About Me

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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Keeping the pig in the epigram - archeology

The pig is not only an intelligent creature, remarkably similar to homo sapien in many ways. We share a similar digestive tract, omnivorous diet, curiosity, and ability to live alone or in herds.

We also share a long history of living together, although this relationship is recently betrayed on our part, now we are raising pigs in "factories". Pigs were probably the first "domesticated" animal after humans first domesticated themselves. In the Near East (Sumer, with possible earlier domestication at sites in Israel and Scythia), agriculture began 10,000 years ago, and only after a relationship with pigs was begun.

The migration routes of humans into Europe -- mainly along the Mediterranean and the riparian banks of the Danube -- are marked with pig bone. The Near Eastern pigs reached the Paris area in the heart of Europe around 4000 BC, and were thereafter displaced by a domesticated European boar, which was then taken back down the migration routes to the Near East and the rest of the world. By 600 BC the European pigs, the ancestors of our modern friend, had spread throughout the Near East and beyond, into Asia.

The earliest voyagers in the earliest ships, from the Phoenicians plying the Mediterranean, to the Portugese exploring Africa, to the fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan which first circumnavigated the globe in 1519, all carried pigs.

Today, many people, from Switzerland, through Turkey, and as far off as Indonesia, the Philippines, and South America, live with pigs in their homes. They are more than pets, and the relationship remains crucial to human survival.

You can hardly speak of human history without noting the fact that we share it with so many other creatures. Only three species on the planet lived so closely together, grew so attached, and are now no longer capable of being feral or living independently: the domestic human, dogs, and hogs.

Linguistically, our ancient connection to pigs survives to this day. Second only to the "dog" words, the "swine" words and expressions are the most commonly invoked animal words we use: pig in a poke, pig's eye, piggyback, piggybank, pigtail, hog-wild, whole hog, hogshead, hogtie, high off the hog, roadhog, pearls before swine, etc.

The Biblical expression "fat of the land" actually refers to the swine that provided lard for light and heat, and thick leather for shoes, even for those whose diet did not include pork. In fact, the relatively recent dietary restrictions by the Semites (Hebrews and Arabs, among others) apparently reflects a hatred of the Hittites, whose homes were entirely shared with the domestic pig, and an independent recognition of the economic value of pigs. The Bible is filled with proverbs and accounts of "swine-herders" -- showing that the relationship is more complex and nuanced than a simple dietary exclusion.

"Pork-belly" and "hog futures" have long been and continue to be one of the leading growth areas of the Markets across the planet. Unfortunately, some piglets are raised in horrid factories. We torture our food. This is surely unnecessary and ultimately unwise. Not just from the moral POV, which apparently does not exactly shine among us, but from the economics. How long will our late experiment with Urban Life last, where we have excluded our closest allies of 10,000 years of domesticity.

Our friendship is obviously betrayed. To what extent is this wholesale betrayal ultimately self-defeating? We are exposed to "market" forces which do not preserve long-term values. Piglet is hidden away with a million sows in a NIMBY factory polluting our water. The scale is distorted. We have become the fat of our land, overweight and useless people apparently destined for the same restricted "factory" life. We seem to have become our animals.