It’s interesting to me that you make this comparison of rats as mirrors of the more negative qualities of humanity. Although rats themselves are pretty clean animals (except for the countless bugs they might carry), we associate them with filth and detritus created by mankind, so they serve as a constant reminder of just how unclean our cleanliness really is- something most of us would rather not think about. I think that your theory of rats as a manifestation of the “shadow” is particularly intriguing because we also draw a parallel on a more physiological level between rats and humans when we use them as a model organism in biomedical research, and in this sense we have no objection to the similarity of rat and man.
I think that the “inevitable bond” between a researcher and lab animal doesn’t have as much to do with the individuality of the animal and humanity of the researcher, but more the attachment of the researcher to his research. Most researchers actively try to avoid a bond with their lab animals because it can affect their judgement and skew the results of the research. I’m all for animal rights, but in most cases in research, the health and happiness needs of the animal are only met so that the data collected can be effective and reliable– no matter how complex the animal may be. Of course, there are a few exceptions, such as case studies of bonobos or gorillas.
Kara, that’s a really great point, and I hadn’t thought about it. It delves into examining our real priorities when caring for animals that we use as model organisms in research – do we care for them just because we need to keep them healthy, or because we actually care? However since rats and dogs are primarily used as model organisms in biomedical research (like cancer research), I don’t think it’s likely that one of them will prove to be more useful than the other- they’re both different enough and similar enough to human beings that their validity as model organisms pretty much balances out. Rats are easier to use, however, because of their reproduction rate and ease of care. Dogs cost a lot more and require a lot more hoops to jump through when using them in research studies, so I think we’ll continue using rats the most.
I pretty much agree with Darwin as well. It might be cynical and pessimistic, but I think human beings are a pretty selfish race. It’s not necessarily a bad quality- we’re biologically programmed to do whatever it takes to ensure our own survival. Very few species have truly altruistic qualities, the only thing that sets us apart from other animals doing whatever it takes to survive is that we’re better at it most of the time. Some might say this gives us a responsibility to care for the well-being of the earth, but I don’t think our higher intelligence and capabilities automatically forces us to bear that burden. Rather, we should care for the environment and animals because we do feel the bond you were talking about. It’s in our species’ best interest as well.
I really like the point that you made about how societies to protect pets were created before societies to protect wild animals. Early zoos, pet shows, and organizations about animal welfare were only started for the benefit they would provide to humans. I wonder if the focus towards actual animal welfare came about because of our world getting bigger and our improved knowledge of how everything affects the health of this planet, and therefore the future and health of mankind? If this is the case, could it be said that these societies are still created with the welfare of humans in mind above all else? Or do you think mankind has really become more selfless and empathetic towards animals and other life on this planet?
From what we’ve discussed in class, it does seem that turning an animal into a commodity is an essential part of the domestication of food animals. However in the case of the reindeer, I’m not sure that the impossibility of domesticating wild reindeer is because of change in their genes. I haven’t seen genotype profile comparisons, so I could be completely wrong on this, but I don’t think wild and domesticated reindeer are really that different genetically, just like feral cats aren’t really different from housecats, but it’s next to impossible to take a feral cat and try to domesticate it enough to live with humans. I think that the impossibility of domesticating wild reindeer really just means the enormity of work that would be involved, when compared to relative ease of breeding already domesticated reindeer.
I don’t want to degrade the beliefs of the nomadic people in Vitebsky’s book (or anyone else, for that matter) in any way, but I experienced the same confusion as you while reading about their religious lore. It seems to me that their beliefs contradict each other in many ways- if Bayanay presents a hunter with a lot of kills, for example, it could apparently either mean that he is blessed, or that he is going to die. I think the simplest answer to your question is that they hunted because otherwise they would die. I know that’s obvious, but in my experience religion is often superceded by the natural will to live. I would guess that the origin of beliefs of Bayanay began after hunting was already an established practice of obtaining food, so the stories about Bayanay were created to fit into the lives of the hunters, rather than direct them.
I’ve been thinking the same thing about trying to be more sustainable food-wise. While college students like us may not be able to go to extremes in becoming more self-sufficient and sustainable with food like Kessler, it’s not hard to take a few steps in the right direction, and incredibly rewarding (in my experience). A salad made from home-grown lettuce and tomatoes tastes way better than one found in a prepackaged bag. Baking your own bread is not only delicious and better for you than store-bought, it makes your house smell amazing!
Herb gardens can be small enough to thrive even in an apartment and using fresh herbs that you’ve grown yourself to spice your food makes such a difference. And trying out local farmers markets is always a good way to eat more sustainably without all the labor involved.
Kessler does seem to have a knack for getting the nitty gritty details down on paper before they slip his mind- I’ve never seen a more detailed (or eloquently written) diary that exists solely for the purpose of tracking goat milk and activity! I didn’t find the imagery as disturbing as many seem too (although the bit about drinking urine was a bit much), but I can understand Kessler’s fascination with figuring out how everything worked. He did a great job with his research and putting his factoids into his own words to make it flow with the story. I agree that the book really speaks to the interdependency and interconnectedness of natural and human history, in a better way than any of our other reading this semester (in my opinion).
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I know a few people who have used the Paleo diet (for a short term, not as a permanent lifestyle) as a way to lose weight and become healthier and were very successful, with no detrimental effects to their bodies. I actually have a Paleo cookbook at home because I like the creative use of vegetables as a healthier choice of side than, say, french fries. However it’s true that this can’t work for everyone, just as no formulaic diet can be generalized for everyone on the planet. When people choose their diet and lifestyle they need to keep in mind their individual needs and metabolism- as Dunn points out, everybody is a little bit different in how much they are able to process.