Hunter-Gather Relationships, Domination and Humans, The Mayan Apocalypse 2012, and Milk

Hunter-Gather Relationships

It was quite the realization to understand that hunter-gathers model their relationships with their environment on the institution of sharing, also the basis of interpersonal relationships in the community. Likewise they value trust, “to trust someone is to act with that person in mind, in the hope and expectation that she will do likewise – responding in ways favorable to you. That favorable response is what you depend on and it comes entirely on the initiative or violation of the other party.”

It was earlier this week that I digested this facebook post from Que Lo Que, a Non Goveremental Organization with mission is to, “To reduce ethnocentrism and cultural misconceptions in the United States by building relationships and communication networks that tell the true story of those living in the developing world.”

It stands to reason that reducing ethnocentrism, or our cultural bias, can come from increased awareness about the way things could be by learning lessons of practicing ideas of trust and confidence inherent in communities who do depend on one another for food and everyday services. However it is becoming clearer that our ethnocentrism comes not from a lack of understanding of trust but from our relationships with animals and the environment based on domination.

Domination and humans separate from nature

I would like to first consider a book I’ve read recently, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. For millions of years, Homo Sapiens and our predecessors lived sustainably as a part of earth’s ecosystem; it has only been for a few thousand years, since the agricultural revolution, that we have continuously overstepped our means and entered into a war of sorts with earth. Our culture of “takers” (as named by Quinn) assumes that we have dominion over earth and its life and resources. This viewpoint of dominion places us into a community of rulers who must extend control over the earth, but simultaneously takes us out of the community we previously belonged to – the one that everything belongs to. We have tried to escape from the community of earth and rule over it without being a part of it and this could be considered impossible. Fundamentally, I think for us to connect community, sustainability, and environment, we must come to identify ourselves as equal players in the game, and therefore subject to the same rules of the game as all other life on earth.

The Mayan Apocalypse 2012

The 2012 Story asks the question, “What happens to a culture that forgets the center, denies the transcendent perennial wisdom, and becomes married to an ant traditional philosophy in which ego, consumer materialism, and self-interest run the show? What happens is the fulfillment of the Maya prophesy for 2012.”

In short, the Maya (and just go with me here) seem to have understood the nature of cycles, integrating celestial cycles with culture and conscious here on earth. They understood how and why 2012 would signal a time of great change. The teaching for the end of the long-count calendar cycle (the one that recently ended) spoke of individual spiritual transformation beginning from within, springing with the free-will choice to set aside personal ego to be connected to a higher purpose. The main idea was somewhat illustrated in that, “The most fully actualized potential of each human being is to realize that the limited ego is a temporary extension of the external, divine self.” What should naturally follow, the book argues, is the organization of life and human culture around this truth, with decisions and goals being made in deference to this whole-consciousness perspective.

There is much to discuss and consider in regard to our value and responsibility for the commons of the world and the social inequities of today.  For now, I’ll keep it brief. The “ideal” we are searching for can be met not in material objects or deprivation of animals and others.

Can it be up to us to choose how to define our identity so that we are satisfied personally?


According to Chapter six in Fresh: A perishable history Freidberg explains that humans have relied on other animals’ milk for food since at least 5,000 BC. In regions too cold or arid for agriculture, like the Sahara and parts of central Asia, milk was the food of nomadic peoples, providing far more sustenance than meat. Across Eurasia, milk-bearing animals ranked among peasants, “treasured possessions, turning otherwise useless forage into much-needed fat and protein.” Freidberg paints a picture of dairy peoples across the pre-industrial world showing their appreciation for milk in their creation myths, in their literature and art, and in their protection of the animals themselves.

Although Fresh is discussing a time period much after the initial period of domestication it provides insight to two fundamental questions / problems I have with Bulliet’s assertions. First, just because the domestication of animals was arguably an intentional human process that took long periods of time does not necessitate that this condition of valuing and using milk animals is inherently unnatural. Friedburg explains its importance to peoples of the past. The Trust to domination reading further brings to light that there might be something different about milk-producing animals if dairy peoples truly treasured their animals like Freidberg suggests. This idea is expressed in hunter-gathers relationships to their environment in that, “people have to look over and care for the country in which they live… This means treating the country and the animals that dwell in it with due consideration and respect.”

The term domestication implies domination and force to control another. I think it would be a narrow and misinformed view however to assert the subsidence provided to people by animal milk came secondary to its religious and artful purposes. It is rational to believe  that milk was valued for its nutritional value first (because let’s be serious, there was probably not much food variety on the dinner spread of early humans) and was so important that religious and cultural practices centered around it.

I would like to lastly address the misplaced statement about bacteria in milk during the industrial revolution as evidence for early humans not drinking milk. The industrial revolution began an era (come-on Bulliet, use your categories!) of food standardization and global distribution. Despite improvements in sanitation, water supplies, and health care babies stood much less chance of surviving in cities than in rural areas. It is also true that cow milk ranked among the primary possible culprit. The question is WHY are these deaths happening? A 1903 NYC study confirmed the view that dysentery-related deaths escalated in the summer, when milk was not properly chilled either in transit or at home. The problem was not the milk. The problem was the increasing distance between the cow and the consumer that made the bacteria count in the milk skyrocket in warm weather but it also passed through more environments and hands thereby increasing its opportunity for contamination. What’s more, wrote Rosenau in The Milk Question, “It is human nature to concern ourselves more about things we make for our friends and neighbors, whom we know, and see frequently, than it is for some far off foreigner.”

These are beautiful glass milk bottles, eh?

I have jumped the categorical lines of time but only to illustrate Bulliet’s claims and evidence for dismissing adult human consumption of animal milk, the idea infants drank milk (more unlikely than adults, honestly) , and for being unnatural to the human experience were perhaps not based in true understanding or full consideration.

Ingold hit the nail on the head with the idea, “Nature has to be thought of as separate from man before any questions of intervention or command and the method and ethics of either can arise. The more separation man is from animals and nature the more nature becomes viewed as raw materials to human construction projects. These projects are what establish the division between the natural and the artificial, the pristine and the manmade, nature-in-the-raw, and nature transformed.” It is then logical to understand early human relationships with milk-producing animals from as more natural than artificially created. Human’s relationship with early milk animals perhaps could have manifested from peaceful coevolution rather than strict human domination.

4 Replies to “Hunter-Gather Relationships, Domination and Humans, The Mayan Apocalypse 2012, and Milk”

  1. I didn’t expect such a large portion of a blog on the fascinating world of milk, but you seem to keep proving me wrong! But interesting points brought up about the industrial revolution, and the increased distance from farm to table causing sickness in cities. I’ve never thought of it that way, but I’m sure that was a determining factor to the problem Americans were having at this time. Back to the adults consuming milk, Sigmund Freud argued humans decided they were to be children their entire life, and craved some sort of father figure to care for and nurture them, hence the creation of God (in his eyes on religion of course). Could this possibly answer the idea that as babies the milk was a comforting consumption that we couldn’t get enough of, and the taking of the milk from other animals is God’s way of delivering us this comforting feeling? A very obscure look at the adult consumption of milk, if I do say so myself.

  2. Really interesting comments on milk. I agree with you. It makes a lot of sense that increasing time between how and consumer would cause huge problems. However, it is always the case that milk is a perfect medium for bacterial growth and early humans would have had to recognize that milk was only a good food source right after it came out. Dairy animals are a constant source of milk, though, so it is very possible that early humans were able to consume the milk that they harvested every day, before it went bad.

    In particular, I think that Bulliet fails to recognize how opportunistic early humans might be. Hungry people are looking for food. They aren’t going turn up their noses at animal milk just because there is a taboo against consuming human milk.

  3. I also have to applaud your invocation of Ishmael! While I have some concerns about the assumption of a “sustainable Eden” before the advent of “The Takers,” I love the resonances we’re finding this week between theories of domestication, the origins of religion, myth and the narratives of “progress.”

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