• Reindeer People

    Posted on March 30th, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    I was very interested by the reading this week, and I’m looking forward to the great discussion that I know will result from the reading. I really like the context the book is written in. Specifically, I like that reindeer are explained in a way that shows how vital they are to the people they are connected with. The book uses powerful expressions like, “reindeer has been giving life to humans” (page 17), to show their role in the culture. Obviously, Vitebsky’s journey to the Eveny people shows in depth exactly how important the reindeer are to the population. One of the highlights for me was the discussion of animals souls. I love the beliefs of the Eveny people, in which all living things have their own spirits, and therefore all have some sort of consciousness. This type of belief system allows for a respect of nature that isn’t typically found, in my opinion, in Christianity and many other religions today. Instead of respecting nature because it was created by God, it seems to me that the Eveny people respect nature as they would fellow humans, for its inherent value, and they have a full awareness of the importance of each and every living thing on the planet. This segment made me retrospectively consider the discussion of how domestication began that was brought up earlier on in the book. On page 25, Vitebsky discusses the mystery of domestication, and why taming wild animals, here referencing reindeer, “was once possible, but it seems almost impossible to domesticate wild reindeer today.” After reading about the Eveny beliefs, this made me consider the type of society that may have existed back then. Was domestication possible because the people who lived all that time ago had a different view of nature? I think most scientists agree that animals don’t have the same level of intelligence that humans do, but I do understand that animals have been known to sense what is around them. The image that comes to mind is a dog cowering in fear sensing the anger in an owner’s voice. Were reindeer able to be domesticated because they sensed the respect those early humans had for them? The sense of equality and mutual benefit? Perhaps all traces of that sort of respect is lost in most people today, which is why domestication no longer occurs as easily. I’ll admit that it’s a crazy thought, but even the mere idea of such a prospect does at least make one consider how animals are treated in modern society, and at the very least think for a moment on whether or not the human/animal relationship was different in the dawn of animal domestication. Was something done with the best intentions developed into something cruel as humanity slowly lost its respect for the beauty of nature?

  • Goat Song

    Posted on March 23rd, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed Brad Kessler’s Goat Song. Kessler does an incredible job of making his story relevant and surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down as I read about the process of raising the goats, to getting them through heat, to the milking process. The part that personally interested me the most was Kessler’s use of socialist and communist theory in his narrative. On page 59, Kessler discusses the theory of political theorist Friedrich Engels:

    “…the domestication of cattle was a pivotal point for human society. Once the wild bull was broken and used to plow fields he could also be used for trade. Some humans inevitably accumulated more cattle wealth than others….led to a growing inequality between those who had and those who hadn’t…”

    I’m less familiar with Engels than I am with Karl Marx, but having read the Marx-Engels Reader almost from cover to cover, I understand that Engels and Marx somewhat coincide, and I can say with confidence that the passage Kessler uses is describing the original commodification of  goods that ultimately led to our current capitalist society. I was so thrilled to see Kessler use this idea, partially due to the fact that I’m somewhat biased in my favoritism for Marx, but also because I really enjoy seeing Marx’s ideals used in such a modern way. Many argue that Marx and Engels are outdated, but Kessler gives us the reminder, with this passage and with his overall message, that our society has too great of a focus on goods, trading, and capital. In this particular passage, I believe Engels isn’t necessarily arguing against the whole idea of domestication, but rather the way that domestication led to the creation of another good; something else that people could own and therefore trade to collect wealth. Kessler’s message seems to be that the bond between humans and domesticated animals, that perhaps never really completely existed everywhere, needs some work.

    Kessler brings up Marx several more times, including his mention of the fetishism of  commodities, which is part of Marx’s theory that basically describes what happens when the labor used to create a product is added into the exchange value of the product, meaning the laborer also becomes an exchangeable good or commodity. I like that Kessler described the strenuous and meaningful process of bonding with his goats and putting the labor into creating cheese from their milk, and then brings up this idea of the fetishism to emphasize how this important process has turned into something meaningless in our society today. Although it wasn’t Marx’s original intent, I believe this idea can be applied to the animals as well. We have stopped (or perhaps never really did) valuing the animals that provide us with food and labor. We have added them into the mix of trading commodities. Kessler avoids changing his farm in order to be able to legally sell his cheese, only because he believes it will take away the meaning of what he’s doing, and I think he’s right. As Kessler so perfectly explains, “Largeness curses everything too; smallness was key” (p. 238). Our booming society, with its focus on mass production and rolling out goods to meet demand, has created a disconnect between our consciousness and how our food is really created, thus leading to a loss of appreciation for what the earth provides for us. I don’t mean to come across as some tree-hugging hippie, but I do think our society could really benefit from having a little deeper understanding of our connection to animals, like Kessler’s goats. As Kessler says, “Animal domestication is often thought of as a symbiotic relationship,” (p. 148) meaning it should be mutually beneficial. Animals have lost their benefits in our society, and our human benefits have lost meaning. Animals are raised in short and brutal lives and used as commodities, and if you ask me, it’s time we humans start living up to our end of the bargain.

  • Ancient humans and nature: not so harmonious afterall?

    Posted on March 2nd, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    Wildlife of Our Bodies really brought up some interesting points during this section of reading. I really tried to focus more on what Dunn was trying to convey rather than his writing style as we discussed in class. There was definitely one thought that stood out to me the most from the reading. Dunn explains the way in which we tend to think about ancient humans living in a perfect world, in complete harmony with nature. Dunn discusses this idea on page 114…

    “Let’s return to the Amazon. Across much of what we now tend to think of as the ‘pristine’ Amazon, civilizations and agriculture once flourished. They flourished at the margins of the forest in seasonal lands where good years are good, but bad years are very, very bad.”

    It’s in this section that Dunn explains the theory created by Leigh Binford. which descirbes the notion that agriculture was a measure taken by ancient humans when they were desperate, rather than being a product of invention as we tend to imagine. This idea hit me particularly hard, due to the fact that it’s something I’ve often considered. I’ve taken a course in environmental ethics, and we spent a lot of time talking about humans’ ideal relationship with nature. Commonly, I pictured ancient humans, running around with animals by their side, living in harmony with nature and taking only what they needed. I often felt that the relationship between humans and nature began to go downhill when humans became greedy and selfish and demanded more than nature could produce. However, the theory Dunn describes does not explain the actual course of events in this way. It seems that it was not human demand that spoiled the relationship, but rather the simple inability of nature to provide enough. Granted this is only one theory, it does hold some weight with me. Dunn also discusses a portion of this theory that describes humans having to move their settlements approximately every fifteen years as their communities became rampant with fleas, lice, and a lack of food supply. This paints a clear picture of a civilization of ancient humans that are struggling to assimilate to their surroundings. It’s important to remember that this is only one theory, and Dunn does go on to  explain other theories that could offer a different explanation. But regardless, I was glad to be given a alternative perspective to what I always imagined. It’s interesting to think that  despite the idea we often discussed in my ethics class that humans need to revert back to more harmonious relationship with nature, that perfect relationship may have never really existed. Is it possible that the development of agriculture and the process of humans exerting their control over nature was the only way to create a somewhat civil relationship between humans and nature? Based on this theory, it seems that agriculture was always destined to a part of the development of the earth; it seems like agriculture is just another step in evolution. I know we’ve had discussions about “natural” and how nothing is actually “natural,” therefore it could be interesting to bring up this discussion again including Binford’s theory and having the perspective that without agriculture and domestication of animals, humans, and perhaps many various animal and plant species, had no chance of survival in the natural world. The development of this relationship as it occurred may actually being mutually beneficial instead of parasitic.