at all. I have religious beliefs that offer their own support for why people began eating animals, but I hoped to get more of an insight specifically just how humans discovered the multitude of uses for animals.
Bulliet seems to think it was by accident that cats became domestic after humans used the friendlier ones to ward of mice, and he may be right, but I personally would like to know how people exterminated them before, and how they figured out that cats make excellent mice hunters. Furthermore, how did they get a lynx into their storage shed without being attacked? Bulliet mentioned lower adrenal levels, and basically calmer lynx (or whatever he believes to be the precursor to the cute tabby cats), but his book did not give me the in-depth answers I seek.
February 10, 2014 @ 2:29 pm
There are so many good ideas in this post and I’m really looking forward to the discussion tomorrow! On cultures of animals (and people). It’s really helpful to think about differences in terms of kind and quality rather than in terms of degree along a continuum from “primitive” to “advanced.” Ants, for example, have very sophisticated cultures – some of them even keep their own domesticates (aphids). The wolf-dog-pointing-following the gaze debate has been hot lately!