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.