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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.

4 comments to Theories of Domestication- Bulliet vs. Ingold

  • kcdrews

    As a tip, it would be extremely helpful if you had paragraph breaks in your posts, having one wall of text makes it much more difficult to read.

    I agree that Buillet’s writing seems to lack citations compared to Ingold’s, but I don’t think that’s due to a lack of research, but rather different target audiences. I think Buillet is writing for a broad public audience, which is part of the reason he uses such graphic stories right in the beginning of the book. Ingold reads more like a scholarly text. If you look at the back of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers there seems to be quite a lot of references.

    • meganimals17

      Okay thank you for letting me know, and I will make sure to break up my posts better.

      I see your point that just because he does not load his novel with citations does not make it inaccurate; however, if he is trying to target a broad audience, he needs to focus less on reducing the formality and more on making it an “easy read.” It is interesting and thought-provoking, but it contains complex theories with little support, and it tends to drag on with parallel paragraph structure (for example on page 85 where his claims are set up using the exact same structure).

      One would think the parallel structure would make his ideas easier to follow, but I thought his description on genes on page 82 would be extremely different for the average adult, who has not had a biology lesson since high school, to comprehend.

      I cannot find out who he was trying to target with this book, but it absolutely is not underage adolescents, based on the content of the first chapter.

  • If I’m understanding you correctly, it sounds like you found Bulliet’s analysis of cat domestication flawed? Besides just not agreeing with him, is there evidence you’ve found in support of another theory?

    • meganimals17

      I had always learned that the first domestication of cats occurred in Egypt because the Egyptians worshipped the half-cat goddess Bastet. The Egyptians admired the cat as a species for its sense of mystery and it’s intellect and piercing eyes, which the Europeans actually found to represent evil. However, recent studies have shown in tombs an entirely different species of cat that could not be native to Egypt.
      This does not disprove Bulliet’s idea at all. As a matter of fact, further research on the domestication of cats in Egypt supports some of his claims.

      That being said, I do not think his proposal is completely inaccurate, I just feel he has a bad habit of overgeneralizing domestication to one or a few small occurrences, and I believe the Egyptians purposefully domesticated cats for worship and to control mice.
      I see how Bulliet finds the long-term domestication accidental, but I believe that the Egyptians intended the cats to “stick around” for dynasties because why else would they mummify and/or worship them from one century to the next? This is only my own personal opinion.

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