Other-than-human pair bonding
Beavers are social animals in an eminent degree. This disposition is manifested in their strongly developed propensity to pair and live in the family relation. (Morgan 1868:134)
Today’s mainline scientific view of the universe is that humans are uniquely different from other living (and non-living) things. This worldview is what Philippe Descola (2013:ch. 8) terms naturalism.
Pinning down exactly how humans are unique from other living things gets a tricky, though.
- Only humans use language, right? Humpback whales, amongst others, might, as well.
- Humans are the only toolmakers and users on our planet, correct? The answer to that is an unqualified “no.”
- Well, surely pair bonding is the uniquely human trait amongst animals! As it turns out, beavers form pair bonds, too.
Because he was observant and fascinated with all things related to family life and the Americas, Lewis H. Morgan was, of course, compelled to write a book about Castor canadensis. I’m especially fond of Morgan’s book for three reasons. It reminds me that the humans who came before me are worth taking seriously regardless of what some of the contemporaries in my species might think. It also helps me think on how the non-humans who surround me today might not be that different from me. And thirdly, I think beavers are cool, so it’s just a fun book to read.
Descola, Philippe. 2013. Beyond nature and culture. Trans by. Janet Lloyd. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.
Morgan, Lewis H. 1868. The American beaver and his works. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Müller-Schwarze, Dietland, and Lixing Sun. 2003. The beaver: natural history of a wetlands engineer. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Pub. Associates.
Williams, Mark, and Scott Jones. 2006. “Lithics, shellfish, and beavers.” In Light on the path: the anthropology and history of the Southeastern Indians, ed by. Thomas J. Pluckhahn and Robbie Ethridge, 43–56 [volume References cited, 219–69]. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Philippe Descola’s Four Ontologies
The task of anthropology is to account for how worlds are composed. – Philippe Descola
From time to time over the past few years I have chipped away at a goal of understanding Philippe Descola’s version of ontology. His work initially attracted my attention because of my interest in all things Iroquoian, but that is another post.
Yesterday Johannes Neurath shared a link to a 2012 lecture by Descola (see below). That has inspired me to tap out this short blog post about one of the foundations of Descola’s work, namely his four part ontological grid.
In Descola’s model—and he is clear that it is just that—humans construct their world based upon whether they consider the entities surrounding them to be similar or dissimilar to humans in terms of their interiority and their physicality.
In the case of animism, non-human species share intentionality and agency with humans but are differentiated by their bodies.
Totemism is the ontology I understand least well. Descola gives as exemplars the ontologies of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.
Naturalism is in essence the contemporary scientific perspective on the world.
In analogism, the world is made up of differentiated but interrelated entities. Astrology (the relation of the movement to the entities in the heavens to individual humans’ fortunes) is an ontology of analogy.
The Mayans may have had a crazy complex calendar, but they never had the nerve to believe humans can actually change the time. Only “rational” Western society would be so audacious.
The year I spent living in Guatemala in the mid-90s was the first time in my life I was not subjected to DST. I can’t say that I noticed it, but that is kind of the point, isn’t it? The last year the state of Indiana did not do DST was the first year I lived there. It was wonderful! Then Mitch Daniels was elected with the campaign promise that putting Indiana on DST would push the state into the 21st century. In a democracy, you pay for what you get.
There are numerous public health implications of Daylight Savings Time. Individual circadian rhythms are disrupted by the autumn and spring time shifts, never a good thing for those of us living with a mood disorder. Research shows that the rate of heart attacks is higher during the first work week after the time change in comparison to the other 50 weeks of the year. The rate of traffic accidents increases following the shift into DST.
Of course, there are instances when the time should be changed, or at least the keeping of it should. Such is the case with the clock face of Alumni Tower at my alma mater, Western Carolina University.
I come from a small community—about 6,000 people, spread out over 50,000 or so acres —the kind of place where there really is no such person as a stranger. It is commonplace to see people holding an infant who are not related to the child or the child’s parents.
The only other places I have ever lived in the United States are a mid-size Midwestern town of 80,000 and the squeezed-together small town landscape of western Massachusetts. I have rarely seen anyone holding an infant who is not the child’s parent in either place, and I almost never see anyone asking or offering to hold a stranger’s baby. I suppose one reason for this might be that people do not know and trust one another as much as they do where I grew up, but parents also seem uncomfortably (from my perspective) proprietary with their children.
So this past weekend while in a local coffee shop I was surprised last weekend to see the older couple in the photo below ask if they could hold the little girl of the couple sitting next to them. The little girl’s father was apparently also surprised, because he got out his point-and-shoot to make a picture of the event!
Misapplications of the archaeological culture (hereafter abbreviated AC) concept abound, but the concept itself is straightforward. As she does with so many things, Pat Galloway (1995:28) explains it well:
Named (archaeological) cultures, or “phases” thereof, are in fact sets of artifact types and other physical remains (dwelling structures, settlement patterns, burial practices, and so forth) that occur together consistently over a definite spatial extent and – as far as can be determined – over a definite continuous time period.
While the validity of individual named ACs is often called into question (e.g., Hart and Brumbach 2003), the validity of the AC concept in and of itself is generally accepted.
I’m a guest over at the Savage Minds blog for the month of July. Here is my latest.