I enjoyed our discussion of canine-human evolution yesterday, and wanted to circle back to our fascination with the paleolithic past. Chris gave us excellent context on the appeal of the “edenic / authentic paleo” in current health and fitness trends, and I think we all appreciated the nuances of his post and questions. What I wanted to come back to here are the connections between historical thinking and how we invoke an imagined past to help us move forward in an increasingly fraught present. I appreciated how Marlene Zuk’s recent article reminded us that efforts to get back to a more “pure,” “healthy,” or “natural” lifestyle invoke a static ideal that never existed. Evolution isn’t over. Like domestication, it is an ongoing process. Paleolithic people may have had less heart disease and lower cholesterol, but they weren’t necessarily more “healthy,” or “better adapted” to their environment than we are. Like other organisms they were making their way the best they could. Some of them eventually domesticated grains and abandoned hunting and gathering for a settled lifestyle that we see both as the beginning of “civilization” and the end of a naturally healthy lifestyle. At the same time, though, many other people became and remained nomadic pastoralists, with all of the dietary and cultural baggage that entailed. As historians, we need to remember that utopias are just that — imagined, idyllic, impossible communities. We invoke them into being to validate our analyses of the present and legitimize our agendas for the future. I’m quite sure that many of us would benefit from exercising more and eating less processed food. But to imagine that paleolithic people had a more “natural” lifestyle than their contemporary descendents is to take them out of history and deny the continuity of evolution.
I appreciate the arguments and assumptions presented by Derr as logical with some genetic and scientific knowledge. The Russell article calling for an integration of science and history as the study of “evolutionary history” was right; they allow for a more informed understanding.
History is about studying relationships and their influence in why things are, but understanding how and why domesticated animals emerged in evolutionary history is not so simple. We do not know what or how varied the relationship characteristics were like between humans and dogs or dogwolves. Genetics could aid our understanding of relationships since the study of relationships and genetics are measured on the same time scale of years and decades, as long as the proper geological time – measured in tens of thousands to billions of years – can be determined.
I have embraced genetics to help understand how the dog became the dog.
To learn the origins of the dog one must, “consider the animals involved – human and wolf – highly social, tactically minded, pack-hunting global wanderers.”
Wolf and human were drawn to each other by their great sociability and curiosity, and they stayed together because of their mutual utility.
The origin of the dog has been complicated to pinpoint through the mixing of dogwolves and the relationship of wolves and early humans.
Dogwolves: n. the off-spring of socialized wolves; “wolves that genetically and behaviorally are dogs; genetic profile more closely aligns with dog than wolf and because they live and reproduce in human society.” They do not have the physical characteristics of the modern dog breeds.
The area of focus shifts from understanding how wolf became dog W2D to how the dog became the dog D2D to determine what genetic mutations caused physical changes to arise in particular dogwolf lines, how did they become highly desired and how they helped determine dogs of today.
Genetic mutations of distinct physical effects can be linked with physiological characteristics and, arguably perhaps behavioral variations. One interesting physiological difference between wolf and dog is the delayed fear-response in dog puppies that allows them to be social and curious for 6 weeks longer before entering the “fear-period” of development.
Humans use selective breeding to make dogs more obedient and give them a more human or “civilized” appearance to match a more “civilized” behavior. How much do the physical genetic variations of selective breeding determine behavior? Could civilized behavior exist in previous generations prior to physical mutations? How much would these answers allow us to understand differences between early human relationships with wolves, dogwolves, and dogs?
There are many variations of human, social, and cultural relationships associated with D2D across the globe and to know how behavioral and physical traits and genetics influenced each other in D2D is quite the complex task.
The domestic evolution of any animal must be considered with their relationships with humans. The process of D2D (and all domesticated animals) is influenced by human society. Derr explains our social influence as a tendency to strip all wild from the dog. This extension from individual human-dog relationships to human society-dog relationships is evidence that our culture is not one that deals well with ambiguity, ambivalence, paradox, and border zones. Domesticating removes the contradiction.
Domestication is a continuing process aimed at bringing up an animal or plant to the point where humans control all important aspects of its life, including reproduction and freedom of movement from birth to death.
Yet, we value dogs because they connect us to a simpler world outside ourselves and our categories.
As Derr wrote in the beginning, “our obligation today, when we and our dogs grow increasingly distant from the world of our forebears…is to think about whether on this journey, we are doing right by our companion every step of the way.” What are our moral duties to our best evolutionary friend? Dogs and Humans have each benefitted in their long relationship in many ways. So far, the logical conclusion I have reached for determining our obligations to our dog companions begins by somehow balancing our social civilized needs and our personal needs for a wild connection.
Is it possible to violate our moral duties by domesticating too much wild out of the dog for society? Does human value for that wild connection to a previous world make any difference to our responsibility? This question of too much domestication, of course, does not take into account the paradoxical nature of the animal – “people succeeded to a remarkable degree in creating the dog of their desire, even if it is not the one they want.”
Or as Derr so eloquently put all that has happened since W2D and D2D (or W2D2D for short), “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
There’s so much to chew on in Erica and Camilla’s post, Domestication, energy, geography…and how things came to be….The cattle staring at us from Erica’s blog page seem to agree. I’m especially appreciative of the quote from Russel’s article: “To biology, history offers an understanding of the social forces that create selective pressures. To history, biology offers understanding of the ways organisms respond to such pressure. Together, as evolutionary history, they offer an understanding of the ever changing dance between humans and nature.” I like that this quote urges us to see history and biology as intertwined, ongoing, and in process. Rather than the chicken-egg debate or before and after paradigm, or the civilization vs. nature perspective, evolutionary history invites us to examine an elegant, ever-unfolding dance.