Finding Common Ground

Over the past few weeks it has become very evident to me that to give domestication a singular definition is nearly impossible. Every week we read another anthropologist’s or philosopher’s or historian’s account of the history of human-animal relations and each one is distinctly unique from the others. Week after week I find in each new perspective, a series of compelling ideas different from the previous week, which in turn sways my opinions and ideas on the matter. I always end up feeling like at the end of our discussions I am close to finding the answer to and ending the debate on human-animal relations once and for all; but then I pick up the reading for the next week and I am back to square one again. It creates a combination of frustration and intrigue in me. It is frustrating how something that seems so simple at first glance can have so much controversy surrounding it, but then in the same vein, all of these different ideas are new and intriguing and force me to pick up the reading for the next week to try to learn more!

To tie this little rant to our readings for the week, I will discuss Ingold’s article From Trust to Dominion. I think that of all the articles we have read, I agree, or rather sympathize most with Ingold’s. And it is not because I think his ideas are the most accurate that we have read, or because he has the best evidence for his arguments; it is simply because he takes the ideas of so many other people and ties them together into one central idea. This is not to say that the other pieces we have read didn’t incorporate others’ ideas into their works because they did. I just think that Ingold pulls ideas from such a diverse variety of people on either end of the spectrum and sows them together into one simple, coherent point better than the other works we have read, or watched, thus far.

I think he understands that there are so many different views on human-animal relations, that to try to create an all-encompassing opinion on the matter is futile. Instead, he looked into a series of other studies and notions and drew out a common theme that was hidden in all of them, whether their authors knew it or not. This hit home with me because I realized that I have been going about this course the wrong way. I have been taking each separate article as its own entity to a large extent, when what I really should be doing to understand human-animal relations is to look for the common ground between each piece. Only through comparisons and contrasts of the many feelings out there on the subject can we hope to get any closer to answering the great questions of human-animal relations.

I may be way off in my views here, and if so feel free to correct me. It just felt different reading Ingold’s article to me and this was my shot at trying to explain that feeling. But anyways Ingold’s article was only a small piece of what we read this week and I feel like I should at least touch on Animals as Domesticates and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers.

In Animals as Domesticates, I really liked the timeline that they provided throughout. It was helpful to see a logical time frame presenting when each animal was domesticated in relation to when others were and also in terms of what the climate of the earth was like when things were occurring. Also I thought Clutton-Brock’s discussion on why wolves were the first domesticated animal made a lot of sense. They are very similar to us in many aspects such as the hierarchical structure of the packs and the acceptance of dominance as well as in their ability to survive in a diversity of habitats. These facts combined with their ability to work together with humans for mutually beneficial hunts make a very strong case for why dogs are likely the first truly domesticated species. In addition, I think it is crazy how much information they can come up with from carbon dating techniques and bone analysis. I have always known that you can learn a lot about the past using these techniques but when they were able to show that a bear was domesticated based on a marking caused by a rope in its jaw, I was very impressed. Maybe after a few more centuries of findings like this we will be able to piece together a much more accurate timeline of human-animal history.

Finally I just have a quick point about Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers. I hoped to get to this topic last Tuesday in discussion but there was just so much to talk about that there was no way to get to everything.  In watching the video about Guns, Germs and Steel, as well as through some of the other readings we have done, we have gained a pretty good idea of Diamonds ideas on the advent of domestication. In summary, he seemed to think that the process of the domestication of plants and animals happened together and as a result of one another. He had his theory that animals were domesticated shortly after the advent of agriculture for food at first but then quickly became used for everything from clothing to plowing the fields as beasts of burden. This contradicts rather strongly with Bulliet’s arguments in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers. Bulliet suggests throughout his book, at least up to where I am at, that animals and plants were domesticated separately. His evidence includes how animals such as the dog were domesticated long before agriculture, as well as that animals such as horses and donkeys, which Diamond would argue were domesticated for work such as plowing fields, were not domesticated until thousands of years after the advent of agriculture. I thought both points had valid arguments; however, both ideas cannot be entirely correct. Who do you guys think is closest to the truth, or are they both right in some aspects and wrong in others? Just some food for thought!

“Taming” Animals, or Dominating Them?

Are humans above nature?

Bulliet begins the second part of his book by talking about the taming of wild animals as part of the domestication process. This entire chapter dealt with keeping the captured/breeding population seperate from the wild and feral animals of the wilderness. He begins with his rats and foxes example, where after decades of testing and “natural selection” -I say that sarcastically, as the testing and breeding of certain selected rats was very unnatural in itself- led to the creation of the “white lab rat” as people attempted to breed the albinos together, and successfully had. He also talks about how through so many generations of breeding and being held in captivity, this tameness gene kept elevating and more and more with each offspring. However, the experimenter was actually selecting the tamest of all the offspring, and thus practically determined the future generations of the captive foxes.

So, to what extent is the domestication of animals deemed useful? Bulliet would argue that people think “domestic animal means ‘useful animal.’” He separates usage of animals into primary & secondary uses: primary being meat , and secondary meaning the extras involved in the domestication of the animal. These could range anywhere from wool from sheep, to riding of horses and camels, to even the plowing of fields. The primary use, however is always meat, as it is a driving force for humans to hunt, herd, and “hamburgize,”(see what I did there?) for their own survival.

Now the question at hand is, when did the sacrificing of animals come about? There has always been a huge request for animal sacrifice throughout all religions and all races of the world. A more personal example, when attending a family gathering dinner, my cousin’s chickens were raised and killed for the meal, and they told me before the killing of the chickens, they would say a prayer to thank God for the wonderful creatures that he put on his earth. Now, I’m not very religious, but that right there almost sounds like sacrifice itself! Bulliet would go on to say that domestication could have been for the purpose of sacrifice, because in case of a sacrificial event, there would ALWAYS be an animal on hand. Versus hoping the hunter of the group found game, they could always rely on the domesticates.

I’ve described three scenarios here, in which it seems like humans have distinguished themselves above nature: taming and selective breeding by humans, claiming animals as being useful for humans, and claiming animals lives in human sacrificial usage. Are we starting to exploit the benefits of domesticated animals? Are we dominating their lives in an unfair manor? Ingold would argue that, saying that humans, “have risen above, and have sought to bring under control, a world of nature that includes their own animality.” To what reason do we assume the right to slaughter animals for our own religious pleasing? Who deemed animal meat as a primary use for humans? Why do we, as humans, think we can genetically change a species to suit our quest for knowledge?

I am starting to increasingly understand the world through a vegetarian’s eyes.