Topic: Human-Animal Relationships (pp. 3-5, 36-46, 174-188 from Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships by Richard W. Bulliet (2005), New York: Columbia University Press)
Bulliet identifies four stages in the history of human-animal relationships:
The class discussed this general transition and how from 1900 to 1990, the percentage of people living on farms in the U.S. dropped from 40 to 2 percent. I asked whether the class experienced the “studied obliviousness” maintained by people buying meat or other animal products. We concluded that this mentality exists in many aspects of life and is not isolated to animal products, and that humans tend to prefer not to know where their food or other possessions come from as long as they are determined as safe.
Bulliet also discusses why post-domesticity has arisen in some countries but not others. He proposes that if pastoralism exists in a country, it acts as a block to the transition into post-domesticity. This is because pastoralists see living animals as having tangible value, which impedes the formation of the mindset that animals’ worth lies in how their bodies can be processed into food and materials. Colonial ranching, on the other hand, encouraged this view, and the absence of ideological obstacles to viewing animals as commodities lead to the development of industrial-scale meatpacking and post-domesticity. England, in contrast, followed a different pattern, in which livestock breeding lead to post-domesticity.
I asked what people thought of the change that has occurred through history in (some) humans’ perception of animals: once considered spiritual beings, animals are now treated as raw materials whose value lies in the products derived from their bodies. I contrasted this with the pastoral way of life, in which animals’ lives had value regardless of the products obtained from processing their bodies. There was not much discussion on this point, although we did talk about the stark contrast between seeing animals as raw materials and the often intense emotional bond that exists between humans and their pets. Someone raised the question of whether humans actually respect their pets.
Our discussion transitioned to issues regarding today’s factory farms and industrial meatpacking giants, such as vegetarianism, alternatives to industrially produced meat such as small, family-run farms, and the environmental impacts of eating meat.
Other topics that I would have liked to discuss include:
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