Monday, July 10, 2017

Human Supremacy: Constructing the "Right" and "Wrong" Sides of the Species Barrier

[Please note that this version of this text has been recovered from an early draft due to a server crash. There may be a few typos and even mistakes in the following]

                                    A line was arbitrarily drawn between white people
                                    and black people, a division which has since been
                                    rejected.  But what of the line which has been
                                    drawn between human and non-human animals? 
                                    We often behave as if there were a wide and
                                    bridgeless chasm, with humans on one side and
                                    all the other animals on the other.
                                                  Marjorie Spiegal, The Dreaded Comparison.

                                    No-one is more strongly convinced than I am of
                                    the vastness of the gulf between civilised man and
                                    brutes... our reverence for the nobility of mankind
                                    will not be lessened by the knowledge that man is,
                                    in substance and in structure, one of the brutes.
                                                                T.H. Huxley, Man’s Place in Nature.

Humans Atop the Scala Naturae.

In issue 25 of  Philosophy Now, Jane Forsey wonders what it is about human beings that makes us so special and important.  ‘Can we’, she asks, ‘continue to rest easy in our claims to, or unspoken assumptions of, a privileged position over the rest of the natural world?’ (Forsey 1999: 29).  Perhaps the suggestion of unspoken assumptions may seem odd and can be challenged, since humans appear hardly ever to remain silent for very long about how their species stands proudly ‘atop the scala naturae’, as Dess & Chapman (1998: 156) put it.  Indeed, the socially constructed nature of conventional human attitudes about other animals implies an almost continuous social discourse on the matter.  However, the rest of Forsey’s question is clearly central to this three-part section of the thesis concerned with the construction, usage and maintenance of the species barrier, particularly as she makes it clear that she mainly means ‘animals’ when she says the rest of the natural world.[1]  Forsey wants to know about historical orientations to human exceptionality claims which speak of human beings being over and above the other animals.  Human exceptionality is claimed on various if fairly familiar grounds, including:

(a) we have souls and so share in the Divine (and animals do not); (b) we have free will and so can make choices (and animals cannot); and (c) we are rational (and animals are not) (Forsey 1999: 29).

Such real or assumed factors serve and have served for a long time to morally separate humans and other animals, perhaps enough to create and maintain the ‘wide and bridgeless chasm’ that Spiegal refers to in the quote at the head of this section: the same ‘sharp discontinuity between humans and animals’ which Barbara Noske (1989) finds in Western culture and discourse.[2] 
          Here the paradox is raised again.  Although Forsey (1999: 29) regards Cartesian views as those representing what she calls ‘deep chasm arguments’ concerning the moral status of humans and other animals, it is clear that even the ‘softer’, apparently more inclusive views embedded within animal welfare ideology allows the greatest interests of nonhumans to be ‘sacrificed’ for arguably trivial human ones.  Therefore, although welfarism can be logically posited as a position that tends toward the bridging of suggestions of a ‘deep chasm’ between humans and nonhumans, species differences remain sufficiently distinct within the orthodoxy to allow the routine exploitation of other animals.  Indeed, given the important nonhuman interests that animal welfarism routinely serves to override, it may be foreseen that many animal rights advocates will seriously question the earlier characterisation of the moral orthodoxy as ‘something of an ethical halfway house’. 
          As discussed a little earlier, Bauman (1990) claims that a certain degree of everyday human social activity involves erecting and maintaining boundaries - human beings do appear to like placing objects in neat, orderly boxes (see Ritvo 1987).  According to Dorian Solot (1998), academics especially like to ‘erect walls’ in order to divide things into tidy and distinct categories.  A feature of the social construction of the orthodox moral view of human-nonhuman relations is the stock use and the preferencing of phrases like ‘humans and animals’ to differentiate groups: all humans linguistically separated from all animals.  The following section looks at the particulars of this routine, systematic and incredibly ‘useful’ differentiation.

Start with God.[3]

Ryder (2000: 28) argues that early Christian views created a sense of human-nonhuman separation within the assertion that men and women could not be animals since humans were created in the image of ‘God’ who had given only ‘their kind’ an immortal soul.  Such views explain why a good deal of recent animal rights discourse has sought to challenge this absolute separation and remind human beings that ‘we’ too are animals.[4]  However, even long before Darwin, it appears that there was recognition and acknowledgement that humans were indeed ‘animals’, although ‘developed’ ones.  Ryder (ibid.: 68) states that ‘classical literature, Epicureans and writers such as Lucretius, Cicero, Diodorus Siculus and Horace had suggested that humankind had only slowly developed from the animal condition’. Aristotle, despite his insistence that humans, animals and nature were held in a ‘natural hierarchy of value’, never claimed that a human being should not be regarded as an animal. 
          Later William Shakespeare’s Hamlet would describe humankind as ‘the paragon of animals’ (ibid).  Nevertheless, Ryder notes - using an interesting term - that a full awareness of our kinship with other animals was ‘intermittent’.  Moreover, acknowledgement of kinship became ‘discouraged by the Church’.  Therefore, it was [and remains] common for people to behave as though human beings were altogether different from animals: of a completely different order to them: indeed, ‘made in the image of God’ (ibid). 
          Reacting to this continuing tendency, many modern nonhuman rights advocates began in the 1980s to use the phrase ‘nonhuman animals’ to make it clear that there are such things as human animals (although it is interesting that this term itself is rarely, if ever, heard; and presumably not merely because it would be regarded as a tautology).[5]  However, some campaigners have complained that the term ‘nonhuman animal’ can imply that the standard is the human one, which may further imply that nonhuman individuals may be regarded as much less important in comparison.  Such people often favour phrases such as ‘animals-other-than-human’ or ‘humans and other animals’.  In what may be regarded as the ‘shorthand’ of emailed text, the majority of contemporary British animal rights advocates tend to not get themselves embroiled too much in language disputes, therefore most often they tend to simply give nonhumans the label ‘animals’ in general discourse.

          Dess and Chapman (1998) remark that they were struck by jarring taxonomy in a radio broadcast they heard concerning the aftermath of a hurricane: ‘Not only were humans affected by the storm, birds and animals were affected too’, the report stated.  Since birds, humans and other animals are all animals, why the malapropism, they ask (ibid.: 156).  They state that they realise that such routine differentiation is simply a version of an established linguistic convention.  However, it is perhaps safe to say that when a linguistic construction exists long enough to become a firmly fixed convention, it is because it continues to hold meaning and/or utility for those (or many of those) who use it.  Moreover, it is probably safe to speculate that very few fellow radio listeners would have registered the problematic taxonomy identified by these authors. 

          Perhaps the central meaning of the common separation of human and animal categories may be correctly identified by Dess and Chapman when they note that, ‘In everyday parlance, animals means not, and less than, human’ (ibid, emphasis in original).[6]  Thus, ‘The ‘animals’ in ‘animal hospitals’ are understood not to be human’; furthermore, the negative usage of ‘animal’ is never far away: ‘the insult is clear in a snarled, ‘You’re an animal!’’ (ibid).[7]  On the origins of these long-standing, firmly-sedimented, and socially-transmitted understandings, Peter Singer (1983; 1985) argues that Western intellectual roots lie in Ancient Greece (especially when the school of Aristotle became dominant) and in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  ‘Neither is kind to those not of our species’, he states (1985: 2).  Alexander Cockburn’s (1996: 16) advice about addressing the issue of the construction of human attitudes toward other animals is impressively clear: ‘Start with God’, he says. 

          With a lively and belligerent style, Cockburn declares that, ‘The Bible is a meat-eater’s manifesto’, or at least it is after a mythical event known as ‘the Fall’.  Until then, the story goes, hippie prototypes Adam and Eve were vegetarians, eating grains, nuts and fruit.  But, as though she ran across a trippy Jack Kerouac novel, Eve could not resist eating from the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ and boy, have we all paid for that mistake.  Cockburn explains what is said to have happened next:

Hardly were Adam and Eve out of Eden before God was offering ‘respect’ to the flesh sacrifice of Abel the keeper of sheep and withholding ‘respect’ from Cain the tiller of the ground. Next thing we know, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, slew him and we were on our way (ibid.: 16-17).

Thus began ‘Man’s’ ‘dominionism’ over and above creation.  Genesis I: 26-28 reports the edict of the Almighty: ‘Man’ was given dominion over the earth and was told to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ in order to ‘subdue’ the planet. 

          Cockburn is right: we really were ‘on our way’; and it has been largely slash and burn ever since.  Some Christian writers, such as Tony Sargent, seek to provide a far more animal-friendly account of common Biblical events (see Sargent 1996: 41-56),[8] and ‘animal rights theologian’ Andrew Linzey (1976; 1987; 1989, edited with Tom Regan; 1994; 1997, edited with Dan Cohn-Sherbok) is unflagging in pointing out that ‘dominion’ really means ‘stewardship’ rather than ‘despotism’.[9]  Yet it has to be admitted, Cockburn’s account seems to be the popular version, commonly reproduced in accounts of the development of human attitudes towards the other animals. 

          Moreover, ‘stewardship’ sounds a great deal like animal welfarism which has rationalised rather than halted the human exploitation of nonhuman animals.[10]  Since it tends to organise the exploitation of other animals, Mason (1993: 29-30) speaks of the ‘stewardship apology’ in Christian cosmology.  That anyone actually believes in the existence of ‘trees of knowledge’ and ‘gardens of Eden’ is quite bizarre and, of course, sociologically fascinating; but believe it, and live and die by such ‘teachings’, many do.  Several modern religious wars seem to testify to the fact that people earnestly hold such religious beliefs.  Thomas Luckmann (1963) suggests in The Invisible Religion that religious belief go beyond church going.  He suggests that religious teaching may remain influential in the creation of culturally-transmitted meanings, even in an increasingly secular world.  Of course, people also believe in Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, Gandalf and Middle Earth, and Aslan the Lion and the Old Narnians, but less real blood has flowed from these fables.  God-stories, on the other hand, have been instrumental in the creation of entire belief systems which people will kill and be killed for. 

          Apart from a remarkable increase in human-to-human violence, Cockburn states that ‘the Biblical God’ launched humans on the exploitation of the rest of the natural world, a world newly conceptualised as seriously ‘un-Christian’ and ‘theirs for the using’ (1996: 17-18).


A substantial part of the ideological exploitation, control, management, or ‘stewardship’ of the natural world would find its expression in agricultural practices based on the strict separation of human and animal categories.  As Dess and Chapman (1998) comment, any remnants of a feeling of ‘commonality between humans and nonhumans generally has been supplanted by notions of human superiority’. 

          Thomas (1983) argues that agriculture stands to land as does cooking to raw meat, meaning that ‘wild’ and ‘raw’ nature is made ‘suitable’ for human consumption.  Thus, to carry out ‘God’s’ orders, humans are specifically instructed to level the woods, till the soil, drive off the predators, kill the ‘vermin’, plough up the bracken and drain the fens.  They must institute a process of ‘ordering’ and ‘taming’ of the plants, animals and natural forces - a transformation, according to Bauman, from pre-modern gamekeeping to modern weed-killing ‘gardening’ practices which will find its most destructive manifestation in recent history in the devastating contrast between the deliberately constructed notions of ‘pleasant harmony’ as opposed to ‘revolting cacophony’ (Bauman 1989: 57). 

          Mason (1993) also notes the significance of the Biblical stories of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Flood and the ‘gift’ of dominionism. He furthermore notes that Genesis tells the creation story, which he calls ‘the fundamental myth of Western civilisation’ from which human beings ‘learn our first and most basic understandings about who we are and how we came to be in the world’ (ibid.: 26).  However, Mason claims it is an error to locate Genesis as the source of dominionist views which situate humans above ‘lowly’ and ‘savage’ nature and ‘her’ animals.  These views of human superiority are a product of what Mason calls ‘agri-culture’ which, as a concept of domination, seems to bear a resemblance to how early members of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research conceptualised, at least in part, the notion of instrumental rationality (see Craib 1984: 186-90).[12] 

          Mason suggests that Hebrew Scribes, those who physically wrote the Genesis account, were recounting already existing tales and myths that had been orally transmitted from generation to generation before the advent of writing.  Consequently:

Sumeria, Persia, Egypt, and the other great, early cultures were not the starting points of Western civilisation; they were, rather, culminations of millennia of human economic, social, cultural, and ideological growth that occurred around the eastern and of the Mediterranean Sea. Scholars call this region the Near East; laypersons call it the Middle East.  It is here, from a great, rich stew of agri-cultural peoples and cultures, that the idea of dominionism emerges... Here, by the time writing had begun, a very old, sedentary agrarian society had already fashioned most of the myths that celebrated humanity’s ascent to mastery over nature. Dominionism was alive and well...long before it was codified by the scribes of Genesis (ibid.: 32-33).            

Mason also emphasises secular influences on the construction of attitudes about humans and other animals.  He notes that poets and philosophers from Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and other ‘settled, wealthy, agricultural civilisations’, generally adopted a world view which regarded nature and all of the living world as existing exclusively for humans, who should rule and control the natural world. 

          Mason claims that, just like Biblical tales, classical writings hold ‘great authority in Western culture and they are still seen as sources of, and bases for, the rules governing how people should live’ (ibid.: 33).  He therefore argues that, like Genesis, classical writers ‘authored’ and ‘authorised’ already existing, firmly established, agri-cultural views.  Of course, there have been dissenting voices raised against dominant paradigms in all ages (as Ryder [2000] is keen to stress), but Mason forcefully maintains that dominionist agri-culturalist thought has become the established human mind-set, at least in the nations of the Western world.  Mason’s characterisation of the agri-cultural mind-set - based on controlling, ordering and managing the natural world - as our socialised ‘second nature’ bears great significance in terms of this thesis. 


Classical Greek thought itself was not utterly monolithic and can be divided into rival schools such as those based on Platonic and Pythagorean teachings.  However, Platonic thought, especially as expressed by Aristotle, became favoured in the West.  Mason says that Aristotle’s work provided ‘fuel’ for Christian and Renaissance views that persisted in seeing ‘Man’ at the top of a ‘natural hierarchy’ within a moral theory called perfectionism (also see Regan 2001: 5-6).  This hierarchy is conveniently ordered by ‘God’ in Christian thought but, for Aristotle, it was simply a product of the laws of nature (Mason 1993: 34).

          A similar division of thought emerged in Rome, according to Mason, with largely the same outcome.  Thus, as much as some animal advocates make a habit of recounting the views of Ovid, Seneca, Porphyry, and Plutarch (see Wynne-Tyson 1985; 1990; Ryder 2000; Wiebers & Wiebers 2000), it was ‘agrarian Roman culture [which] took human dominionism over nature for granted’ with notions that humans were ‘absolute masters’ of the earth, and its products could be seen as ‘ours’ (Mason 1993: 34).  The notion that humankind controlled the natural world is found in Cicero’s comment that ‘We sow the seeds and plant the trees.  We fertilise the earth.  We stop, direct, and turn the rivers’ (quoted in ibid.)

          Moving towards what he labels ‘modern Western dominionism’, Mason argues that the same ‘humans-on-top’ messages are found in the works of Thomas Aquinas (see Clark 1984 for a critique of Thomist views), Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes.  Mason claims that Aquinas ‘welded’ sacred and secular ideas together to produce a ‘hard’ version of dominionism expressed through Catholicism ever since, and he quotes from a modern North American Catholic text to reveal Aristotelian ideals of rationalism in ‘perfect’ ‘Man’ and irrationalism in ‘imperfect’ animals. 

          How dominionism is translated into modern or ‘Enlightenment’ thought is by observing that science was characterised as a useful tool of human ‘freedom’, not so much to gain simply an understanding of the world, but to gain a firm control of it.  Mason says that the so-called ‘fathers of modern science’, Bacon and Descartes, whose lives overlapped around 1600, effectively provided an updated version of dominionism for the modern, and then the industrial age (Mason 1993: 35).  Citing William Leiss’ 1972 book, The Domination of Nature, Mason asserts that Bacon linked the dominionism that was thousands of years old with the modern promise of increased human health - and wealth - through scientific developments.  In ‘passionate pleas’ to use knowledge for the betterment of ‘man’s earthly estate’ (Peters 1991: 38), Bacon suggested that producing ‘new inventions’ and ‘human riches’ was the main role for science (Mason 1993: 36). 

          Bacon was another writer who declared that ‘Man’ was ‘at the centre of the world’ and argued that, if it were not for human control of the natural world, all would go ‘astray’.  There would be no ‘purpose’.  No ‘aim’.  It is perhaps not insignificant that Bacon talked about the natural world as ‘her’ and thought ‘she’ could be made a ‘slave’ (Bacon’s Novum Organum, in ibid.) as some Marxians would later view nature as some sort of ‘servant’.  Religious views, Mason writes, allow humans to dominate nature, whereas Bacon made the whole idea seem desirable (ibid.: 37, emphasis in original) as he advanced his ‘formula’ that involved subduing nature ‘by submission’ (Bauman & May 2001: 174).  

            At roughly the time of Bacon’s death, Descartes was credited with advancing a position that seems to completely separate humans from nature and all other animals.  Descartes is said to have frequently articulated the ‘absolute gulf’ thesis which still resonates today in a more restricted sense, tempered by animal welfarism.  The French philosopher-priest-animal experimenter apparently ‘detached’ humanity from all else and characterised humanity as the ultimate ruling class.  In Descartes’ view, humans could be ‘aloof’ from nature: nature amounted to ‘underlings’ when compared to ‘Man’.  Human beings are so superior that it is folly not to conceive of humanity far removed from the natural world.  Mason maintains that Descartes ‘cut humanity loose’ from nature in an act of ideological reclassification.  Thus, other living beings were simply to be seen as ‘insensible’ and ‘soulless machines’,[13] similar to clocks or automated dolls and toys (Mason 1993: 37-8: and see selections from Descartes’ Discourse on Method, and a reproduction of two letters written by Descartes [to the Marquis of Newcastle and Henry More] discussing main points from his ‘animals are machines’ thesis; and a reply by Voltaire, in Regan & Singer 1976: 60-8).

          Descartes came up with an apparently neat solution to explain his general position in the light of the vivisection he performed.  Apparently, he cut nonhumans open and found similar organs, bones, nerves, muscles, blood vessels, etc., discovered in human bodies.  He therefore reasoned that a major, and important, difference between humans and other animals must be the former’s’ ability to think.  Given found physical similarities, animals other than human were not, after all, to be regarded as absolutely soulless in Cartesian thought.  Thus, Descartes seemingly began to argue that both humans and other animals had a ‘corporeal soul’ which is purely mechanical and depends to some extent on ‘animal spirits’ in the human or nonhuman body.  However, he stated that thought resides in the ‘incorporeal mind’; another and second ‘soul’, ‘defined as a thinking substance’, which only humans have. 

          Descartes also appears to have explained the fact that some animals can move faster than humans by saying that the ‘machine of the body’ in nonhumans move ‘more violently’ than the human body which is moved by ‘will’.  He further reasoned that since ‘Man’ can create various forms of automata, it is only reasonable to suppose that nature would also produce its own automata.  For Descartes, these ‘natural automata’ are the animals of the world (see Descartes in Regan & Singer 1976: 65-6).

          Ryder (2000: 221) argues that Descartes was ‘desperate’ to conceive of a huge difference between humans and the other animals, despite the contrary evidence produced by his own knife and scalpel.  Perhaps this search for separation was important in enabling animal experimenters to perform vivisection on nonhuman animals with a morally clear conscience.  If this was the aim, it apparently worked, and scientific anti-vivisectionists and animal advocates such as Hans Ruesch (1979), Richard Ryder (1983; 2000) and Tom Regan (2001) recount in gruesome detail how Cartesian-inspired vivisectors would carry out the most violent experiments, often repeatedly on the same victim, and with no pain relief.  Furthermore, they would laugh at anyone who showed concern for the suffering of the experimental ‘models’.  Descartes is even reputed to have performed experiments on the dog ‘belonging’ to his wife, much to her disgust and opposition (Ryder 2000: 53).

Humanity’s Renewed Licence to Kill.

Whatever the purpose of Descartes’ ‘search for difference’, Mason (1993: 38) states that he presented humankind with a ‘renewed licence to kill’ along with a renewed licence to exploit nature and animals more ruthlessly than ever.  He successfully ‘de-coupled’ and ‘desensitised’ attitudes to nature exploitation and ‘blew away’ any existing timidity that remained about ‘nature conquest’.  Anticipating a point Ryder (2000) and Regan (2001) make later, Mason (1993) says that the Cartesian formulation was a great assistance to all animal exploiters: for how could it be ethically wrong or immoral to kill animals if they were just unfeeling machines? 

        Conceiving of the belief system Bauman (1989; 1993) names societal ‘gardening’, experimenting nature controllers and nature conquerors were now able to also declare themselves ‘noble improvers’ of humanity.  By advancing the disciplines of science and reason both Bacon and Descartes fuelled the expansionist aspirations of Europeans who ‘discovered’ North America, the Pacific and much of the rest of the globe from the sixteenth century onwards (Mason 1993: 38-9).  William Leiss (cited in ibid.) - and Thomas (1983) - explore strands of seventeenth and eighteenth century attitudes toward nature and animals and identify fairly widespread beliefs, such as the idea that nature possesses ‘secrets’ that need to be discovered; that ‘Man’ ‘perfects’ the work of creation; and that the natural world needs human ‘superintendence’.  Without such human control, things will go wrong and will not ‘function’ properly.  The result of such attitudes, Mason contends (1993: 39), is the development of a creed of ‘aggressive, probing, scientific dominionism’ in which nature domination and species differentiation were fundamental intellectual bandwagons and dominant paradigms of the modern age.

          By the nineteenth century, Saint-Simon (rather optimistically) declared an age in which humans need not exploit other humans: ‘Man’s’ activity would be confined to exploiting the natural world, or ‘external nature’, as he described it.  Marx famously foresaw a future world in which communist humans would control nature for the common good, ‘instead of allowing it to rule them’; while Engels suggested that socialism would bring into being a situation where humans could become the ‘true masters’ of nature. 

          For Marx and Engels there is no suggestion that other animals would benefit in their radical vision of a brand new abundant socialist world, or that animals other than human might be regarded as members of the exploited proletariat, despite the huge amount of forced labour they provide:

It will be possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind to, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic (Marx & Engels 1976, vol. 5: 47).

Mason notes that more recent Marxian views, such as Maurice Cornforth’s (written in the 1950’s), ‘expressed a dominionist, human supremacist outlook at least as absolute as that of Genesis, Aquinas, Bacon and the rest’ (1993: 40).  For example, Cornforth entitled a section of his work, ‘Man’s Mastery of Nature’, declaring:

Increasing mastery of nature is, indeed, the essential content of material progress. In mastering natural forces men learn their laws of operation and so make use of those laws for human purposes.

By ‘mastering’ natural forces humans transform them from ‘enemies’ to ‘servants’.  In the communist future, Cornforth said:

People now go forward without hindrance to know and control the forces of nature, to use them as servants, to remake nature, co-operating with nature to make the world a human world since humanity is nature’s highest product (both quotes cited in ibid).

Mason comments that it is clear that even those radicals who allegedly ‘would turn the world upside down’ would not think as far as the exploitation that exists in human-nonhuman relations.  On the contrary, even they would ‘keep humanity at the top’, they would also control nature ‘with an iron hand’, and few left-wing radical views, for example on forms of human slavery, extended its imagination beyond the species boundary (ibid.: 40-1).

          Speciesist sentiments do not appear to recognise political categories of left and right.  For example, 1960’s philosopher Eric Hoffer dreamed of the day when ‘technological man’ could wipe out jungles, make arable land from deserts and swamps, make mountains productive with terracing, control the flow and direction of rivers, kill all ‘pests’, and even control the weather in order that the entire globe could be made ‘useful’ to humanity.  Meanwhile B.F. Skinner, in his 1962 book, Walden Two, explained his utopian vision in terms of the ‘triumph over nature’, the ‘conquest of nature’ and the ‘scientific conquest of the world’.  Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the interior, James Watts, favoured plans to expand oil, mining and lumber industries’ exploitation of the Earth’s wildest regions, as does the current incumbent of the White House, George W. Bush.  Such views are extremely dominionist and speciesist since they see nature as ‘just a pile of untapped resources’ (Mason 1993: 41).  According to Mason, similar views come from a neo-Cartesian, Buckminster Fuller, who regards nature as ‘negligible’, ‘obsolete’; a ‘messy’, ‘disorderly’, ‘unpredictable’ thing - quite ‘female’ - to be ‘avoided’, ‘controlled’ and ‘contained’ (ibid).

            For Mason, nature dominators often focus their exploitative attention on animals because they have been viewed as the most visible, alive and vital part of nature.  He cites an unnamed professor of business law and ethics from a newspaper editorial who provides ‘a ‘freeze-dried’ argument packaged long ago by Aristotle, Aquinas, and Descartes’:

[P]eople are generally seen as made in the image of God... it is only people who occupy this exalted status.  The things of the earth, including animals, are given by God for the benefit of people. So most religions describe a three-tiered hierarchy: God, people and everything else (quoted in ibid.: 42).


The aim of this section has been to generally outline some of the significant sources which have contributed to the construction of the prevailing attitudes to humans, animals, and human-nonhuman relations.  Following Regan (2001), concentration has been placed on the powerful influence of religious and scientific views on the way we tend to - and are encouraged to - view humans and other animals.  Again following Regan, it should be stressed that views about humans and animals are firmly structured by culture, and economic and political factors.[14]

        These dimensions of the argument follow in a subsequent section, especially with regard to cultural transmission through socialisation processes.  However, the next chapter deals with how the ‘vast gulf’ thesis between humans and the other animals has been violently applied by humans against the interests of other human beings.

[1]   According to Mason (1993, chap 3), it is common for nonhuman animals to be given a privileged place in our general thoughts about ‘nature’ and the natural world.
[2]   In animal rights discourse, the pointed observation is made that exceptionality claims are biased toward human beings and against the other animals.  Animal activists ask questions such as, what about the exceptional ability to see in the dark, or the valuable ability to fly, or the invaluable ability to seemingly be able to live in harmony with one’s biosphere.
[3]   Philosopher Derek Parfit (1984) notes that ‘non-religious ethical thinking’ is a new phenomenon in the history of humankind.  Singer (1993: 18), noting that non-religious thinking was not studied systematically until the 1960s, agrees that we may still be justified in having high hopes in terms of future ethical progress, and therefore ‘it is clearly premature to say that history [of thinking] has reached its final destination’.
[4]   When I mentioned this potential theme for the thesis to my own sister, Lynne, a chemistry teacher, it reminded her that she had caused uproar in class when explaining the common ‘animal, vegetable, mineral’ formulation.  She had used a picture of a human being as an example of the animal category.  This resulted in several objections from angry students who declared flatly that they were not animals, and that they did not want anyone else to have the opportunity to call them one.
[5]   I suspect that initial reaction to such a phrase would be to regard it as rather odd, rather than the immediate reaction to focus on the tautology.  This, I believe, is significant in itself.  In terms of the ‘truth’ of the phrase, many may be quick to reassert ‘points of separation’.  Take this, the very first words in the first chapter of Michael Haralambos’ introductory textbook of sociology (Haralambos & Holborn 1995: 2): ‘Human beings learn their behaviour and use their intelligence whereas animals simply act on instinct’.
[6]   On April 28th, 2003, The Sun tabloid ‘newspaper’ featured a story (Stars Learn the Art of Survival) about a TV programme called ‘I’m a Celebrity…… Get Me Out of Here’ in which the contestants must gut fishes and prepare chickens for eating.  They may also encounter dangerous wild animals.  Lembit Opik says of his ‘weathergirl’ girlfriend Sian who was taking part in the program: ‘If she ends up in a scrap with an orang-utan, it’ll be the animal that runs off with a thick ear.  She knows how to look after herself’.
[7]   The particulars of the use of ‘animal’ would surely provide an interesting area of research for ethnomethodological conversation analysists.  For example, in April 2002 regular TV and hourly radio bulletins featured the comments of a police officer investigating the murder of a pensioner in the north of England.  The officer described the killers as ‘animals’ with such emphasis that the phrase was unusually striking.  Enough that the editor of the animal rights magazine Arcnews was prompted to write to him with a complaint about the usage.
[8]   also see Judaism and Vegetarianism (Schwartz 2001).  Singer (1985:3) points out that Christian figures such as Francis of Assisi appears to have based his compassion for animals on notions of indirect duties and animal welfarism.  He recounts a story of a disciple who is said to have sliced off a pig’s trotter: Francis rebukes the disciple, not for the cruel act toward the pig, but because he has damaged the pig owner’s property.
[9]   Journalist Jonathan Dimbleby featured on Radio 4’s farming programme on 22/7/2001.  Dimbleby is a part-time farmer and, in relation to farming animals, he described himself in the programme as a ‘steward’.
[10]   see Mason (1993: 29-30) for the Presbyterian Animal Welfare Task Force’s position on ‘dominionism’ which is grounded within the animal welfarist paradigm.
[11]   Mason’s conceptualisation of ‘agri-culture’ is closely connected with another notion he called ‘misothery’ (see the end of the next section on this).
[12]   Interestingly, various members of the Frankfurt School, such as Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno, became engaged in speculation about the earliest origins - and the ‘flowering’ - of instrumental reason in the way that Mason and others have thought about the origins of the instrumental use, ‘management’ and categorisation of other animals.
[13]   In July and August 2001 the animal rights e-mail network ‘AR Views’ revisited the ‘animals have no souls’ debate when a new member to the net had been told that by a work colleague who is an active hunter as well as dedicated meat eater.
[14]   Regan has regularly talked about how the animal rights movement must overcome the ‘habits and forces’ behind the systematic exploitation of animals (quoted in Jannaway 1990: 14).

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