Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology

Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology – Barbara Noske (1988). Noske on “The Animal Question in Feminism” part I.
[W]ith the rise of modern science and the subject-object approach towards nature, women increasingly came to be associated with nature and natural processes, whereas men were associated with culture, the conquest of nature and with civilization processes. Well before this time Western humanity had already begun to value culture above nature, so that in the end women came to be regarded as inferior to men.
On the basis of those activities which they share with (female) animals, women became the personification of animal-human continuity. Men, on the other hand, came to represent the separation or discontinuity between humans and animals. While it cannot have gone unnoticed that male activities too have their parallels in the animal world, these tended (and tend) to be played down. Thus, in the best of humanist traditions, even someone like Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that man-animal continuity is only ostensibly a continuity: the human male is a free agent, his life activities involve a project and are aimed at remodelling nature and moulding the future. Man’s activity is not to repeat himself in time in the way that animals do but to make of existence itself a value.
It is precisely this subject-object attitude to the natural world which has devaluated both nature and woman. Nevertheless De Beauvoir seems to agree with male chauvinists on at least one point, namely, that woman’s animality is more manifest than man’s. She appears to consider an activity specifically human only if there exists no parallel for it in the animal world. In her eyes women’s activities are not really human as long as they are natural and resemble animal actions such as giving birth and suckling. If in her view man-animal continuity is false, woman-animal continuity is certainly real. And only in so far as woman succeeds in cutting her ties with the animal world, will she truly become human and achieve equality with man.
Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology –Barbara Noske (1988). Noske discusses how critical Marxist views can be applied to animal exploitation in agriculture. Part II: Alienation from home, life as exploitation.
Animals nowadays are increasingly made to produce in huge buildings, in systems ranging from moderate to total confinement. The surrounding physical environment is completely human-made and human-controlled; no open air, no feel of earth, artificial temperatures, artificial daylight or darkness, wire-mesh, concrete or metal-slat floors and so forth. Confinement systems serve a twofold purpose: to crowd as many animals as possible in one spot and to manipulate them toward ever greater productivity. […]
In the course of capitalist production humans have virtually robbed the animals of their own subsistence cycles: control over life-supporting activities has passed from the animals themselves to machines and managers. As it is, a power failure or a minor mistake can quickly cause the death of a very large number of animals.
We have seen that the human (male) worker surrendered control over the production and labour processes to the management but maintained control over the sphere of reproduction: his home. Karl Marx wrote: “Thus the worker only feels at home outside his work and in his work he feels a stranger. He is at home when he is not working and when he works he is not at home.“
Marx concentrated on the male worker, ignoring the specific position of the female worker, who, whether or not working in the sphere of production, is required also to work in the sphere of reproduction: the home. Contrary to the male worker, the female worker is not free from work even in the home. She must reproduce labour power by attending to the day-to-day needs of her husband and children (if existing) as well as to her own needs. For her there exists no clear distinction between home and work. Indeed, female workers are first and foremost workers in the home, which to them is hardly a place of leisure.
Thus, while for the male home and work are separate, and for the female work is in the home as well, animal `workers’ cannot `go home’ at all. The modern animal industry does not allow them to `go home’ – they are exploited 24 hours a day. In the case of animals the `home’ itself has been brought under factory control. There is to be hardly a spontaneous movement and no free association with other members of the species. Indeed, it is often precisely the sphere of reproduction (mating, breeding, the laying of eggs) which the capitalist seeks to exploit. The animal’s life-time has truly been converted into `working-time’: into round-the-clock production.

Continue reading “Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology”

“Our early ancestor were hunter gatherers. But…

from waste dumps, fossils and contemporary hunter gatherers we know that the primary food source was the much more reliable plant foods. Except on the rare occasion where people settled a previously uninhabited area with much docile wildlife, a stone age hunter would manage to get big game only quite rarely. Anyone interested in this topic should read Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee for a good account of this lifestyle.

(Regarding) the meat-brain growth hypothesis, this idea has previously been nearly universally thought at schools, however its foundation is actually rather weak since increased meat consumption and our increase in brain size don’t quite match up in time (meat consumption being increased somewhat later). The current best explanation for our high intelligence is given in Chimpanzee Politics by primatologist Frans de Waal. He shows that due to the peculiar social structure of chimps (and our ancestors) compared to gorillas and bonobos, there occurred a near a continuous struggle for dominance in the group. This struggled favored those who could best form alliances, plot, deceive and lie, i.e. it favored intelligence, leading to the intelligence explosion that lead to us.

…In the relatively short periods (compared to our entire existence as a species) of colonizing areas such as Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas and the Polynesian islands (including Madagascar) people tended to hunt existing fauna intensively. This often led to the total extinction of many species as predation greatly exceeded birthrates for the nonhuman animals. The hypothesis that climate change killed those species… simply wouldn’t explain the timing (people arrive > fauna dies; regardless of prior climatic changes the animals did survive). For the majority of the existence of our species though people predominantly ate plants.


Mobile Bicycle Gardening

An extreme gardening experiment

In spring 2010, I cycled across Ontario, Canada, averaging 50 kilometers a day and covering 2000 kilometers in total. What enticing conditions to begin a new garden. Already loaded down with thirty pounds of gear, space was limited and the opportunities seemed meager for adding greenery to my ride. However, given a handful of wheat kernels and a little sunny weather, veganic gardeners can find a way.

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Bicycle garden

I was biking with a group of nineteen people, living car-free in a nomadic eco-community, traveling across Ontario to perform plays about sustainable living with the charity Otesha. While visiting a farm, we conjured up the idea of mobile bicycle gardening. By the evening, I had acquired a reclaimed container, soil, wheat kernels, and beet seeds from a farm we were visiting, and attached a small garden to the back of my panniers.

From that point, the level of experimentation steadily mounted. Soon wheatgrass was growing from my fender. Young sprouts of alfalfa and clover struggled to grow from the frame. Pea shoots grew in a plastic bottle reclaimed from a recycling bin, their tendrils intertwining and giving mutual support as they inched toward the seat post. I then helped add container gardens, hydroponic grasses, and fennel transplants to the bicycles of fellow teammates.

Such agricultural adventures are not without trials and losses. The scorching sun claimed several juvenile gardens. A flourishing garden of sunflower sprouts was mistakenly left in a school gymnasium. And on a busy street between Hamilton and Toronto, one potted plant flew from a pannier onto the roadway, where the contents were promptly squished by a transport truck. Extreme.

My largest container garden, bearing a dense polyculture of wheatgrass, alfalfa, clover, and canola, fell twice from the bicycle onto the pavement, and survived with little loss of plants and dirt. Long live the power of cover crops and undersowing, as erosion can pose a grave threat to bicycle gardens when barreling over potholes.

With the wheatgrass prospering on both fender and frame, I decided to bring extreme gardening to more impressive parts of the bicycle. An axle garden was planted, on the inner part of the wheel. A resounding “yes” to a crucial question that has been confounding us for centuries: can plants grow and prosper while constantly spinning? Of course they can.

When we visited schools to do environmental outreach, I used the bicycle garden as an example of the accessibility of gardening, that if one could successfully grow wheatgrass on plastic without soil while moving, then the students are perfectly capable of starting their own backyard gardens, balcony gardens, and container gardens at home. It may have been a feeble attempt at food production and carbon sequestration, though the bicycle garden certainly generated plenty of smiles and education.

Recipes for bicycle gardens:

There are two main ways to garden on a bike: with soil, or without. To add a pot with soil, simply find a way to attach it to your bike. A reclaimed plastic water bottle can easily fit in a water bottle holder. Poke holes for drainage, water daily, and plant densely to avoid soil loss on bumpy roads.

Gardening without soil allows us to grow in funky places, like directly on fenders and frames. I’ve been fiddling with different methods, and here is the technique that has thus far worked the best, using cheesecloth as a growing medium (1) Begin with love and intention toward the garden, as it requires tending several times a day. (2) Sprout your seeds in advance. Grasses, like wheat and barley, are the most effective, since the single blade can easily penetrate the cheesecloth, whereas two-leaf plants tend to be suppressed. Grasses also send out a quicker and heartier root network, and grow to more impressive heights. Soak the grains in water for eight hours, then drain them. Keep them slightly moist for one or two days, allowing them to sprout. (3) Thoroughly moisten some cheesecloth. Wrap the cheesecloth firmly around the the bicycle two or three times, ensuring that the gear and brake cables are not inhibited. (4) Add a layer of sprouted seeds, and wrap the cheesecloth once or twice over the seeds. Close it using safety pins. (5) Keep the seeds and cheesecloth constantly damp. In sunny weather, this could mean watering ten times a day. (6) Ride, harvest, enjoy.

By Meghan Kelly, co-founder of the Veganic Agriculture Network

6 July 2012

Did humans evolve as meat eaters?

 …there is no point in evolutionary history that you can pick and say, that is how a species should be. There is a thing called evolution, and it hasn’t stopped in the last million years.
For a good illustration of this, see the (slightly) declining rates of diabetes in much of the Pacific islands in the past 30 or so years, having peaked in the 1980s or 1990s due to an increase in the availability of processed/ sugary foods and the genetic susceptibility to diabetes of this population. This population is starting to evolve a resistance to diabetes, primarily because sadly those genetically susceptible to diabetes die early… Human beings aren’t shackled to the traits that the early Homos had.

Humans have benefited in evolutionary history from meat eating, but anyone can see from the high rates of disease related to meat consumption (as well as dairy and eggs) that we are struggling to eat meat at high rates (compared to in evolutionary history, which could be more than once a week or so).

We are facultative omnivores, which means we can, just about eat anything that isn’t cellulose etc. a bit like the domestic dog. But we struggle, and for good physiological reasons. This is summed up quite well in this rather large table, showing the generalized physiology of herbivores vs omnivores vs carnivores vs humans, though I do disagree with the statement at the top. But I do agree that we are pretty bad omnivores.

The primary reason we attained omnivorous eating habits is because we “outsourced” the sharp claws, teeth and the chemical breakdown of a pH 1 stomach to technology; spears, knives and cooking.

But things that gave us an evolutionary advantage doesn’t mean that now we must adhere to it unwaveringly. I have noticed that there has been a sharp decrease in human cannibalism, despite it having helped us to become more resistant to prion diseases, see Cannibalism Normal For Early Humans?

Is the MD at also proposing a return to human cannibalism?
I am just some teenager on the internet and not a professor of evolutionary biology (yet), but the final sentence of the MDs article is laughable:

If we evolved because we ate meat, why would we want to stop now?

Or as I will rephrase it “If we evolved because we ate human brains, why would we want to stop?”.

I think this man needs to revisit the definition of evolution, as a change in the frequency of alleles in a population over time, as he seems to confuse it with some magic process that happens because you shove mastodon in your mouth and suddenly become master of the universe.

But all this aside, the quite small amounts of meat humans ate in the evolutionary past does not mean that we will have to eat meat until the end of time, just as much as hairlessness  does not mean that we have been confined to equatorial regions. Many modern humans have survived quite well eating plant-based or even frugivorous diets for at least several thousands years (not the same people, I assure you, the superpowers you get when you eat enough vegetables don’t quite make you immortal). The big brains we got from eating cooked meat and other foods is as relevant to modern life as a slight resistance to prion diseases we got from eating human brains.