Book Response: Placing Animals

I’ve formatted this blog post as bullet points, with the page number in bold and the relevant topic or quote in italics, followed by my thoughts. (I’m currently suffering from the OWU Flu so we’ll see how coherent this blog post turns out to be…)

  • 1; “animals ‘are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations”. In an anthropological sense, “nations” aren’t actually discrete categories; they are a way to divide humans on the basis of abstractions like culture or ethnicity. I found it interesting that Beston uses the term “nations”, because it is still dividing up a single group–animals–into categories based on cultural associations and abstract definitions.
  • 6-7; definition of animal. I never really thought hard about the definition of an animal, other than in the broad scientific sense defined on page 22: “a kingdom broadly defined as life-forms, either vertebrate or invertebrate, that consume and digest their food rather than photosynthesize or absorb it”. It was interesting to think about the definition of an animal from a legal sense, and to see the variations on the definition.
  • 51; Dog breeding. I read an article a while back about how bulldog breeders are actually trying to breed for more elongated snouts. The bulldog’s characteristic “smushed-face” appearance was valued because it looked more human and endearing, but it results in many serious health problems. This example ties back to human domination and the assertion of human-like traits on a nonhuman species.
  • 52; “Consider what we do to pets today to make the presentable to live in our homes with us.” I am against declawing. I also realize that I’m probably hypocritical, in that I ignore, accept, or promote the curbing of some natural behaviors while fiercely denouncing the curbing of one specific behavior. For example, I’m all for neutering your pets, which is definitely the curbing of a natural behavior, but I explain more further down.
  • 58; Economic geographies of pets. My sister makes a living from the absurd amount of money and resources people are willing to invest in their pets. She runs a business called “Pet Styles by Amanda”, which is a mobile dog grooming service. This service is pretty expensive, and people can pay for extra things like specialized haircuts, scented shampoos, perfumes, hair dyes, nail polishes, etc.
  • 59; Exotic pets. This is one of those things that really grinds my gears–particularly exotic trade and ownership of big cats. In situations like these, humans think they assert dominance over another species, but that other species regains dominance. The person gets hurt, and the animal is mutilated, killed, or abandoned. An example of exotic pet ownership that leads to impacts on the surrounding environment: pythons in the Everglades.
  • 62-63; Feral cat colonies and pet overpopulation. Another thing that really cooks my grits. I support and advocate the neutering of your pets. I realize that this is human dominance over another species (taking away the means to reproduce, a basic and essential right of living organisms) but if you look at the issue from a “caretaker/shepherd” point of view, we are responsible for the welfare of the organisms over which we assert dominance. The rampant pet overpopulation is a function of humans’ desire to own a subordinate species, and the resulting feral communities, starvation and disease, and euthanization of those animals is our direct responsibility.
  • 75; Beasts of burden. Arabian horses would be considered working animals; they were essential to the survival of Bedouin tribes and were an important tool in warfare. However, the Bedouin revered their horses; Kelly Milner Halls explains in the book Wild Horses: Galloping Through Time: “The prophet Mohammed preached that the Arabian horse was a gift from Allah, and the Bedouins believed that those who treated the horses well would be rewarded in the afterlife. …Bedouins were poor; they had no crops and water sources were unreliable. Yet most of their horses were fed a luxurious diet of barley, dates, and camel’s milk. Arabian horses became a part of the Bedouin’s family, sharing their food and living in their tents” (Halls 42-43). Here, the line is blurred between treatment of a working animal and treatment of a pet.
  • 93; Idea that “animals are sacrificing themselves for science and for humans so that we can have a better world.” With human sacrifice, there’s voluntary sacrifice (ex: ancient Egypt, servants and high officials voluntarily accompanied their leader into the afterlife; or Phoenicia, children were sacrificed to gods, but the consent of both the children and the parents was required; ) and gory, gruesome human sacrifice (ex: the Aztecs). There is also the concept of martyrs, who sacrifice themselves for a cause or belief. When animals are sacrificed, they can’t indicate their consent or willingness. In her book Greek Tragedy, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz explains how Greeks feigned consent when sacrificing animals: “Consent could be manufactured by placing food near the animal’s head, causing it to nod or by placing something on its head that the animal would want to shake off, and thus make it seem actively to agree” (Ravinowitz 68).
  • 103; Geographies of animal parts, which animals are and are not culturally acceptable to eat. There was a huge uproar this summer over the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China and the Bok Nal Days in South Korea. I feel that so much emphasis was put into the inhumane treatment of the animals and no consideration at all was given to the culture of those peoples. I agree that the festivals promote cruel treatment of animals and I completely disagree with that treatment, but I feel that it may have been ethnocentric to denounce the festivals without at least putting thought into the cultural basis behind them?
  • 137; human-wildlife relationship. Could the invention of fantastical beasts like unicorns, dragons, griffins, etc. be considered a human-wildlife relationship? And would stories like Bellerophon’s pursuit and taming of Pegasus, Saint George’s slaying of the dragon, Oedipus’s solving of the Sphinx’s riddle, etc. be considered man’s domination over animals? Just a thought.
  • 138; extinctions. There is a normal background rate for the disappearance of species, and the current global extinction rate is exponentially greater than that. Is there actually a good way to promote conservation without having a bias for saving certain species? Calls for conservation are definitely influenced by cultural significance of the species. Jamie Lorimer makes similar points on page 174 when he discusses nonhuman and corporeal charisma.
  • 146-7; “Over eighty-seven million citizens over the age of sixteen participated in wildlife-related activities”. Would Ed Abbey think this is good (in that so many people are expressing interest in wildlife/nature) or bad (in that so many people are feeding into the parks system)?
  • 158; tourismThe Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio is a safari-style park where animals live in natural, open-range habitats. It presents a front of conservationism and a “natural setting”, but the text points out that tourism is a function of a consumption-driven culture. I was a little bummed about that, because I had held such a high regard for The Wilds. (I still think it’s a better format than zoos with small enclosures, though.)
  • 174; Convivial biogeography. I’m a big fan of Jamie Lorimer’s call “for a convivial biogeography that includes three points that could change the politics of human-wildlife interactions. First, he calls for recognition of nonhuman difference and awareness of the ways in which nonhuman companionship is forged. Second, a deeper attention to interspecies conviviality–the ways in which species interact–will be necessary for envisioning new relations. Third, a ‘cosmopolitan environmentalism’… [calls] for finding common political, policy, and scientific intersections that provide space for a more-than-human world.”

One Response to Book Response: Placing Animals

  1. […] 10/4) – Week 10 (10/28): Environment & Society (pub. 10/27) – Week 11 (11/4): Placing Animals (parts 1 and 2) (pub. 11/2) – Week 13 (11/18): Garbology (pub. […]

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