Humans’ relationship with animals, both domesticated and wild, has changed over time. According to Richard Bullliet’s idea of post-domesticity, we are living in a time where attitudes towards animals are shaped by peoples’ removal from them in their everyday life. Bullliet argues that this change in interaction with animals has shaped our views on sex, violence, science, religion, and diet.
In Bullliet’s “domestic era” people interacted with animals often and in personal or involved ways. Butchering one’s own animals for meat was common, as was breeding them. In the modern post-domestic era, animal products are still produced, but in an automated and sterilized manner. The blood, gore, and animal suffering are locked in the back room or miles away from your burger. Without addressing moral concerns about the production of animal products, Bulliet argues that after removing ourselves from the sexual and visceral stimuli that come with frequent animal interaction, we developed fantasies to replace them.
Witnessing animal sex used to be a fairly common introduction to the idea of sex in the domestic era. Bulliet presents evidence that regardless of the same taboos against bestiality as are present now, bestiality was likely more common in the past. Without animals to influence sexual development and provide a release for imagination, we turned to masturbation and lurid fantasies in other mediums. The growth of erotic material does seem to coincide with the decline of the domestic era. Is this causation though? The increase of literacy and general consumption of literature could explain erotic literature’s early growth. The explosion of internet porn, so vehement that it merits its own internet rule, #34 (if it exists there is porn of it), is explainable partly as the internet allowing people with strange tastes being able to reach a larger audience. Also responsible for this growth could be the growth in general of cultural material on the internet as it becomes easier for the average person to create a video, story, or picture and share it.
The gore of butchering animals is almost completely gone from modern life except for in connection with sports like hunting and fishing. This removal has coincided with the growing attitude that harming animals is morally wrong or at least regrettable. Vegetarianism and other variations of dietary restriction on meat are growing more popular, as is the revulsion at the treatment of food animals in factory farms. Portrayals of animals in media are commonly anthropomorphized, especially in children’s media. This has caused us to care for animals in an abstract sense as something approaching third class citizens. In post-industrial governments animals have some limited rights. Curiously, animal-on-animal violence is not viewed with revulsion like human-on-animal violence. Seen as a natural act or part of the “circle of life”, people don’t demonize animal-on-animal violence or seek to change it. Hunting sports are sometimes seen as “barbaric” or primitive, but are also praised as being “manly” or in some other way a rite of passage.
In regards to science, Bullier argues that while the “natural” selective breeding of animals to mold them to our purpose was a welcome and accepted advance, modern methods of altering animals, drugs and genetics, are met with skepticism and fear. While people are right to be wary of the unintended side effects of new technology, the response to genetic engineering of animals is particularly strong. One possible reason for this is the fear that the techniques developed will be turned on us. Others hope for this, strongly advocating genetic manipulation as a way to not only increase food supply, but cure diseases or improve quality and quantity of life. In the post-domestic era, our strong feelings for animals as something like third class citizens makes us pause at the idea of changing these animals genetic identity. Do we have the right to go beyond artificial selection and deliberately engineer new species?
In the considering of non-human rights, the issues of whether animals have some level of self-awareness and a concept of suffering are extremely relevant. Religions weigh in differently on this issue, with some interpreting the Christian duty to be stewards of Earth as a blank check to do as we please, while others see it as a commandment to tread as lightly as possible on the environment. Buddhism and Jainism condemn the eating of animals to varying degrees as immorally causing suffering.
The changing relationships between Humans and non-humans involves controversial issues such as non-human rights, genetic engineering, and hunting. How our attitudes towards these issues evolve will determine how strongly a “post-domestic” culture will develop.