Domestic, Postdomestic, Post-postdomestic?

Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is an interesting take on human-animal relationships that divides human history into four stages: Separation, Predomesticity, Domesticity, and Postdomesticity. He argues that separation is the period in history when humans first differentiated themselves from animals, leading to predomesticity. This period is simplified as the time when humans primary lifestyle consisted of hunting and gathering. Predomesticity turns into domesticity with the “Neolithic revolution,” which is essentially just a term the describes humans domesticating certain plants and animals. Finally this period of domestication, consisting of daily contact between humans and animals, evolves into postdomesticity, during which humans and animals are separated both physically and psychologically. Interestingly enough, postdomesticity seems to be most similar to the predomestic stage by Bulliet’s definition, suggesting a sort of cycle in human-animal relations.

In the first chapter, Bulliet presents some…. unique examples of the progression from domesticity to postdomesticity in his discussions of sex and blood. He ties in a variety of topics from bestiality and pornography to animal slaughter and gory movies, which at first glance seem to be very unlikely candidates for emphasizing the change of humans from a domestic society to a postdomestic one. However, he manages to show how in almost all of his examples that humans have changed from a society that was very hands on and involved in the many facets of life to one that is more disengaged and focused on fantasy. Whether it is our shift from boxing to wrestling or our removal from the slaughter of farm animals for food, humans have exhibited this change. The question that arises is what do these changes mean for humans-animal relations, especially pertaining to domestication.

Bulliet continues in the next few chapters to go into detail about the development and origins of each of the stages he created to cover the progression of human-animal relations over our entire existence as a species. As a result of this huge span of time he covers, the major issue that Bulliet runs into with this work is that the majority of the arguments that he makes are based almost solely on conjecture and educated guesswork. There is no way of truly knowing what early humans were thinking millions of years ago, and no way to pinpoint the specific dates when these changes that Bulliet claims define each stage actually occurred. However, the opinions in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers are very strong despite the lack of any real factual basis. This leaves the door open for debate as to whether his opinions, although well founded, are accurate.

In respect to our discussion on Tuesday afternoon, here are a series of questions that are posed directly by Bulliet or extrapolated from the ideas that he presents in the first chapters of this book. These are some starting points for everyone to consider before we get together on Tuesday.

  • What are the major drawbacks or benefits that arise from children’s later exposure to  sex and blood? In the domestic era, a majority children grew up seeing animals lives firsthand from mating and birth to slaughter. In more recent history, children are   far more sheltered from these things for better or for worse. How does this effect the lives of these children as they grow up and develop into adulthood?
  • Many of the issues that Bulliet discusses in relation to the shift from domesticity to postdomesticity revolve around the movement of humans from direct, “real,” experiences to more withdrawn fantasy. How does this idea affect peoples views today?  Is this the cause of the major movements like vegetarianism and animal rights, or are these things completely separate? Is this a reversion back to the separation era that Bulliet describes?
  • The progression in the stages that Bulliet describes started out with very slow, ambiguous change from one to the next; however, the shift from domesticity to post domesticity occurred relatively quickly in the grand scheme of things. Is postdomesticity just another stage in Bulliet’s theory? Is there a post-postdomestic era to come? What will it entail? Will it be similar to predomesticity or domesticity or entirely new? How soon will it happen?
  • There were some very strong parallels drawn throughout the first four chapters, including the comparison of animal treatment and the meatpacking industry to the Holocaust as well as the animal rights issue to slavery and civil rights. Are these comparisons accurate? Are they acceptable?
  • The cornerstone of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is the separation between humans and animals. How separate are they? Has the degree of separation stayed relatively static or is it ever-changing? Does Bulliet accurately depict the separation of humans and animals throughout history?

These are just a few questions to consider and get the discussion going but I think there are a lot of other great ideas to debate. I look forward to Tuesday and cannot wait to hear everyone’s opinions on Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers.