Hokie students call on Virginia Tech officials to divest from Fossil Fuels

This is worth writing an unofficial blog post.

Remember that square of orange felt I wore Tuesday? That symbol of the divestment movement is the color orange, rather than green, to reframe the movement’s scope as much larger than an environmental issue. Divestment from fossil fuels is not a single-issue movement. This is a space where environmental justice, climate justice, and economic justice have come into contact. It means those who wear it understand they will not win the fight against the fossil fuel industry without confronting racism, classism, homophobia, and other systems of oppression.

At the convergence we began conversations about intersectionality and historical responsibility on an international scale.

Is Anything (even divesting VT’s 600 million dollars from fossil fuels) possible when you believe in it? When you take action because you believe in your and the collective ability to create it? These Virginia Tech students definitely do. Watch this student-created You Tube Video: 

Divest Virginia Tech 

Do you think a student movement can sway University officials to change their relationship with their endowment? Can we still make a reasonable return without investing in Exxon or Peabody Coal?

I am proud of the Hokies who have and are inheriting the spirit of being a Virginia Tech student. That is, we believe it is our responsibility to invent the (right) future.



Happy Earth Day, domestication scholars! Celebrate on campus during Earth Week at Virginia Tech. Now, to the RATS.

In 9th grade I memorized this monologue from the Miracle Worker Anne Sullivan when she explains her experience in the asylum, “Rats, why my brother Jimmie and i used to play with the rats because we didn’t have toys. Maybe you’d like to know what Helen will find there, not on visiting days? one ward was full of the old women, crippled, blind, most of them dying, but even if what they had was catching there was no where else to put them, so that’s where they put us. There were younger ones across the hall, prostitutes mostly, with T.B., and epileptic fits, and some of the kind who- kept after other girls, especially young ones, and some insane. Some just had the DT’s. The youngest were in another ward to have babies they didn’t want, started at 13,14. they’d leave afterwords but the babies stayed and we played with them too, though most had-sores- all over, from diseases you’re not supposed to talk about. The first year we had 80, 70 died. The room Jimmie and I played in was the dead house, where they kept the bodies until they could dig the graves.

I can’t recall the entire piece from memory but, I know it begins powerfully with “Rats,” and that word, the idea of the animal sets the stage for the sickness and death descriptions of a wretched place that follows.

I found the readings about rats very interesting. I’m not sure if I consider them a “domesticated” animal but our evolutionary relationships with them are clearly (and sometimes not so clearly) significant.

At this point in my “human-animal relationship” analysis career I have come to the understanding that if we follow the expansion and movement of humans we will too find close behind their domestic animals. To understand human development and expansion was to know domestic animal development and expansion and vice versa. This relative rule of thumb is true for the rat. The animal I associate with the bubonic plague. Or as Burt summarizes it in The Multiple Meaning of Laboratory Animals: Standardizing Mice for Cancer Research, “The rat is, as some writers have phrased it, a twin of the human, and their mutual history is dark.”

Rats were not understood to carry disease until the mid 19th century. Seen as thieves and pests to eradicate, Burt discusses the question of how rats came to have such low status, since they were not hated or feared. 

Is it because it is associated with danger in our perception? Our relationship to the rat is not just a physical one but one of perception and ideas. The idea that our relationship with an animal can be influenced by simple perception might have serious effects on the next era as humans today do not interact with the animals they eat.

Yet, we admire rats. “The lascivious, greedy and cannibalistic rat…” engages in acts of human sin. They thrive in our gullies and sewers surprisingly manage to avoid toxic pollution exposure. They are smart, adaptable, and even, for some, beautiful.


effluvia  plural of ef·flu·vi·um N. An unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge.

The reading proposes the idea that rats survive on the effluvia of human society, thinking of rats as our mirror species. This thought means then rats do come from the dark place (discussed in it being the devil and similar things) but are essential to it. The rat in its harboring of disease and other participation in dark things, has an influence on humans, the rat can be thought strongly as a synonym to human destructiveness. 

At the beginning of the 20th century human associations of rats was that of fear and that relationship to the natural history of the rat is from the many experiments done with the purpose to eliminate and control.

Reading “the multiple meanings of laboratory animals” I’ve got to say it makes sense that our hate and diastase for the mouse (and.. rat) led them to be our object of experimentation.  “MWAHAHA” (sorry, I could not help myself). The reading highlighted just how much our culture and institutions shape our perception, treatment and relationship to mice, rats, and all other animals we interact with in general. It’s a simple understanding yet the many evolutionary, genetic, cultural, and psychological dimensions are complex.

What do you think when you think about Rats?


This is also cool: Once every 48 years, bamboo forests in Northeast India go into flower, and black rats descend upon them, like a plague. Watch it here.




Creating Global Consciousness

Since last Tuesday I’ve been entertaining the notion that we, individually and collectively, can contribute to global consciousness though our writing created in a blog. It’s not a secret that I believe we can collectively create a good future and each of us individually have the ability to do so. Very truly, our experiences, creations, relationships, attitudes, and more are the things that create our ever-changing global consciousness, or better known as, our culture.

I think it is in that prospective where I discover my problem with (or at least my little preference for) the scientific biological genetic study of domestic animals. Evolution is simple, I previously nievely thought. I want to talk about individuals from the standpoint of conscious decisions. Like I explained in class last Tuesday, we can choose to achieve our ends though love or though pain (and arguably everywhere in between), we choose what we do, we chose how we do it, we chose our feelings, and we choose what qualities and values make up our character. Therefore, we collectively determine our culture, otherwise known as global consciousness, because we have complete control over what we do and who we are (or do we??).

I’ll admit there are other factors that influence our personal and global characters. What class hierarchy or geographic location one is born into will determine their probability of achieving a higher level of society mitigated by the amount of hard work and determination of the individual. But are these inequalities enough to say you don’t have enough time to create the right future? Do you not have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein?

As it may be, life might be just what this picture below explains.  It’s from a family general store blog about smart and conscious purchasing of canning jars and explained that, “to have a can of peaches was to preserve in a glass jar the memory of a summer day to be remembered in savory-peach-ripeness in the cold days of winter.”

Is life 10% genetics/biology and 90% personal influence/human control? More seriously, I was intrigued to learn how much understanding of the domestication of animals can shed light on the relationship between biology and culture.

Genetic evolution of a species and their respective characteristics, as a basic idea, is simple enough. The psychological character of an individual in a species is not strongly inherited – this is the difficulty of the selection process.

Variability, something humans can’t check or control, is the key to this understanding of human-animal domestic relationships created by biological and cultural pressures.

Domestic animals are integrated into the social life of humans. Pets, entertainment, food, clothes and various other commodities make domestic animals a product of both culture and evolution. Humans have influenced the evolution of animals but genetic variability prevents a perfect expected result. Humans can influence culture but their influence on civilization is dependent on factors like space, land and its contours, climate, vegetation, etc.

It is variability, then, I need to more fully consider when studying the historical relationship developments between humans and animals. After the readings this week, I see a web of moving, interconnected, influenced, influencing and variable parts that make up the history of global consciousness.

I better go ahead and accept that we may not have control over all things but we have  control over somethings. What we can influence with our mindful actions [such as writing a blog to discover thought to contribute to global consciousness, raising chickens in your backyard, or becoming a vegetarian] might be the most important understanding to consider when we’re living our lives. If you’re still convinced genetics and biology dictate the total system your question is, “What is our capacity to influence the future of genetics and biology?”

Or as explained by this pintrest pin quote:

& this is not referring to working your donkey…


How things came to be, Donkeys, Language, and the Wheel for Transportation

I find the bestiality paradigm almost shocking assumed Bullet’s normality of it. Seriously, given our perception and relationship throughout time, donkeys?! I agree with Camilla, apparently bestiality was not frowned upon back then like it is today. Sure, sexual preferences are (for most) an intimate topic. I can reasonably see a present-day discussion of sexual preferences to include and not be ridiculed for what Bulliet explained as a rise of sexual fantasies between humans. Perhaps that would be what it might feel like to discuss bestiality back then: private but normal. Today, if an intimate sexual preference discussion included bestiality, it would be not so easily received (and not viewed as “natural”).

The discussion of the merging of the words “ass,” a donkey and, “arse,” a person’s bum that was too vulgar to use in public, made me realize that perhaps the entire origin of our language would provide clues about who we were and what our relationships were like throughout history. It was only in America that the confusion of the world surfaced (in Brittan “arse” is still the only vulgar word).Maybe this confusion of the words in America points to our increasing disconnect to our deep evolutionary history. Is it possible that this lack of word origin understanding (among other factors) positioned us to develop a post-domestic society (categories again!) of industrial agriculture? This fits nicely with the “dumb-ass” discussion question Camilla posted.

I found The Horse, the Wheel, and Language readings intriguing. The horse chapter had more horse-specific data and measurements than I have ever really cared to understand. The results can be appreciated nevertheless. For example, bit wear (as so defined in the reading) indicates that a horse has been ridden or driven. It was interesting to note that large horse herds would have been difficult to keep without riding them. I think back to our discussions of animal predispositions allowing them to form bonds with humans, where there is a horse (or a dog or a dolphin, etc) there is a human who will try to ride it.

The invention of the wheel is monumental. I enjoyed the explanation of how it connected cultures across the land into one interacting system. It was the wheel for the carriage pulled by domesticates that created a new global consciousness; a transportation revolution! (Similarly, I think it is time for another revolution in transport that redefines our relationship with oil and fossil fuels but that’s another discussion entirely)

We’re taking about our heritage and a food system that began by innovation, geographic luck, and animal propensity.

Finally I enjoyed recognizing the inherent errors our system of historical, scientific, and other types of studies. It does not mean we should stop studying. It means we must be so adaptable and flexible to include the standard deviations, or error percentages of information in the dark or not accounted for. If you ask me, there’s something to the old fashioned beliefs that make sense like preserving your food the
old fashioned way”.

Real Food: goat milk and cheese

The answers to the following questions might be scary. How much do we know about where our food comes from today? How do we determine if we will eat something?

Goat Song is the present-day first-person account by a man who moved from NYC with wife to herd goats in the Vermont countryside. Among many things, I began to understand what can be gained: having true understanding of life achieved by herding animals as informed by history. (Perhaps, there IS great significance in understanding historical evolutionary human – animal relationships.)

This post will hopefully make logical seance as salient points throughout the book’s four sections naturally including my own thoughts, questions for discussion, and material quoted that made an impression on me.

Speaking of Thoreau, “I admired how he wove literary culture and agriculture into one fabric – pen in one hand, hoe in the other-and how he understood that alongside civil disobedience, the most active thing one could do on earth was produce one’s own food. 

The process of rediscovering animal husbandry begins with animal familiarity. Kessler’s writings present the case that keeping domestic animals begins with familiarly and hard work,  which is the foundation for a deep understanding of animals and our latter awareness of the world. Using EO Wilson as a reference Kessler explains that to understand life, one must understand by following living beings and observing their life. How much is our human world understanding altered by seeing animal husbandry as keeping livestock on an industrial scale produced for identical product distribution in an effort to maximize economic gain? Is it possible for true wisdom and knowledge be achieved though other means than hard work? 

Part of the rediscovery process is learning to identify signs in animals and although foreign at first, this skill has the capacity to quickly become second nature. Like detecting heat in does, for example, was learned though experience and collaboration with those who have done it before. “Mary Beth had a grace around animals that came from many years of goat wrangling.” I’m familiar with this characteristic of not being flustered as it reminds me of my grandma who lived her whole life on a farm. Once I saw her kill a hurt crow on the ground without hesitation with a golf club. It’s common sense that can only be gained by experiences in doing.

What influences (and/or should be the influences to) the sharing of animal husbandry information and resources? Consider the selling of Buck sperm for reproduction and the giving of a French cheese recipe. How are the factors of market competition, good will, private gain for providing information, subsistence of culture and tradition, among many rated to influence what and how information is shared between keepers of domestic goats and other animals? It seams to be that the subjective and earthly-connection quality to fresh milk (its essence purely an artistic expression for eating) encourages producers to more freely share information as it is a celebration of discovered joy to share with more people. It is not motivated by profit achievable. Can profit driven livestock food products be such that they spread joy?

“Or perhaps the mark of the artisan is that he or she gives away their craft, that culture is passed in this way, without trademarks or copyrights – but as a simple gift.”

There were many examples of goat behavior throughout the book which can be partially or fully attributed to one or more factors in genetics, individual behavior differences based on experience  and our cultural evolution. What were some examples you found?

There is relevant discussion that should take place surrounding the perception of goats throughout cultures (the Greek god Pan, for example) and how those perceptions influence our behavior and attitudes today. Does viewing the “mating” of goats as “Kind of Romantic” or as a business deal make a difference?

The way animals behave inform our decisions of how we treat them. Should humans rid their herd of a stubborn goat? Put down an animal that is very sick? There might be much meaning to aid our decision making in the words, “You need humility…to live with goats-and you need a good sense of humor.” How could humility help us determine how we treat our animals and are their other frameworks the book presented that would be useful? 

The behavior of goats interestingly offers evidence to environmental sustainability. Goats “waste” a lot of hay, 1/4 falls to the ground and is not eaten. However this hay serves as a thermal mass, effectively retaining heat to keep the barn interior warmer in the winter months. An understanding of natural application of environmental regulating techniques, like using hay to store heat or understanding the entire life-cycle impacts of something like recognizing manure as a part of the process, could aid society in their social acceptance in their inclusion in future development.

Do you agree or disagree with “The Question: How does a human and not the intended offspring obtain milk from a lactating animal?” and “The Answer: By Cohesion and Deceit” offered by Kessler? Is their substantial evidence to disagree?

The milk of domestic animals I found to be exceptionally interesting. Why is it not currently socially believable that commercial milk cows fed corn are sick animals and produce sick milk that is cooked to eliminate dirtiness. There are many properties of raw milk (amino acids, good bacteria, ect) that apparently make it much better than pasteurized. Even so, would you drink raw milk and how risky do you think it would be? Is producing your own raw milk different than buying it from a farmers market directly from the farmer or buying it from a market shelf who bought it from a farmer? Does the increased distance between the milked animal and the drinker of milk increases, perhaps, the distrust of milk?

It was surprising to read about the many bits that make up our daily life have roots in pastoralism. It created evidence to validate that domesticated animals are truly a part of who and why we are.

It was once the bull was used for trade that the inequality between in rich and poor began to grow across the planet. “Before money talked, it walked.” In short, the big picture is that “the mother of our culture is agriculture; all other arts sprang from it.” Is to forget this art of our food to lose part of our culture and possibly our happiness?

The making of cheese, when the author achieved a “clean break”, was described as “somewhat erotic.” Why was this (cheese making) so appealing? I think it has something to do with the amount of work, skill and dedication (that we have lost collective value for, culturally) that manifests the rare, raw, variable, trusting and art form that is cheese.

Even getting in hay for the winter, the hard work that it is, showed the strengthening of family bonds though their mutual work with real purpose.

I love these photos from a smart local business in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Bailing hay must be done with proper processing to ensure the nutritional content for the animal, and importantly, for us. As Kessler explains his experience  “I’d been a part of that time and place, in concert with season and earth, a participant in one on the oldest piscatorial events… A reminder that a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” Would a common person, uneducated in the deep history of culture reach this same feeling or does a full understanding mean one must be educated to allow experiences to have such significance?

When Kessler traveled to France he described the cheese making process, “Everything on the farm had to be immaculate; inspections are rigorous for organic and unpasteurized dairies.” Can this, as opposed to farms who simply “cook the uncleanliness away,” be considered to produce food with more value, more freshness, and more nutrition? Do these factors make one food more “real” than another?

The biggest point of personal consideration is determining the value of good nutrition (in very real physical effects) and thus deciding from what kind of farm should I purchase from and support. The collective social answer to this question will determine the future of food to be created.

Socrates once said in a bold statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”



“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Wolf to Dogwolf to Dog

I appreciate the arguments and assumptions presented by Derr as logical with some genetic and scientific knowledge. The Russell article calling for an integration of science and history as the study of “evolutionary history” was right; they allow for a more informed understanding.

History is about studying relationships and their influence in why things are, but understanding how and why domesticated animals emerged in evolutionary history is not so simple. We do not know what or how varied the relationship characteristics were like between humans and dogs or dogwolves. Genetics could aid our understanding of relationships since the study of relationships and genetics are measured on the same time scale of years and decades, as long as the proper geological time – measured in tens of thousands to billions of years – can be determined.

I have embraced genetics to help understand how the dog became the dog.

To learn the origins of the dog one must, “consider the animals involved – human and wolf – highly social, tactically minded, pack-hunting global wanderers.”

Wolf and human were drawn to each other by their great sociability and curiosity, and they stayed together because of their mutual utility.

The origin of the dog has been complicated to pinpoint through the mixing of dogwolves and the relationship of wolves and early humans.

Dogwolves: n. the off-spring of socialized wolves; “wolves that genetically and behaviorally are dogs; genetic profile more closely aligns with dog than wolf and because they live and reproduce in human society.” They do not have the physical characteristics of the modern dog breeds.

The area of focus shifts from understanding how wolf became dog W2D to how the dog became the dog D2D to determine what genetic mutations caused physical changes to arise in particular dogwolf lines, how did they become highly desired and how they helped determine dogs of today.

Genetic mutations of distinct physical effects can be linked with physiological characteristics and, arguably perhaps behavioral variations. One interesting physiological difference between wolf and dog is the delayed fear-response in dog puppies that allows them to be social and curious for 6 weeks longer before entering the “fear-period” of development.

Humans use selective breeding to make dogs more obedient and give them a more human or “civilized” appearance to match a more “civilized” behavior. How much do the physical genetic variations of selective breeding determine behavior? Could civilized behavior exist in previous generations prior to physical mutations? How much would these answers allow us to understand differences between early human relationships with wolves, dogwolves, and dogs?

There are many variations of human, social, and cultural relationships associated with D2D across the globe and to know how behavioral and physical traits and genetics influenced each other in D2D is quite the complex task.

The domestic evolution of any animal must be considered with their relationships with humans. The process of D2D (and all domesticated animals) is influenced by human society. Derr explains our social influence as a tendency to strip all wild from the dog. This extension from individual human-dog relationships to human society-dog relationships is evidence that our culture is not one that deals well with ambiguity, ambivalence, paradox, and border zones. Domesticating removes the contradiction.

Domestication is a continuing process aimed at bringing up an animal or plant to the point where humans control all important aspects of its life, including reproduction and freedom of movement from birth to death.

Yet, we value dogs because they connect us to a simpler world outside ourselves and our categories.

As Derr wrote in the beginning, “our obligation today, when we and our dogs grow increasingly distant from the world of our forebears…is to think about whether on this journey, we are doing right by our companion every step of the way.” What are our moral duties to our best evolutionary friend? Dogs and Humans have each benefitted in their long relationship in many ways. So far, the logical conclusion I have reached for determining our obligations to our dog companions begins by somehow balancing our social civilized needs and our personal needs for a wild connection.

Is it possible to violate our moral duties by domesticating too much wild out of the dog for society? Does human value for that wild connection to a previous world make any difference to our responsibility?  This question of too much domestication, of course, does not take into account the paradoxical nature of the animal – “people succeeded to a remarkable degree in creating the dog of their desire, even if it is not the one they want.”

Perhaps the details of our relationships just “are” and irrelevant since the future may be predetermined anyway, deliberates this blog post from last week.

Or as Derr so eloquently put all that has happened since W2D and D2D (or W2D2D for short), “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Feeling the Magic of Reindeer?

Never before had I thought to consider ancient or current civilizations who live(ed) in the quite large geographic regions home to reindeer. Maybe it’s something about the deep cold or seasonal changes seemingly different than my own. Nevertheless, I am astonished by the meanings of their traditions and the pervasiveness of the reindeer in the human cultures which thrived there and around the globe.

The reindeer process of domestication at the beginning seems to be an impossible puzzle. How could no word from the language be able to encompass both domesticated and wild reindeer? How could there be no evidence of successfully domesticating reindeer in the present? The author presents two theories. (1) Domestication may have happened further south in conjunction with other animals or (2) could have occurred with the Tungus people living east of lake Baikal. The only other time I’ve heard of Lake Baikal was watching the movie, “The Way Back” with the characterization of Siberia and the area there as the only true prison. It was reindeer that allowed thousands of miles to be colonized. Does having a partner in nature help humans survive in that nature through unconscious increased trust?

In previous blog posts about milk I have been dismissing the idea that the domestication of animals could have been for other uses than food. What else is a more basic need than a reliable food supply as an argument for domestication emergence? No reindeer were kept on a large scale for eating until after 1600 but were domesticated 3,000 years ago.

The trip the author made to Sebyan pained an interesting picture of a different culture paradigm founded on the surrounding nature. It was not the mileage but the, “capriciousness of these mountains that made Sebyan so inaccessible.” Despite the harsh landscape, the village was made and life within it was rich and complex. By using the materials in the harsh landscape the people respected the harshness and could then happily exist within it. To what degree are our ideas changed when humans completely alter their landscapes to an unrecognizable human utility form? Or is it just a consequence of the landscape being too harsh to completely control? Can it be said that the reindeer is a unique domesticated animal because of its environment?

“The species wavers between timidity and curiosity, poised paradoxically either to flee or explore.”

To think possible that the stay in a remote Russian log-cabin village in the middle of the arctic tundra would feel like a metropolis is to rethink how our relationship with nature may dictate how we live our lives and how we form relationships with the animals in them.

It’s sadly logical to understand why Russian policies would have tried to prevent the perpetual migration of human settlements following reindeer since it was seen as a “backward” idea. Altering this fundamental relationship of responding to the environment though nomadism or migrating together in annual cycles is still a central problem to reindeer herders today.

A beginning section concluded beautifully in the hopes that his children one day may have reindeer of their own. This possibility so remote due to the structure of communist society but, was not too much for Vitebsky to make clear his feeling that human partnership with reindeer should be part of life. It began easier to understand why such culture, tradition and religion surrounded the reindeer.  The more I read the more I believed they were a little bit magical.

This photo I found here with the caption, “No child of the tundra Yukaghirs ever falls out of these saddles. Reindeer are entrusted even with cradles containing young babies.”

I could consider how the domestication of reindeer at first seems to be somewhat different than other animals due to the spiritual connection. Was this made possible by my own cultural heritage of magical reindeer of Christmas? Could it be true that other domesticated animals were understood at this deep spiritual level too? And, perhaps, has that has allowed for their successful domestication? If so, could it explain why we cannot achieve such a result (the domestication process) with a focus on genetic traits and evolutionary science void of human connection to the individual animal itself?

Perhaps we may never know.

For now all I can say is this spiritual connection and trust reminds me of Christmas nights spent as a child in the snowy Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Hunter-Gather Relationships, Domination and Humans, The Mayan Apocalypse 2012, and Milk

Hunter-Gather Relationships

It was quite the realization to understand that hunter-gathers model their relationships with their environment on the institution of sharing, also the basis of interpersonal relationships in the community. Likewise they value trust, “to trust someone is to act with that person in mind, in the hope and expectation that she will do likewise – responding in ways favorable to you. That favorable response is what you depend on and it comes entirely on the initiative or violation of the other party.”

It was earlier this week that I digested this facebook post from Que Lo Que, a Non Goveremental Organization with mission is to, “To reduce ethnocentrism and cultural misconceptions in the United States by building relationships and communication networks that tell the true story of those living in the developing world.”

It stands to reason that reducing ethnocentrism, or our cultural bias, can come from increased awareness about the way things could be by learning lessons of practicing ideas of trust and confidence inherent in communities who do depend on one another for food and everyday services. However it is becoming clearer that our ethnocentrism comes not from a lack of understanding of trust but from our relationships with animals and the environment based on domination.

Domination and humans separate from nature

I would like to first consider a book I’ve read recently, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. For millions of years, Homo Sapiens and our predecessors lived sustainably as a part of earth’s ecosystem; it has only been for a few thousand years, since the agricultural revolution, that we have continuously overstepped our means and entered into a war of sorts with earth. Our culture of “takers” (as named by Quinn) assumes that we have dominion over earth and its life and resources. This viewpoint of dominion places us into a community of rulers who must extend control over the earth, but simultaneously takes us out of the community we previously belonged to – the one that everything belongs to. We have tried to escape from the community of earth and rule over it without being a part of it and this could be considered impossible. Fundamentally, I think for us to connect community, sustainability, and environment, we must come to identify ourselves as equal players in the game, and therefore subject to the same rules of the game as all other life on earth.

The Mayan Apocalypse 2012

The 2012 Story asks the question, “What happens to a culture that forgets the center, denies the transcendent perennial wisdom, and becomes married to an ant traditional philosophy in which ego, consumer materialism, and self-interest run the show? What happens is the fulfillment of the Maya prophesy for 2012.”

In short, the Maya (and just go with me here) seem to have understood the nature of cycles, integrating celestial cycles with culture and conscious here on earth. They understood how and why 2012 would signal a time of great change. The teaching for the end of the long-count calendar cycle (the one that recently ended) spoke of individual spiritual transformation beginning from within, springing with the free-will choice to set aside personal ego to be connected to a higher purpose. The main idea was somewhat illustrated in that, “The most fully actualized potential of each human being is to realize that the limited ego is a temporary extension of the external, divine self.” What should naturally follow, the book argues, is the organization of life and human culture around this truth, with decisions and goals being made in deference to this whole-consciousness perspective.

There is much to discuss and consider in regard to our value and responsibility for the commons of the world and the social inequities of today.  For now, I’ll keep it brief. The “ideal” we are searching for can be met not in material objects or deprivation of animals and others.

Can it be up to us to choose how to define our identity so that we are satisfied personally?


According to Chapter six in Fresh: A perishable history Freidberg explains that humans have relied on other animals’ milk for food since at least 5,000 BC. In regions too cold or arid for agriculture, like the Sahara and parts of central Asia, milk was the food of nomadic peoples, providing far more sustenance than meat. Across Eurasia, milk-bearing animals ranked among peasants, “treasured possessions, turning otherwise useless forage into much-needed fat and protein.” Freidberg paints a picture of dairy peoples across the pre-industrial world showing their appreciation for milk in their creation myths, in their literature and art, and in their protection of the animals themselves.

Although Fresh is discussing a time period much after the initial period of domestication it provides insight to two fundamental questions / problems I have with Bulliet’s assertions. First, just because the domestication of animals was arguably an intentional human process that took long periods of time does not necessitate that this condition of valuing and using milk animals is inherently unnatural. Friedburg explains its importance to peoples of the past. The Trust to domination reading further brings to light that there might be something different about milk-producing animals if dairy peoples truly treasured their animals like Freidberg suggests. This idea is expressed in hunter-gathers relationships to their environment in that, “people have to look over and care for the country in which they live… This means treating the country and the animals that dwell in it with due consideration and respect.”

The term domestication implies domination and force to control another. I think it would be a narrow and misinformed view however to assert the subsidence provided to people by animal milk came secondary to its religious and artful purposes. It is rational to believe  that milk was valued for its nutritional value first (because let’s be serious, there was probably not much food variety on the dinner spread of early humans) and was so important that religious and cultural practices centered around it.

I would like to lastly address the misplaced statement about bacteria in milk during the industrial revolution as evidence for early humans not drinking milk. The industrial revolution began an era (come-on Bulliet, use your categories!) of food standardization and global distribution. Despite improvements in sanitation, water supplies, and health care babies stood much less chance of surviving in cities than in rural areas. It is also true that cow milk ranked among the primary possible culprit. The question is WHY are these deaths happening? A 1903 NYC study confirmed the view that dysentery-related deaths escalated in the summer, when milk was not properly chilled either in transit or at home. The problem was not the milk. The problem was the increasing distance between the cow and the consumer that made the bacteria count in the milk skyrocket in warm weather but it also passed through more environments and hands thereby increasing its opportunity for contamination. What’s more, wrote Rosenau in The Milk Question, “It is human nature to concern ourselves more about things we make for our friends and neighbors, whom we know, and see frequently, than it is for some far off foreigner.”

I have jumped the categorical lines of time but only to illustrate Bulliet’s claims and evidence for dismissing adult human consumption of animal milk, the idea infants drank milk (more unlikely than adults, honestly) , and for being unnatural to the human experience were perhaps not based in true understanding or full consideration.

Ingold hit the nail on the head with the idea, “Nature has to be thought of as separate from man before any questions of intervention or command and the method and ethics of either can arise. The more separation man is from animals and nature the more nature becomes viewed as raw materials to human construction projects. These projects are what establish the division between the natural and the artificial, the pristine and the manmade, nature-in-the-raw, and nature transformed.” It is then logical to understand early human relationships with milk-producing animals from as more natural than artificially created. Human’s relationship with early milk animals perhaps could have manifested from peaceful coevolution rather than strict human domination.

Deep Historical Perspectives: Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

Never before have I considered the vast history of human-animal relationships and what the implications of those relationships will mean in the future. Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers presents the four stages of human-animal relationship history: separation (when humans began to consider themselves as fundamentally separate from animals), pre-domestication (rich in symbolic expression of animals), domestication (exploiting and taming animals for human use), and post-domestication (our current industrialized consumption and separation from domestic animals).

A key debate in modern post-domestic thought is the question of what separates humans from animals and over what moral consequences? Although we know there is an inherent separation, the categories by which humans have defined themselves as different from animals have fluctuated over years and cultures. In fact, “human societies have repeatedly conceived and re-conceived of their differences from animals in ways intended to explain or reinforce their current social or spiritual standings.”

Prior to the post-domestic era humans understood our separation from animals in terms of sexual shame and the divine creation of animals as servants to human kind. These qualities disappear from discussion today because we make our conceptions based in evolutionary terms. That is, capacities like speech, reason and skill at hunting are important only insofar that they can be conceived of in evolutionary terms. What’s more, ideas about prehistoric humans have given rise to ideological arguments used to further the interests of their proponents. Case and point: “survival of the fittest”. As time continues and each new hypothesis undergoes civilization discussion, it contributes to and influences our contemporary understandings on the nature of humanity.

Therefore, if the influence of a particular idea or hypothesis is based on our current socially constructed paradigm can we ever truly understand how and in what psychological state human-animal relationships evolved? Since understanding this relationship will help us best appreciate where we stand today and help us predict, to some degree, where we will be in the future, how far must we escape from contemporary enlightenment thought to be successful in our understanding? By “success” I mean to reconcile our post-domestic guilt and fear of the revolting process in transforming animals into standardized livestock products and cultural services. It may be clear that the advent of post-domesticity has called into question many centuries of thinking on human-animal relationships generated under conditions of domesticity, as with all social development of ideas throughout human history. However if we look to the other hand, are we not supposed to learn and adopt new ideas as new knowledge becomes available? How far should we separate these cultural paradigm limitations from the history of human-animals relationships? Thinking about evolution, fundamentally and interestingly, may be the primary influence of the experiences of post-domestic society anxiety about animal exploitation morality.

This small business sells local food from their farm with domestic animals -

Grass Fed Healthy Cow

Exploring the two most common topics of separation, meat eating and speech, are examples of our current freedom to speculate and the point-of-view promoting purposes that are often served by such speculation. It was an interesting realization that humans may have learned to butcher first, then hunt and finally cook. That’s right, it’s unlikely humans stumbled upon a forest fire and were enticed by the cooked meat, since human teeth and digestive tract are best adapted for eating fruits and vegetables. It was then made apparent that the incorporation of meat into the human diet was not like that of other meat eating animals. Humans killed members of the same species, large carnivores  and were involved in mass-slaughter. The consumption of meat, since not as difficult to identify safely like vegetation, may have allowed for the eventual human expansion of the homo erectus habitation. Looking at speech as another logical difference between human and animals there are two considerations of speech development: song and secondary representations of animal vocalizations (i.e. “moo-moo”). It was striking to read, “for mom and dad the dog, ‘goes bow-wow’; for baby the dog is ‘bow-wow.’” This understanding of human brain development in grasping human consciousness evolution I found to be new and thought-provoking.

The reading also debunked a socially accepted idea that pre-domesticity transitioned into domesticity based on human ideas about animals for food. Conventional descriptions of the neo-lithic revolution (like last week’s Germs, Guns and Steel video) are centered on food production. However, food does not determine artist preference, as exemplified in historical human art evidence, human conceptions of animals involved many dynamics not relating to food. Nor is there any evidence reasonably supporting the idea that the domestication of plants and animals accorded together. These new rational conclusions, I think, interestingly eliminate much of our current world-view bias of this small human-animal relationship aspect. However, these understandings do not provide enough evidence of knowing what exactly motivated the transition into animal domestication.

Other fascinating points:

  • Deepest inherited human fear: being eaten alive
  • Post-Domestic push to maximize the cost to the consumer
  • Modern value for humanized wild animals is greater than farm animals
  • Emerging avenue of post-domestic development: recrudescence to pre-domestic thought
  • If sexual fantasy takes priority over real-world carnality, and masturbation takes priority over the actual act as a response activity which is then “better” for human society? Is that answer simply determined by cultural paradigms or are there other factors that could better evaluate?

It’s only week two of class. I wonder if I will ever be able to look at meat the same way again.