Week 3 – From Trust to Domination

From Trust to Domination

The Cree example on page 7 seems less like the archetypal example of a hunter gatherer society and more like a typical religion. They believe in certain things that happen divinely (animals presenting themselves), they believe they must perform certain duties (treat the animals correctly post death, don’t kill unnecessarily), and if they fail in these duties they will be punished (animals stop presenting themselves). In addition, as a result of these beliefs everyone in the society benefits, similarly to the way that religion has been used in the past as a sort of control mechanism against chaos.

The whole notion of trust is romantic and all, but what happens in the hard times? If a drought comes and the vegetation dies, how would a gathering society come to terms with the sudden lack of trust presented by nature as evidenced by no longer being given bountiful food? And once trust is broken it’s usually very hard to reform, so does that mean that once a group hits some rough times with regards to food procurement that whole belief system ends? The author goes into it a bit with regards to confidence, but it seems to me that if 90% of a tribe is killed off during rough environmental times, the confidence and trust of the remaining 10% would be shattered.


Bulliet’s Hamburgers: Still Tough to Chew

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?

Finally understanding domestication

I’m really glad we read Animals as Domesticates by Clutton-Brock this week. It seems we’re finally getting in to really discussing domestication and I’m starting to grasp the process. Unlike Bulliet, Clutton-Brock began her book with a basic background of domestication. In class it kept being mentioned that dogs were the first domesticated animals. This is something that seemed obvious to everyone but me, given that I really know nothing about domesticated animals. But this fact started to really make sense with this week’s readings. Strangely, the Bulliet book seemed to begin to discuss the actual process of domestication more this week than the introduction did. It’s confusing to me that Bulliet chose to begin his book with a lot of confusing, and dare I say nonsense, about the postdomestic era and an obsession with blood and sex, and then finally in the middle of the book he begins explaining the process of domestication. As someone with zero prior knowledge on the subject, I would have appreciated this discussion a lot earlier. His points in the beginning would probably have made a lot more sense as well.

But moving away from Bulliet and back to Clutton-Brock, I’m also glad she is picking up on the question of whether humans are natural or artificial. This is something I’m very interested in exploring during the course, and it’s starting to come together. As I begin to read some of the theories of domestication, I can’t help but think of domestication as being similar to co-evolution. I’m definitely no scientist, but it seems to me that the way in which humans have changed the evolution of certain species, has also changed the evolution humans. We have changed our eating habits, hunting habits, we don’t need to run as fast, or work as hard because we have certain animals to assist us. Although people may call human activity, including domestication of animals “artificial,” it appears to me at this point to be very natural. Perhaps the development of certain animals species was also supposed to be affected by humans, just as some species of parasites and hosts have co-evolved and affected each other. I’ll end my rambling thoughts here, in the hopes that this is something we can further talk over in class, and perhaps someone with a lot more scientific knowledge than I have can offer me some clarity. I lastly wanted to share an article I came across the other day. I know in Clutton-Brock, it’s somewhat a question as to where and when dogs were first domesticated, and this article brings some new evidence to light. Given the class interest in dog domestication, it may be a good article to look over.


Theories of Domestication- Bulliet vs. Ingold

For starters, while I read the next chapter of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, I still struggled with Bulliet’s sporadic and mostly poorly supported writing style, as well as his overgeneralized claims. I have a few positive opinions on him as an author, he knows how to grab a reader’s attention, he makes a few valid points I would never have considered myself, and he seems extremely creative and intuitive. That said, I would like to first point out that he backs one of his claims by saying “as an Internet search will quickly reveal,” and also claiming common sense as another one of his supports. He must believe the reader will simply trust his intelligence, and I do not necessarily think he lies in his book, I just feel that no professional writer or historian should support a thesis with such a lack of tangible support. I have mentioned before that he definitely has guts to write this book, and it definitely caught my attention, but it seems as though he regurgitated any knowledge he believed he had on domestication or even simply why mankind has become so sexual and violent, without taking the time to find other valid supports to his beliefs. This book to me seems highly based on opinion, regardless of if they prove true or not. His main theory on domestication seems far too simplistic, like many of his other theories. He believes the cause of domesticated cats resulted from humans originally wanting the low-adrenal or simply less jumpy cats to kill mice, whilst still driving away the larger, dangerous cats and thus protecting the “tolerated” mice control cats. He then states that over decades of years, the cats kept on the property for mice extermination developed a higher reproductive ability, much lab rats he previously mentions. Though he explains the theory somewhat well, the thought that humans protecting more laid back cats from the wild for years produced a whole new species of domestic cats forever can only account for one part of the equation. This theory could not really apply to wolves used for hunting becoming dogs or wild  hogs becoming cute little pet pigs.  It sounds like Bulliet is describing artificial selection (where humans interfere with and impact natural selection,) but he also claims that humans never intended for long-term domestication and did not create the domesticated species on purpose. That may have held true in some parts of the world, but his simple story on the evolution of domestic cats does not suffice for me in proving his point, though I got where he was heading with it. I related much better to Ingold’s writing style and theories. He cited various scientific or literary supports for his claims throughout the entire brief passage, which helped me trust what he was saying. I recently learned in my Public Speaking course that audiences will always struggle to believe speaker’s who do not seem credible, and Bulliet has yet to prove his credibility to me. Ingold however did earn my trust, regardless of if I agree or disagree personally with his take on the matter. He also compared his views with and against Darwin’s like Bulliet did, but he took a slightly different stance. Bulliet hinted without defining the notion of artificial selection, while Ingold flat out stated that humans have interrupted nature by domesticating animals. He went on to compare the domestication of the ox to engineering; we as humans make the ox however we want it. In contrast, Bulliet seemed to view domestication as an accident, whereas I believe Ingold sees it as humans claiming their “[transcendent] humanity” over the other species of animals, meaning it was intentional and meant to happen. At first I thought he might see the humans as evil for doing so, but after I read back over his example of Darwin comparing the savages to undomesticated animals, I’d say he thought it did society at least a bit of good. Overall, though I have a few issues with either author’s take on domestication, I can at least trust that Ingold conducted sufficient research and tried to highlight the ideas of others than only his own.

From Trust to Domination

Tim Ingold speaks several times to an important theme that seems to be rarely understood by most people. This theme is the divide between humans and animals that either illusory or ignored. That is, either the social reality that humans have constructed has created an apparent division between humans and animals (i.e., we live “up here” in our social and material world, while they live “down there” in nature), or in an effort to protect ourselves from the uncomfortable realities of our existence, we ignore the day-to-day evidence of our primal past (e.g., wisdom teeth, vestigial remnants of our plant-eating ancestry).

The human brain, structurally speaking, isn’t much more than a primitive brain with regulatory functions on top. In other words, the impulsive, emotional, primitive structures that rest directly on top of our spinal cords have a cortex on top of them that controls and inhibits them. Abstractly, the organization of the brain is not much different from the organization of human relationships with the natural world. That is, the impulsive, emotional, primitive species on earth are regulated by humans who are “above” them much like our neocortex (“neo” meaning “new”Smilie: ;) regulates–and is physically above–the primitive structures in our brains. The analogy kind of resembles a fractal if you think about it (i.e., the same pattern is found in two different levels of analysis — those levels being the brain and the ecosystem). This shouldn’t be surprising, as the brain and its environment evolve in parallel.

However, what makes us human is not our being “above” the rest of the world, but–as Ingold alludes to–the intermixing of our primitive, emotional selves and our “higher” selves (i.e., our reasoning, controlling, thinking, planning self). Continuing off the above fractal pattern, just as our individual personalities, behaviors, thoughts, etc. are a product of the interaction between our emotional brain structures and our “higher” ones like the frontal lobes (i.e., we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have love and fear, but we also wouldn’t be if we didn’t have thinking and planning), the human species is a product of the interaction between itself and the animal world. Take away one, and I’ll say you don’t have the other.

Ingold refers to hunters and gatherers as being immersed in the natural world, such that they don’t perceive any grand distinctions between themselves and the animals they hunt. Hunter-gatherers are “correct” in that the distinction is most certainly an illusion or social construction, but I might argue that this separation, real or not, is part of what makes us human. We may also need to perceive this distinction to protect our fragile selves from existential anxiety.

WEEK 3 – Buillet and Other Readings

Buillet Chapter 5

I like Buillet’s ideas concerning the lack of direct human knowledge or intervention in domestication. The accidental domestications he describes (such as cats or pigs hanging around human settlements) do make sense when thinking about multiple domestication processes occurring around the world. If domestication was an active process that required direct human intervention, the likelihood that it arose spontaneously in multiple parts of the globe is slim to none. However, I don’t think he adequately explains how accidental domestication might have occurred for larger animals that wouldn’t be allowed or wouldn’t be able to hang around human beings long enough to become domesticated (like cows).
He does go into a bit about elephants and how they and other species have no cause to fear predators, therefore they are more predisposed to be tamed by humans. But that argument does nothing for domestication, as this predisposition to tameness wouldn’t result in successive generations of such animals simply ending up as domesticated if given enough time. Perhaps I’m simply missing his argument, but to me it sounds almost like:

“Hey guys!! Here’s this great idea for how small mammals became domesticated, and with bigger mammals they usually are more tame anyway and yada yada yada  we have domesticated cattle…”

Chapters 6 and 7

Domestication of canaries over the past 400 years is a fine example of affective uses being a cause for domestication. But there’s a world of difference between mankind in the seventeenth century and mankind 10,000 years ago. People of a few centuries past already had their supplies of food practically guaranteed. Farms and domesticated livestock allowed for a surplus of food and all the advantages that come along with civilization. During the early processes of domestication these luxuries were not to be found, and so I find it hard to believe that people would invest their incredibly valuable time and energy in the pursuit of domestication of animals for aesthetic purposes…

Regarding milk, I feel like he’s forcing the facts to fit his theory rather than creating a theory based on his facts. Milk serving an affective use  as a ritual object seems far fetched to me. Also, incredibly relevant Calvin and Hobbes comic strip!

I disagree with Buillet’s premise that sheep, cattle, and goats were domesticated as a result of using meat for sacrifice. I think that a lot of his evidence rests on saying “Human civilization revered X as a source of meat and __________ from the years #-#. Therefore looking backwards it makes sense that humans have always done so.” I think that basic argument is wrong. Just because the ancient Egyptians or  Mesopotamians thought something does not mean they got it as a result of long standing tradition and that that tradition was the cause of domestication.

Bottom line is that while I originally liked Buillet and his point I now think his book poses the same problem as Guns, Germs, and Steel: He came up with his theory and began pigeonholing evidence to support that theory while ignoring or dismissing other evidence that disagreed with him.


From Trust to Domination

The Cree example on page 7 seems less like the archetypal example of a hunter gatherer society and more like a typical religion. They believe in certain things that happen divinely (animals presenting themselves), they believe they must perform certain duties (treat the animals correctly post death, don’t kill unnecessarily), and if they fail in these duties they will be punished (animals stop presenting themselves). In addition, as a result of these beliefs everyone in the society benefits, similarly to the way that religion has been used in the past as a sort of control mechanism against chaos.

The whole notion of trust is romantic and all, but what happens in the hard times? If a drought comes and the vegetation dies, how would a gathering society come to terms with the sudden lack of trust presented by nature as evidenced by no longer being given bountiful food? And once trust is broken it’s usually very hard to reform, so does that mean that once a group hits some rough times with regards to food procurement that whole belief system ends? The author goes into it a bit with regards to confidence, but it seems to me that if 90% of a tribe is killed off during rough environmental times, the confidence and trust of the remaining 10% would be shattered.


Animal Culture

I thought Animals as Domesticates was more of a scientific approach to discussing the history of domestication of animals then found in Bulliet’s excerpts. I thought he reinforced his theories by breaking down scientifically the process involved. Not being much of a science person, some of the explanations went a little over my head but overall I thought it was pretty easy to follow. I also appreciated the reference to Guns, Germs, and Steel now that we are knowledgeable on Diamond’s theory as well. Out of the entire excerpt what struck me the most was the idea of animals having their own, “culture.” This is an idea I have always only associated with humans. While this was not the point of his reference to animal’s cultures the very idea got me thinking about how different cultures raise and treat animals, specifically pets. I spent last summer in Barcelona where I noticed how pretty much no dog owner had a leash on their dog at any time. The majority of dog owners would walk around with their dog obediently following them. The dog would stay right beside the owner and wouldn’t stray even with all the distractions the big city had to offer. The dogs also listened to commands and would wait for their owners to return without needing to be tied up. For example, one woman was walking with her dog beside her until she got to a store. She continued to walk into the store but the dog knew to stop, sit, and wait outside the store until she finished.  The second the woman finished shopping and exited the store the dog was right there waiting where she left him and began walking beside her once again. The idea of animal cultures is interesting but I am also curious to find out how different cultures affect animals and pets. Does the way in which the dog was allowed to walk off leash with her owner make her more of an equal to a human? Is the use of a leash a failure in training the dog? Or is not needing a leash at all show that human is truly superior and even though the dog is “free” it is so domesticated that it won’t leave the side of the human?

A dog’s job

As expected Richard Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers elicited some strong (and not entirely positive) responses this week – which is great!  I’m really grateful to Corinne and Kelly for pointing out the obvious problem of theorizing domestication without looking seriously at the dog – which has been more implicated in the emergence of human society than any other domesticate .  Perhaps Corinne will want to look at dog domestication for her research project later in the term?  While I’m typing, I thought I’d highlight this new study about social learning and imitation in wolves (which revises earlier research that gave dogs a leg-up in this area).

But the main reason I’m posting is in response to Tanner’s discussion of “salience”, which offers terrific insight into why we humans find it so easy to disregard issues, things, and creatures we find uncomfortable, unpleasant, and outright ugly.  Take this photograph of a dog watching the sunrise over the Himalayas, for example.



As 21st-century Americans we find this image compelling, beautiful, and perhaps a bit haunting.  What is the dog doing there?  Who does he “belong” to?  What happened to him?  The answers laid out in photographer Sebastian Walhuetter’s blog post will probably surprise you.  And they should definitely give us good food for thought on how to think about cultural context, history, “ownership” and agency – whether we’re looking at a dog doing his job or using an image on the internet.

Postdomesticity: Making up your own word doesn’t mean you should write a book about it

Yes, that title is a bit harsh. But while I appreciate most of the various viewpoints on the origins of animal domesticity which Richard Bulliet highlights in his book Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, I have to confess that four chapters in I’m still extremely skeptical. Part of that may have to do with the fact that, while the actual topics Bulliet writes about are of great interest to me, and ones I would like to explore further, his actual writing style is a huge turnoff. His paragraphs are dense, his sentences are wordy, and I find him to be extremely and unnecessarily repetitive. I don’t think of myself as an unintelligent person, but seriously, I’ve read research articles which are easier to digest. Let’s just say it’s not a “light read;” this would perhaps generally not be such an issue, however when combined with the heavy though-provoking content I find the book to be a bit inaccessible, which is a quality I think every author should strive to avoid (after all, the end goal is for as many people as possible to read your book).

But this post is starting to sound like a high school book report. I’m not exactly a great writer myself, so who am I to criticize? Let’s move on to the actual meat of the message (pun not intended, but I do hope it’s appreciated, even if most of you are rolling your eyes).

I think my biggest problem with Bulliet is that he just seems to be flinging every theory ever postulated about the origins of animal domesticity at us, and not really fully exploring their plausibilities. Maybe that’s what he intended, but personally I’d rather focus the those that are the least far-fetched. For example, call me crazy, but I don’t think that changing interpretations of domestication in the 20th century had any sort of causal relationship with an increased societal apprehension (and therefore, fascination) with blood and sex. Yes, humans stopped becoming so involved with the actual killing of animals being used for the meat industry. The growing population of countries such as the US and Great Britain made more industrial methods of harvesting animal meat a necessity to keep up with the growing demand. Avoidance of actually bloodying our hands to get our own beef and pork may have been a byproduct of this change, but attempting to be as uninvolved in watching the light slowly drain out of an animals eyes has been a characterization of advanced societies for centuries. As for beastiality, whatever Bulliet’s sources say, I’m pretty sure that’s been taboo for even longer. It was simply the rise of technology in the 20th century which made it easier for us to know every detail of people’s intimate lives and share them with the world that has sparked a louder, more insistent vocalization of “society’s” opinions about human interactions with animals, sex, and blood that has made us the two-faced society we are today; exclaiming our horror and disgust at blood and sex, and the turning around and becoming enraptured with X-rated HBO crime dramas and sexy vampires. My point is, I don’t see a correlation between our changing societal views on the nitty-gritty parts of human life and changing over from farms to meat factories.

I thought we were finally getting somewhere when Bulliet started discussing the ways in which we distinguish ourselves from animals, and why we see our own species in this elevated light, however some of the views and theories he presented on this topic were a little too impractical for me to swallow. I’m pretty sure our hominid ancestors weren’t concerned about whether the animals they were interacting with had ‘souls’ or not–I think the fact that they needed meat to survive probably had more to do with the origins of domestication. I don’t even agree with his bit about believing we should domesticate and bring animals under our rule because of our own believed superiority; keeping our major source of food and life easily accessible just makes sense. Why would we expend our energy trying to constantly hunt down our meat when it’s simpler and easier to keep it with us? All the religious rationalizations for human domination of the natural world came after the fact.

I found some holes in Bulliet’s list of reasons for why we are different from every other animal species, as well. I’m not saying that humans aren’t unique, but he presents some things as fact which simply aren’t true. For example, humans aren’t the only species to engage in sex solely for pleasure and not for reproductive purposes- dolphins have been shown to do the same thing. And it’s common knowledge that while we can only understand our own speech, that doesn’t mean other animals don’t communicate. We’ve developed a language that can be expressed by symbols scratched on a wall, but honeybees wiggle their butts to give directions. One could actually see language as compensation for our lack of ability to express our thoughts by pheromones or body language. This is because humans are uniquely capable of abstract concept, which isn’t something that can be expressed by butt wiggling or peeing on a fire hydrant. I think this is the main division between humans and other animals, not the development of speech itself, and Bulliet should have mentioned it.

I do agree that cooking our food is a distinctive and important trait not found in other species. I wish Bulliet had explored the possible origins of cooking our meat more–I agree that it must have been accidental. However, I disagree with his theory for why early hominids began to eat meat. I’ve learned that the simplest explanation for something is usually the most correct. Therefore, I believe the carrion-eating theory to be the most likely- we were scavengers, learning what to eat to survive based on what we saw other animals eat, and putting ourselves in as little danger as possible to obtain food. We developed a taste and need for protein, but we were still only killers first in self-defense; however through defending ourselves and reaping the benefits of a fresh kill we came to learn how to hunt.

One more point. I may sound repetitive and a bit obsessed, but in four chapters Bulliet referred to wolves and dogs once. The first domesticated species, and they are continually glossed over in favor of those animals which provide us food. I agree they’re important, but would they even exist as domesticated animals if we hadn’t domesticated the wolf first? I think there’s a huge part of the story missing when dogs are left out of the story of domestication, and when a book about how domestication arose fails to mention them, it definitely makes me question the credibility of the author. I know I sound like a crazy dog lady, and maybe I am a little bit, but that doesn’t diminish their importance.

While bringing up some interesting points of discussion and further thought in his book, I wish Bulliet had gone about it in a different way. Maybe I just don’t like his writing style, but I think content-wise he was missing out a bit as well. I do plan to finish the book, however, so we’ll see what happens.



Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers… A unique and intriguing, but somewhat uncomfortable history lesson

Bulliet’s, the author of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, main thesis, in my opinion, centers around one abstract but insightful question: can we link each era of moral views (or lack there of) to the level of domestication of animals during that time period ? Did the domestication of animals contribute to a rise in bestiality? Or even the intense gruesome level of violence in historical warfare? (before the use of muskets or rifles) Bulliet supports his claim by walking the reader through the historical views on sex and violence, while linking them to the corresponding trends in domestication.  For example, modern post-domestic societal views on sex typically find bestiality taboo , especially with young children around, and centers around fantasy sex, such as porn.  He links this to the fact that most of us, unless we farm, keep close contact with the animals from which we obtain our food, and therefore, are not exposed to the day to day mating between animals.  This is just one example of the claims he makes.  I do not agree to the extent that he does that so many societal views, such as even a national right political swing, but I do think he supports his claims well, and I admire his originality in his claims and think he does a phenomenal job at educating the readers on a multitude of social history, that he would not have obtained from an everyday class or textbook. One topic I would love to discuss more is the irony within Thomas More’s book Utopia (mentioned within this text), he views utopia, the world at its finest, as a society where only the slaves kill the animals. I know this does not directly relate to Bulliet or my previous description of his intriguing novel, but I just had to point out the warped mentality behind that book.  Furthermore, I would love to debate whether enhanced fantasized violence, retrieved through video games, porn, etc., could actually decrease real-life violence, as many have apparently claimed. Lastly, I really enjoyed reading this novel and believe it can reach many different (adult) audiences; it moves from hush hush subjects, such as masturbation, to hot topics, such as vegetarianism, all the way to a simple analysis of domestication’s affect on cartoons.