In April, The Missourian ran a report on an appearance by animal rights activist Jim Mason who gave a speech at Missouri University related to his 1997 book, “An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet and Each Other.”
An Unnatural Order lays out Mason’s view that what he calls dominionism alienates humanity from the living world. As The Missourian reported on his talk,
A new understanding of animal rights and humane animal treatment was what led him to become an activist and environmentalist, Mason said. MasonÂ’s latest book is Â“An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet and Each Other,Â” in which he analyzes how the dominionist view has made humans believe that they are supreme beings and that everything else Â— including animals, who were once seen as equals Â— is below them.
Genesis 1:26 states: Â“Then God said, Â‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish in the sea and over the fowl of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.Â’ Â”
Mason said he speculates that the dominionist way of thinking caused humans to begin using animals for their own purposes. Animals were once regarded as special creatures with strong spirits, but once domestication started, the idea was lost. More damaging was the technique of animal husbandry, or the manipulation of breeding, Mason said.
To say the least, there are a few problems with this claim.
Genesis was written about 3,500 years ago. The domestication of the first animal species — dogs — is believed to have occurred from 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. Domestication of animals far predated any relatively contemporary attempts to justify or explain it.
But this doesn’t prove that domestication of animals wasn’t ideology driven. Maybe Genesis is some echo of an ancient ideology (after all, early humans would have adopted domestication for political reasons and not because of the obvious advantages). But again a problem arises — how then do we explain the fact that this ideology took hold completely independently both in the Americas and the Fertile Crescent?
For example, about 5,550 years ago, ancient Americans were domesticating the llama and the turkey. Since America was originally populated by wanderers and nomads about 14,000 years ago, how did they learn about this dominionist ideology?
Or could it be that domestication occurred independently because of the obvious advantages it has for human populations?
Moreover, its seems a bit silly to suggest that human beings lived in some special sort of harmony with nature in which they treated animals as equals prior to domestication. The reality is that homo sapiens almost from the beginning treated animals as resources to be used for food, clothing, weapons and other uses.
For example, consider the remains of Homo heidelbergensis discovered near Boxgrove in West Sussex, England. The remains are about 500,000 years old and H. heidelbergensis is an import transitional species which is very close to Homo sapiens (and, in fact is sometimes referred to as Archaic Homo Sapiens).
The Box Grove site also has bones of rhinos, horses and hippos that clearly bear cutting marks from weapons. H. heidelbergensis was clearly eating the flesh from these animals. Moreover, H. heidelbergensis probably killed the animals found there, as the cut marks they left were found below the marks of tooths from scavengers, indicating that H. heidelbergensis got to the meat before animals. The clear implication is that they were hunting.
As archaeologist Mark Roberts told the BBC,
Each (carcass) would have weighed 675kg (1,500 lbs), a magnet for other predators. Yet each carcass was skillfully cut up. Fillet steaks were sliced from the spine and the bones were smashed to get out the marrow. Only hunters who were in total command of their patch could have done that.
Mason’s view that human beings lived in harmony and equality with animals and the natural world until one day they decided not to is absurd. Being omnivores, early human beings evolved in an environment in which they scavenged and hunted other animals for survival, just as other omnivores and carnivores do.
What books like Mason’s do is replace Genesis with another silly creation myth. In the environmental/animal rights creation myth, rather than living in an idyllic paradise before being cast out by God for daring to defy Him, humanity lived in an idyllic paradise before being cast out by daring to defy Nature.
After all its just a short ride from defying nature to the Nazi gas chambers. As Mason writes,
Alienated from animals and nature by misothery, our agriculture puts us superior to, and distinct from, the living world. In that position, we can only despise and deny the animal and natural wherever we see it in ourselves or in the rest of humanity. Our anxieties about our animal-like characteristics cause us to project our fear and hatred onto not only other animals but other people whose differences we think places them below us Â— nearer to animals and nature than us.
On this ladder or hierarchy of being, women of one’s own group are one step down. People whom we call “Others” are another step or two down, depending on their usefulness and their distance from nature. Male Others may outrank the women of one’s group if they are “civilized” Â— that is, if they have a similar agriculture with dominionism, patriarchy, royalty, wealth, monumental art, urban centers, and so on.
On the rungs below Others stand animals, first those useful to men, then, father down, all the others. At the bottom of the ladder is raw, chaotic nature itself, composed of invisible organisms and an unclassifiable mass of life that feeds, grows, dies, and stinks in dark, mysterious places. This is muck and swamp, and steamy jungle and all backwaters and wildernesses far from the pruned orchards and weeded crop rows of agrarian civilization; this is nature least useful, nature most mysterious, and therefore nature most hostile and sinister.
Then it draws on the breeder’s ideologies of bloodline and purity, as it did in Nazi Germany and the segregated South; as it still does today among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The rhetoric of all these racists speaks of the breeder’s obsessions, and the extremity of their actions speaks of the depth of their fear and hatred of “lower” nature. The Nazis ranted against Jews, gypsies, Poles, and other “mongrel races” and then methodically tried to exterminate them. Southern segregationists preached against “race mixing” and used lynchings, mob violence, and terrorist campaigns to keep people of color “in their place.”
This is why, despite all the efforts of science and civil rights campaigns, the racial hatred still lies, like a great aquifer, just beneath the surface of consciousness in our culture. On occasion, it wells upward and becomes a very conscious, very political cause.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Activist seeks animal rights. Elizabeth Jerczyk, The Missourian, April 19, 2005.
An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet and Each Other by Jim Mason, Undated.