Jim Mason is a pioneering author within the animal liberation
movement. In 1980, he co-authored Animal Factories with Peter
Singer, which served as an eye-opening expose of the conditions
on factory farms in the United States. Mason's next groundbreaking
book, An Unnatural Order, was published in 1993. An Unnatural
Order traces the roots of humanity's dominionistic ways back
to the advent of agriculture. This startling link provides
incredibly important insight into the root causes of oppression
in our society.
In An Unnatural Order you talk about dominionism.
What exactly is dominionism?
It is the worldview of the human supremacist: The view or
belief held by one species, Homo sapiens sapiens, that it
has a divine right—a God-given license—to use
animals and everything else in the living world for its own
benefit. This worldview 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,
How did the development of "animal agriculture"
impact the way humans relate to animals, nature and each other?
Before animal agriculture began 10,000 years ago, people
regarded animals with fascination, awe, and respect because
they were lively and active, and were thought to harbor many
of the powers and forces of nature. Those people had a strong
sense of kinship with animals, which gave them a sense of
belonging in the living world. Animal agriculture—or
the enslavement of animals for human benefit—turned
it all upside down. Animals had to be 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, loathing, dread, and alienation. Western
history and "civilization" began c. 3,000 BC in
the land now called Iraq with wars, slavery, inequality, and
To what extent do you feel this is tied to how desensitized
humans in western culture have become from the way our society
100 percent. We couldn't very well carry on the cruelties
inherent in animal slavery if we clung to the old ideas of
kinship with and respect for animals. So, early agri-societies
constructed sets of myths to maintain animal slavery and the
subjugation of the nature for agriculture. One set of myths
I call "misothery," literally (from Greek), hatred
of animals. Misothery breaks down into all of the lies and
denials about animals that we deal with every day: Animals
are often vicious, dangerous, sneaky, threatening, or evil--
and always beneath our regard. Misothery not only desensitizes
us, it gives us false and unscientific ideas about animals
What sorts of lessons can anti-factory farming activists
learn from the history you trace in An Unnatural Order?
That history is helpful not only to activism against factory
farms, but all activism for animals. Our movement is struggling
against some very old traditions, and I think it is helpful
to understand those traditions from their roots. More specifically,
two of the big issues in AR today are:
(a) Factory farming, handling, shipping, slaughter--which
account for about 98 percent of all animal suffering--and
killing. If we understand the history, then we understand
the myths and other underpinnings of modern animal agribusiness.
And activists on other issues should understand that animal
enslavement for farming is the mother—or father—of
all animal oppression, because it set up the many myths that
make up the dominionist worldview.
(b) The property status of animals. Western concepts of property
probably grew out of animal slavery in the ancient world.
Animals were probably the first form of money, property, and
wealth. For example: Capital, a word for wealth, derives from
capita, Latin for head; the wealth of a herding tribe, such
as the early Romans, was measured by the head count—how
many cattle (or sheep, goats, camels, etc.) it owned. To this
day, ranchers say things like, “We hauled a couple of
hundred head to market yesterday.”
What impact has our alienation from nature had on
the way we live our lives, and what sorts of problems does
Too many to list here, but start with consumerism: People
buy stuff like there’s no tomorrow—most of them
not knowing or caring where it all comes from. People are
oblivious to the mining, lumbering, damming, and rampant industrialization
of the earth. Under dominionism, every living creature is
regarded as either resource or pest.
For another, consider the problem of sex and our bodies.
We have a tradition of shame and loathing about these aspects
of life because they remind us of our mammalhood—our
kinship with animals and nature. We deny and distort the most
essential elements of human life in order to maintain the
unbridgeable gap between our species and all others.
To what extent do you see racism, sexism, homophobia
and colonialism as being rooted in dominionism?
Racism grows out of misothery—hatred and contempt for
animals and nature. We transfer our misothery to people whom
we regard as closer to animals and nature than us. Sexism,
or male supremacy, is a fixture of the patriarchal culture
invented by the warring, herding societies who dominated the
rise of Western civilization in the ancient Middle East. Homophobia
is one of the by-products of patriarchal culture, which sees
human breeding as so all-important that every kind of sexual
gratification is outlawed unless it places male sperm near
female ova. 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—as slaves.
What would you say to activists from other causes
who are fighting various forms of oppression of their fellow
humans, but who still dismiss concerns about animals as irrelevant?
Read An Unnatural Order, particularly Chapter Three, “Animals:
The Most Moving Things in the World” and Chapter Nine,
“Beyond Dominionism.” Animals are basic to our
worldview—or any other worldview, for that matter. Misothery—hatred
of animality and nature—feeds racism and fosters unhealthy
attitudes about sex, gender, and our bodies. Intellectuals
have been discussing the problem of alienation and other parts
of the “Nature Question” for a century and a half,
making no progress because they have a blind spot (because
of hostility because of misothery) regarding animals. We simply
cannot come to terms with nature unless we come to terms with
animals, for animals are central to the entire Nature Question.
If all these forms of oppression are linked and so
heavily integrated into our culture, how can we help foster
a new ethic that will not be focused on dominionism?
Expose the lies and de-construct the myths about animals,
nature, and human beings. Science can help a lot if we use
it properly, so let’s not be anti-science. Science is
already helping us (well, those of us who read and think anyway)
understand our very real, biological and evolutionary kinship
with animals. Of course this scares and infuriates a lot of
people, loaded up as they are with misothery; they consider
it the gravest insult even to be mentioned in the same breath
with animals. Science also is telling us a lot about the realities
of animals’ lives—their sentience, their emotions,
their social bonds and many other aspects of life that we
have historically denied in them and reserved exclusively
for ourselves. Good science exposes the lies and myths about
human and animal life that have built up over nearly 100 centuries
of animal slavery.
Expose and destroy lies and myths about the living world,
to include us—Homo sapiens sapiens—living in it.
That’s what we must do. To destroy all of these is to
destroy misothery, which props up dominionism (let’s
just call it human supremacy) and maintains a void or a gulf
instead of a sense of kinship between humans and other animals.
At the same time, we ought to think about some of our habits
and traditions formed by a long period of dominionist (human
supremacist) culture--things like our consumerism/materialism,
our sprawling cities, our gluttony for water and energy, our
urge to breed, our population growth, and all of our ways
of living that are destroying forests, coastal wetlands, wilderness,
the oceans, the atmosphere, and too many of the species of
non-human beings who live therein.
If you would like a goal to keep in mind, let’s say
bring the planet’s human population and consumption
impact back to the levels it was on the eve of agriculture
10,000 years ago: five to ten million people using a very
small amount of all-biodegradable stuff in a lifetime. That
was the last time that the human species lived on the planet
more or less in equilibrium with all other life. Of course,
we would want to make this change humanely and fairly; no
taking of lives--just good, effective birth control and industrial
Will this plan sell to the masses? Try it and see. What the
hell have we got to lose?