Horses and Donkeys: Past to Present

Anthonys’ and Bulliets’ discussions of horses and donkeys paths to domestication really help to show the drastically different ways that animals come to be domesticated. Before this class, I viewed the domestication of animals as a sort of set in stone process that all animals followed to lose their wild instincts and aid humans, but throughout our readings it has become very evident that every animal has its own unique journey. It is truly astounding how some animals have worked their way into our lives as are the cases with both the horse and the donkey. For the horse it seems that it was simple as favorable winter eating habits while for the donkey it boils down to being well endowed. Such simple behaviors and attributes have led to societies that revolve around these animals in all aspects of their lives. It is hard to imagine how much history would be changed if these beasts of burden hadn’t pawed through the ice to get a drink of water on a cold winter day.

Even more relevant to me were all of the different methods that anthropologists make use of to obtain all the data we have on these domestication processes. The creativity they use to come up with answers is phenomenal. I pride them in continuing to press on with new methods and discoveries when they well know that many of the questions they are asking will never have definitive answers. No matter how much we look at the evidence of early domestication, short of time travel, we can never be certain exactly what happened; yet day in and day out these individuals head in to work and continue to try. I hope that I can be that interested and driven in my future endeavors. This was a bit of a side note but I couldn’t help but mention it just to see if any one else found this interesting. Anyways back to the blog.

Both Anthony and Bulliet’s accounts drew me in, but I must admit that it was the story of the donkey that I  found most interesting. I know we have all been very hard on Bulliet and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers but I did find his ideas on the domestication of donkeys to be interesting. Bulliet’s discussion of the development of the donkey throughout its history with humans shed a light on a side of the donkey that I was not familiar with. I have always associated the donkey with simplicity and farm life but all of the religious and sexual ties were new to me. The donkeys ties with sex and religion do provide an answer to the reason for the donkeys initial domestication which I must admit always puzzled me. The donkey never really provided the things that other domesticated species did, such as milk or meat. Also, it didn’t seem to me that the donkey could have been domesticated solely for its use as a beast of burden, as other animals that have additional uses could have filled this role. However, sex is a powerful force throughout human history, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how any animal with such strong sexual ties could slowly be incorporated into human society. Sadly, it seems that the donkey has been on a steady decline throughout its history, and regardless of the validity of Bulliets arguments, it is a very good example of how domesticated animals slowly become objectified as their purpose shifts from affective uses to material ones.

In addition, as I mentioned in my last post, I really like learning about word and phrase origins. Bulliet had some very unique explanations for the origins of many of the different terms that developed around the “ass”. It is really cool to learn where words that pop up without a second thought everyday really come from. The next time I hear someone called a dumb ass it will bring a much different picture to mind. Also the whole development of the “dunce cap” finally explained how such a seemingly strange punishment came to be. It was great to add a couple more things to my bag of useless fun facts!

I thought these readings opened up a lot of new discussion topics, as well as built up many of the past thoughts we have discussed. I look forward to reading everyone’s posts and hearing what you all have to say on Tuesday.


I Think I Wasn’t Talkative Enough This Week

Or: Camilla, Why are You Blogging Extra?


After leaving class this week, I realized that I had failed to communicate two of my highly relevant thoughts during our (slightly meandering) discussion. Maybe I was thinking too hard about taking notes or maybe I just think slowly. I don’t know. Anyway, here they are, in no particular order.

1. I do not dislike Bulliet. I actually think that Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is eminently readable and presents a lot of really interesting ways of looking at (and categorizing) the past. I think that our class (including me!) has beaten up on Bulliet because he is an easy target–he is highly and unapologetically opinionated. However, I do not always think that that is bad. Sometimes, particularly as an older academic (as Bulliet is), you can and should express your opinion without apologizing for it.
2. I think that there is a huge amount of value to knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Of course, application is important, but what is application based upon, if not knowledge? What inspired us first to understand the inner working of an atom or to fly to the moon? Knowledge. Poets don’t write poems because they are useful. I would argue that similarly, true scientists don’t do science because it is useful. How can we be of any service to the world, anyway, until we have a solid knowledge of its workings? If knowledge is not a high priority, the application or utility of the knowledge will certainly be second-rate.

Oh Bulliet

As I continue my readings on domestication, I admit that I had grossly underestimated its importance before taking this class.  I imagined the studying of domestication would simply involve discussing animals subject to its effect.  I never imagined the investigation of its entire cause and effect.  Now that I have been confronted with this challenge, I must admit that I have become obsessed with all it involves.  I appreciate the difficulty and controversies Bulliet must overcome in order to adequately address this topic.  I have come to learn that domestication is the cause for much of what is today, and there can be no definite definition or origin for something so encompassing.  As Bulliet delves deeper into this topic I find myself questioning the motives for his logic as well as conclusions he makes along the way.
I was really excited for this reading because it felt like Bulliet was actually heading towards a well-grounded conclusion at times.  His conclusion that the sequence of hunter to herder to famer was unlikely, was well received in my mind.  In my previous reading of this book I thought that Bulliet had made it clear that the domestication of flora and fauna were not as linked as some may think.  He cited civilizations that existed on the basis of just flora or just fauna, a view that seemed to contradict both mine and Diamond’s opinion.  Whether I misunderstood Bulliet’s stance on the relationship between the domestication of plants and animals, his conclusion that animal domestication must have followed agriculture improvement restored my confidence in him.  Bulliet continues to gain my respect when he refutes Galton’s claim that all large animals had been tested for domestication by our ancestors.  As cited in the book, domestication is able to be achieved even now in species like foxes and reindeer.  This is where I am glad Bulliet and Diamond have a difference in opinion.  Diamond seemed satisfied with the notion that only a set amount of animals could be domesticate while others could not.  I believe that some species are more ideal to succumb to domestication but I also believe it can be achieved on a larger scope than Diamond cares to admit, a view that I gathered Bulliet shares in too.
Regarding the question of why some animals respond better to the stress of domesticity, Bulliet compares adrenaline in tame and wild species.  This sparked my immediate interest because it presented some of the first scientific evidence behind why some animals are easier to manage than others.  I also believe that these results support my stance that many if not all animals can eventually be domesticated.  Using this science it seems possible to me that humans can target things like lower adrenaline and lower production of certain chemicals in species that seem particularly difficult to domesticate.  It makes sense to me that just because a certain species does not have lowered adrenaline, does not mean that this is not achievable.  Some unseen variable that humans are in charge of must be able to be tweaked to achieve this affect.
As my reading continued I agreed with some other substantial claims that Bulliet made such as the voluntary cohabitation of species and the tameness of some species arising from the lack of predators.  What I disagree with is the lack of credit Bulliet gives to humans regarding domestication.  His canary example meant to illustrate the dumb luck and obliviousness of humans to domestication was ridiculous to me.  He made the point that no other birds were domesticated despite the popularity of canaries.   According to him this lack of attempt shows that we did not have the means or will to accomplish domestication as we wanted it.   My point is why would a business seeking man attempt to domesticate something that is close to a current fad but not the exact thing?  Canaries were what people wanted, so canaries were what people domesticated.
My last qualm comes from what I see as a cop out of Bulliet.  His dismissal of meat, milk and power as a reason for domestication seemed unlikely at first but ultimately had me convinced.  I was disappointed that he believed animal sacrifice was the reason behind undertaking the difficulties of domestication.  It being rooted in religion makes sense because as we travel deeper into human motives and history, religion usually presents a starting point.  I still do not know if I’m completely convinced but I do know that this answer raises more questions than a true answer would.

The Utility of Categories

An instructor’s first post. Inspired by Camilla and Alex

The intensity of the group’s responses to HHH gave me pause – mostly of the good kind. Although we rejected many of Bulliet’s claims, it’s clear that the conceptual categories of “pre-domestic, domestic, post-domestic” got us thinking about our contemporary sensibilities in new and provocative ways.  So, from my perspective, this was a good day!

I was especially struck by Camilla’s ruminations on how her own practices and beliefs support and confound certain aspects of the postdomestic paradigm.  While I’m loathe to engage blogging as a kind of confessional, after reading her reflection on the Utility of Categories  I’m offering the following in further support and recognition of the sweet spots and contradictions of Bulliet’s categories:

I am a native of Western Kansas. My father’s family homesteaded in Smith County, a vast mesa of prairie earth at the geographic center of the continental US.  My childhood revolved around summers spent on the family farm (then in Southern Missouri), where I helped slop hogs, feed chickens, and tend calves, and spent endless hours fussing over the horses and pony that drew me away from the air-conditioned comfort of suburbia to the sweltering humidity of the fields. I ate meat.  Lots of meat.  Most of it came from animals raised on the farm. I thought it was perfectly normal to have a freezer in the garage full of beef and pork. Mine was a “domestic” upbringing, even if I’m too young to have experienced the full-blown era of domesticity Bulliet describes.  I loved animals.  I had pets from wood, field and stream as well as dogs and cats.  And I ate animals.  Lots of animals.

I did have qualms, though.  My grandfather gave me a calf every summer and I always chose a heifer, partly so my herd would expand and partly because I knew cows were more likely to remain in the pasture for several years than steers were.  When I went to college in California, my grandfather sold my herd off to help pay my room and board.  I tried not to think about where my cows ended up — I had raised them and watched over them for many years.  At the same time I encountered what passed for meat in a college dining hall.  I was not impressed.  So I quit eating it and discovered that all of the non-meat food that had never been part of our hamburger / pork chop cuisine was really tasty!  I didn’t really miss meat, but when I went home for Christmas, my mouth watered at the prospect of a good steak dinner.

I couldn’t finish the steak.  It tasted greasy and heavy and made my intestines very unhappy.  I waited a couple days and tried a hamburger.  Same problem.  I was bummed.  And then it occurred to me that this wasn’t a bad thing.  Like most people, I ate meat because I liked it.  Once I no longer liked it, and eating it made me feel sick, an array of rationales for the new normal appeared.  The main one was the unnecessary killing – sacrificing creatures, some of whom I knew as individuals, just because I wanted to eat them seemed senseless and selfish.  I wasn’t much worried about the “factory farm” issue at that point.  The livestock I knew ranged freely, ate well, raised their young themselves, and did not fear predators. I just realized that I found living animals more attractive than dead ones.  I was also impressed with the work of Francis Moore Lappe, and welcomed the prospect of helping people and the environment by eating lower on the food chain.  I was also powerfully impressed by how terribly my gut hurt when I ate that steak.  How could meat be good for you if it made you feel so awful?  And so, more than thirty years ago, I slipped into vegetarianism; not, as Bulliet would have it, out of a “post-domestic” revulsion over imagined animal suffering and death, and estrangement from actual livestock.(cf. pp. 15-18).  No, the shift for me was facilitated by an entirely unintended consequence of foregoing something previously tasty long enough to (accidentally) lose the taste for it. With the desire to eat meat gone, it was easy to reject nearly all of the philosophical moves and practical ploys that put it on my plate in the first place.

There’s more to my “domestic” evolution in the era of “post-domesticity,” but it will have to wait for another evening.




H, H and H

Hunters, Herders and Hamburgers takes its readers on an in depth investigation of the causes and reasons of domestication.  The dissection of domestication is proven difficult in this book as evidenced by the author addressing both sides of many debates on this topic as plausible.  In many instances regarding the classification and causes of domestication, Bulliet admits that some things cannot be known for certain.  After reading “Evolutionary History” I am not surprised by Bulliet’s struggles in defining such an encompassing topic.  I was impressed with his ability to divide the life span of domestication into separate stages, if not only for the convenience of organizing his thoughts.  In doing this he presented an interesting comparison on domesticity and post domesticity.
The longevity of sex and blood in our society while many other vices such as drugs and crime have abated, can be explained by the post domestic culture according to Bulliet.  As society has advanced the consumer has become shielded to the horrors of the harvesting of meat.  In post domestic society the animals we eat are no more than meat in a container.  Only the domestic culture (farmers and butchers) are troubled with the killing of animals.  Post domestic society has also been pacified in regards to experiencing and witnessing sex.  On a farm one can witness many acts of sex and even participate in sexual acts with animals.  Since post domestic society has been robbed of this firsthand experience of blood and sex, fantasy has taken its place.   I have problems with this stance as it seems to be a bit of a stretch.  I do not believe that violence against animals in order to gather meat is enough of a stimulant to completely separate domestic and post domestic culture.  I see little advantage on the battlefield of someone who has killed chickens over someone who has not.  Bulliet tries to make a point that the violence in domestic life can toughen a man for battle.  But can you truly say the killing of an livestock animal in order to feed a population prepares a man to kill another free willed human being whom is loved by others?   I do not deny the presence of blood in our society but I do not view it as an answer to the violence lost from the domestic lifestyle.  Bulliet claims that fantasy blood has to keep increasing in order to make up for the lack of real violence.  This is to say that real violence would be enough for a society who experiences it.  With the recent gun debate addressing fantasy violence in movies as a reason for recent acts of horror, I find it hard to believe fewer horrors would occur in a society completely based on real violence.   Fantasy violence also has it limits, a point at which it is so extreme that it loses credibility.
I found the differences in the thought towards animals in domestic and post domestic society very interesting.  The changes in film and cartoons like King Kong clearly show a change in attitudes towards animals.  Compassion from those who are distant from the killing and butchering of animals is growing.  If this compassion were absent as we evolved and demand grew, everything around us would become extinct.  The lion atop his food chain does not need question the killing of an endangered species.  As humans, we are atop every food chain and it is our responsibility to watch over the animals below us.  The imposition of our will upon animals is a heavily debated topic.  Things become even more muddled when if you consider humans as just another animal.  Are we bounding and taking advantage of our brothers and sisters?  Or are we truly meant to be dominant.  Regarding humans it is easy to believe that our whole is more than a sum of our parts.  Is the same true of animals?  From a personal standpoint and as exemplified by society it is clear that we think ourselves separate.  It is hard to decide whether or not civilized life is a blessing or a curse.  Are the benefits of one species worth the domination of all others?  In my opinion it seems that one species would always end up dominating.  I have read articles in the past that claim if it weren’t for the destruction of the dinosaurs, velociraptors would have ruled as humans due.  Survival of the fittest supports this.  The discussion of why were are the fittest and how we became the fittest rose more question than answers for me in this reading.  Are speech and society and product of evolution, or did we evolve more rapidly because of it.  As stated it can be proven that humans already hunted out of their class before speech was prevalent.
One last thing I found interesting about this reading was the relationship of domestication of animals and plants.  The video we watched previously clearly discussed the link between domestication of animals and plants.  Bulliet, however, sees less of a relationship and sites peoples that thrived on just the domestication of animals or just the domestication of plants.  I would agree more with this statement because it proves that just the act of domestication was significant and didn’t require the domestication of plants and animals to cause change.