The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.
Newsletters - Summer 2005 Issue
The root of (just about) all evil
by Jim Mason, activist, author, attorney
Dominionism is the view or belief held by one species, Homo sapiens, that it has a divine right, a God-given license, to use animals and everything else in the living world for its sole benefit.
This is the worldview of the human supremacist. It is strongest in Western traditions, but it has spread to Russia, China, Japan and most of the rest of the world along with our industrialism, consumerism, and modernism.
Dominionism, the father of speciesism (human intolerance or discrimination based on species) prevails today, but it did not always.
Before animal agriculture began 10,000 years ago, people regarded animals with fascination, awe, and respect. Because animals are lively and active, they were thought to harbor many of the powers and forces of nature. People also had a strong sense of kinship with animals, which imparted a sense of belonging in the living world. Animal agriculture turned it all upside down. Animals were taken down off their pedestals so that they could be controlled, worked, and bought and sold. The old sense of kinship with the living world was replaced with fear, contempt, and alienation. Western history and “civilization” began with wars, imperialism, slavery, inequality, and women’s subjugation at about c. 3,000 BC in the land now called Iraq.
Early myths promote animal slavery
Why is this ancient history relevant today? Early “agri-societies” constructed sets of myths to maintain animal slavery and the subjugation of nature for agriculture. One set of myths supports the attitude I call “misothery,” which literally comes from the Greek for “hatred of animals.” Misothery explains all of the lies and denials about animals that we deal with every day: Animals are vicious, filthy, diseased, promiscuous, sneaky, threatening, or evil – and always beneath our regard. These false and destructive ideas desensitize us to, and distance us from animals and the living world.
The vegetarian and animal advocacy movements are up against these very old traditions. If we want to be more effective, we need to understand these traditions from their roots. For example, the two biggest struggles for the animal rights movement today center around farmed animals and property in animals. Animal agriculture accounts for 98 percent of all animal suffering and killing. To confront animal suffering we should understand the construction of the myths and other underpinnings of modern animal agribusiness. We ought to know also that animal enslavement for farming is the mother and father of all animal oppression because it established the many myths that make up misothery and the dominionist worldview.
Animals as “money”
Western concepts of property probably grew out of animal slavery in the ancient world. Animals are believed to have been the first form of money, property, and wealth. For example: “Capital,” a word signifying wealth, derives from capita, Latin for head. The wealth of a herding tribe, such as among the early Romans, was measured by the head count – how many cattle (or sheep, goats, camels, etc.) the tribe owned. To this day, ranchers say things like: “We hauled a couple of hundred head to market yesterday.”
Herding tribes fiercely guarded their wealth in animals. If there were many tribes in a region, there would be many violent conflicts over water, grasslands, and strays. In the transition toward a more peaceful and orderly agrarian society, peace-making rules and customs of tribal herders gradually evolved into notions of ownership and property rights.
Transitions to “consumerism” and “sexism”
Our alienation from animals and the living world plays out into other problems today. Let’s start with consumerism. People buy stuff like there’s no tomorrow – most of them not knowing or caring where it all comes from. Most people are generally oblivious to the mining, lumbering, damming, plowing, and rampant industrialization of the earth. Under dominionism, every living creature is regarded as either a resource or a pest, which we have a God-given mandate to either use or destroy.
Or consider the problems we have with sex and our bodies. We have a tradition of shame and loathing about these aspects of life because they remind us of our “mammalhood” – a word I use to define our kinship with animals and nature. In order to maintain the unbridgeable gap between our species and all others, we deny and distort the most essential elements of human life: we hide our bodies in clothing, our bodily functions in bathrooms, our sexuality in the strait jacket of prudery.
Sexism, misogyny (hatred of women) and male supremacy came down to us from the patriarchal herding societies that dominated the ancient Middle East and strongly influenced the formative phases of Western civilization. Homophobia, or a fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men, is one of the by-products of patriarchal culture that sees human breeding to be all-important.
So much so that every kind of sexual gratification is outlawed unless it puts male sperm next to female ova. Note that all of our sexual taboos apply to non-procreative sexual acts.
Transition to racism and colonialism
Racism grows out of misothery and the hatred and contempt for animals and nature. We transfer our misothery to people whom we regard as closer to animals and nature than ourselves.
Colonialism is dominionism applied to other peoples and their lands. In its earliest stages, Europeans regarded native Americans, Africans, Pacific Islanders, and others as “savages” and sub-humans – animals, in other words. The Europeans’ misothery guaranteed that they would be treated accordingly – that is, as slaves.
Animals are basic to our worldview
If I had to distill my recently updated book, An Unnatural Order down to one essential idea, it would be the idea elaborated in the chapter, “Animals: The Most Moving Things in the World.”
Animals are basic to our worldview – or any other worldview, for that matter. Intellectuals have been discussing the problem of alienation and the “Nature Question” for a century and a half and making no progress because they have a blind spot – blinded by misothery with respect to animals. We simply cannot come to terms with nature unless we come to terms with animals, for animals are central to the whole Nature Question.
An essential mission of the animal rights movement (and by extension the movement for “ethical vegetarianism”) is to force the “Animal Question” into discussion. We must begin by challenging the lies of misothery and de-constructing its myths about animals, nature, and human being.
Jim Mason is an author, lecturer, journalist, environmentalist, and attorney specializing in human/animal concerns. His latest book, “An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet and Each Other”, was released in paperback by Continuum Publishers in 1997. The book explains how dominionism has made a mess of our relations with animals, with nature, and with each other. Mason is best known for his 1980 book, “Animal Factories” which he wrote with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who is generally considered to be the “father” of the modern animal rights movement. Animal Factories exposes America’s “brave new world” of factory farming in which crowded, drugged animals mass-produce cheap meat, milk and eggs. In the process, Mason and Singer say, factory farms also mass-produce environmental pollution and threats to human health and destroy independent, diversified, humane farming.
In addition to writing, Jim Mason speaks about animals, nature and the environment before conferences, symposia, churches, public schools and universities. He has appeared on NBC’s Today, CBS’ This Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, CNN, Midday Live, and other radio and television programs in major cities. Jim Mason was elected to the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame in July 2001.
Dominionism – the worldview of the human supremacist. It is the view or belief held by one species, Homo sapiens, that it has a divine right, a God-given license, to use animals and everything else in the living world for its sole benefit.
Colonialism – dominionism applied to other peoples.
Speciesism – human intolerance or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of animals.
Misothery – the coined word misothery refers to hatred of animals (from the Greek).
Mammalhood – human kinship with animals and nature.
Essentially, Jim Mason believes that in enslaving animals for war and farming, agrarian societies broke the ancient bonds and sense of kinship with nature and other creatures. This makes for an alienated, nature-hating culture, Mason argues. It fouls our relations with nature – especially animals, whom we need, he says, “as companions, as exercisers of human empathy and nurturing, as feeders and informers of the psyche, and as kin and continuum with the rest of the living world.”
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