How Domination Underpins Slavery, Genocide, the Exploitation of Women, & the Maltreatment of Animals
Lantern Publishing & Media, 128 Second Place, Brooklyn, NY 11231; www.lanternpm.org.
Available in both Kindle and paperback editions.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Many ANIMALS 24-7 readers will remember Supremacist Syndrome author and New Hampshire attorney Peter Marsh as an occasional presenter at humane conferences in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Cofounding an organization called Solutions To Overpopulation of Pets, Marsh helped to introduce targeted low-cost spay/neuter programs which cut shelter animal intake and killing in New Hampshire by approximately 80% between 1992 and 2003.
Targeted low-cost spay/neuter continued to keep the numbers down even as the New Hampshire human and pet populations grew by about 15% during the first decade of the 21st century.
Eventually Marsh distilled his experience into two influential handbooks:
Getting to Zero: A Roadmap to Ending Animal Shelter Overpopulation in the United States (2012)
Free download: http://www.shelteroverpopulation.org/Books/Getting_to_Zero.pdf
Replacing Myth With Math: Using Evidence-Based Programs
to Eradicate Shelter Overpopulation (2010)
Free download: http://www.shelteroverpopulation.org/Replacing_Myth_With_Math.htm
Getting to Zero: A Roadmap to Ending Animal Shelter Overpopulation in the United States could be described as Animal Sheltering Statistics & Economics 1-A.
It should be required reading for everyone aspiring to direct a humane society, animal control agency, or dog and cat population control program of any sort––or anyone aspiring, as an outside critic, to make informed judgments about animal shelter management and funding.
Replacing Myth With Math: Using Evidence-Based Programs to Eradicate Shelter Overpopulation, though written two years earlier, is Animal Sheltering Statistics & Economics 1-B, a more detailed advanced course reinforcing the same points with more data.
Needed now as much as ever
The realities of animal sheltering have changed immensely in many respects since Marsh wrote Getting to Zero and Replacing Myth With Math.
In particular, vastly more shelters and some entire states now claim “no kill” status. But this is usually achieved more by restricting admissions to avoid accepting hard-to-rehome feral cats and pit bulls than through effectively targeted low-cost spay/neuter, so that problematic animals will not be born.
Targeted low-cost spay/neuter programs such as those Marsh developed remain as much needed now as circa 1990 and earlier, when most animal shelters killed more than 70% of their intake.
Tripped over feral cats
Unfortunately, Marsh on page 103 of Getting to Zero and page 62 of Replacing Myth With Math repeated two pernicious myths that undercut his own arguments.
The first of these myths is that “There may be as many stray and feral cats in the country as there are living in households.”
Since targeted low-cost spay/neuter has been directed most often and most vigorously over the past few decades toward feral cats, a finding that the stray and feral cat population might even remotely approach the numbers of household pet cats would suggest that sterilizing feral cats has been an abject failure.
However, credible research last found a feral cat population equaling the owned pet cat population in 1908. Recent research suggests there are more than 10 times as many owned pet cats as ferals and strays, whose numbers have fallen by about 80% since 1990.
(See TNR achieves 72% drop in kitten birth rate, finds Alley Cat Rescue and TNR boomed before COVID-19 hit, Alley Cat Rescue survey shows.)
Bitten by pit bulls
The second myth Marsh asserted, while making a case for promoting and subsidizing pit bull sterilization, is that pit bulls do not behaviorally differ from other dogs.
Pit bulls would not exist if they did not behaviorally differ from other dogs, especially in their zeal to fight, even to their own deaths; and this is precisely why targeted low-cost spay/neuter programs, reinforced by breed-specific legislation, are necessary to overcome the present reality that pit bulls make up more than two-thirds of the U.S. animal shelter dog population.
Different book with a similar glitch
Extensive discussion of Getting to Zero and Replacing Myth With Math is appropriate to reviewing The Supremacist Syndrome: How Domination Underpins Slavery, Genocide, the Exploitation of Women, and the Maltreatment of Animals, which is otherwise an extremely different book, because The Supremacist Syndrome––after presenting a great deal of insightful history––comparably misses Marsh’s own strongest point.
The Supremacist Syndrome opens with an extensive review of the Nazi Holocaust as conducted in Hungary, introducing people as distinctly different as Heinrich Himmler, who directed one of the biggest mass murders ever, and Raoul Wallenberg, who used his status as a Swedish diplomat to save thousands of Jewish lives at eventual cost of his own life.
Ironically, Wallenberg died not through the machinations of the Nazis, whom he opposed, but through the paranoia of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, whom he had imagined to be an ally.
King Leopold of Belgium
From the Holocaust, Marsh segues back in time two generations to examine the atrocities inflicted on the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium (1835-1909).
Leopold warrants remembrance as a tyrant in the same bracket as Adolph Hitler, Stalin, Mao tse Tung, and Pol Pot, with the difference that Leopold was motivated not by abstract ideology, even in part, but by thinly rationalized pure greed.
In a third historical chapter, Marsh reviews the struggle of several generations of women to win the right to vote in the U.S. and Britain. This effort began before King Leopold came to power, and ended in much of the British Commonwealth only after India, Canada, and other member nations where women had not been allowed to vote gained political independence.
Suffrage leaders & animal advocates
Several of the female suffrage leaders whom Marsh profiles, some only briefly but others in lifelong detail, were also among the most prominent animal advocates of their time.
This was neither by random coincidence, nor a result of some sort of “intersectional” merger of causes, such as many activists of today hope to engineer by emphasizing either real or imagined commonalities.
The humane movement as it emerged in the 19th century included animals almost as an afterthought, along with such causes as women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, seeking universal free public education, opposing cruel and unusual punishments, promoting temperance, and establishing orphanages, insane asylums, hospitals, and homes for the aged and infirm.
How “humane” came to mean “animals”
Only after each of these causes gained momentum and spun off organizations closely focused on the goals involving human interests did the once much broader humane movement come to center itself around the prevention of cruelty to animals, the largest cause left under the generalized humane umbrella.
At that, the first U.S. national humane society, the American Humane Association, was at formation in 1877 almost equally divided between societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and societies operating orphanages for human children. Many member organizations did both; some continued to do so into the early 1960s.
Of note is that the American Humane Association circa 1900 excluded vegetarian societies and antivivisection societies, as these were perceived to be causes at cross-purposes with the focal humane goal of improving humanity through providing moral education.
What ties three short books together?
Marsh does not delve deeply into humane movement history. This omission weakens the second half of The Supremacist Syndrome, which to that point reads more like three separate short books on tangentially related topics than a coherent whole.
Each short book, on the Holocaust in Hungary, Belgian colonial exploitation of the Congo (with much complicity by the rest of Europe), and the women’s suffrage struggle, is lucid, insightful, and thoroughly documented; and the subtitle How Domination Underpins Slavery, Genocide, the Exploitation of Women, and the Maltreatment of Animals does point toward where Marsh is going with his argument.
Not until the fourth section of The Supremacist Syndrome, however, does Marsh make a concerted effort to pull all of his thematic loose ends together.
“Core Elements of Supremacist Belief Systems”
This section, entitled “Robbery with Violence: Core Elements of Supremacist Belief Systems Of Human Chauvinism,” outlines what Marsh believes to be the common elements of supremacism, also widely known as dominionism:
- Supremacists want something that belongs to members of a group they dominate.
- Supremacists use violence and coercion to dominate members of a weaker group and take what they want.
- Supremacists usually try to hide the harm they inflict.
- Supremacists disguise their wrongdoing with euphemisms and code words.
- Supremacists justify their exploitation by claiming that members of a group they exploit are inferior, so ordinary social rules don’t apply.
- In extreme cases, supremacists claim people from another group aren’t fully human and treat them like animals.
- Supremacists devise stereotypes and rationalizations to justify the privileges they receive.
Supremacists rarely hide
The first and second elements that Marsh outlines tend to be self-evident. Why would anyone go to the trouble of dominating someone else, except to gain some advantage? How else might domination be exercised except through violence and/or coercion?
Elements 5, 6, and 7 are also easily seen, just by looking at the allegations and language used by demagogues and movements seeking dominion over others.
But history demonstrates, mostly contrary to the examples Marsh explores in reviewing the Holocaust, the history of Belgian rule in the Congo, and the women’s suffrage struggle, that supremacists do not “usually try to hide the harm they inflict,” and do not “disguise their wrongdoing with euphemisms and code words,” because supremacists usually do not recognize their deeds as wrongdoing.
From sacking cities to mass crucifixions in Biblical times, and from the practice of slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S. to the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976), most supremacist activity has been as public as public could be. Supremacist rulers and entire ruling classes have subjugated other people by means ranging from public humiliation to public torture and execution, typically practiced as mass entertainment.
Vlad, Ivan, & the KKK
Far from hiding the harm they inflict, dominionists have tried to make it as widely known as possible, including by adopting names, such as Vlad the Impaler and Ivan the Terrible, identifying themselves with cruelty and ruthlessness.
Even when disguises have been used by supremacists, such as those directing the Inquisition, and the bedsheet-soiling members of the Ku Klux Klan, the purpose of the disguising has been to increase the terror of the victims, not to hide deeds as obvious as burning at the stake and blazing crosses.
Recognizing that most exercises of supremacy, historically, have inverted what Marsh presents as the third and fourth common traits of supremacism could have reinforced several of his later points, when he turns to discussing the human-and-animal relationship in chapters entitled “On Factory Farms, Money Talks but in Obscenities,” and “On Factory Farms, Money May Not Swear, But It Still Talks Too Loud.”
Most of these chapters summarize arguments about how much humans share with animals raised for meat and byproducts, and how much the animals suffer, that most vegetarians and vegans can deliver extemporaneously, and often do, in discussion with non-comprehending friends and family and in social media flame wars.
Often Marsh pauses to draw parallels between human treatment of farmed animals, and the rationalizations offered for it by meat-eaters and agribusiness.
In particular, Marsh points toward his seven “Core Elements of Supremacist Belief Systems Of Human Chauvinism,” five of which are reasonably self-evident, while the other two are of limited applicability, if any.
According to Marsh, who to be fair is merely repeating several decades-old vegetarian/vegan/animal rights shibboleths, “We shroud meat consumption with many euphemisms, People eat ‘pork,’ ‘beef,’ ‘veal,’ and ‘bacon’––not the flesh of pigs or cattle. ‘Meat’ is itself a euphemism for the flesh of an animal. Borrowing a term from plant agriculture, meat producers say that farmed animals are ‘harvested,’ not ‘slaughtered.’
“In some cases,” Marsh continues, “the euphemism is intended to conceal what actually takes place. For instance, in an editorial titled ‘Let’s Kill Slaughtering,’ a meat industry journal once advised readers to call places where animals are slaughtered a ‘meat plant’ or a ‘meat factory,’ not a ‘slaughterhouse.’”
Meanwhile back at the baloney counter
While the facts hold up, individually, the context does not. Even a cursory glance at typical supermarket meat displays will note countless images of cattle, pigs, poultry, lambs and fish on packaging, placards, and murals. One of our local supermarkets even exhibits four life-sized fiberglass statues of cows and calves.
The euphemistic aspect of the pictures and props is not a pretense that the meat does not come from animals, but rather that the animals are often either shown grinning, in chef’s hats, as if happy to be eaten, or depicted in bucolic pasture settings that most farmed animals never inhabit.
The popular animal advocacy claim that “If slaughterhouses have glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian,” often attributed to musician Paul McCartney, is belied by the reality that the biggest tourist attractions in Cincinnati and Chicago from the late 19th century until the mid-twentieth century were huge outdoor “pig wheels,” to which screaming pigs were shackled upside down and rotated skyward to upstairs killing floors. The killing floors were upstairs so that blood and offal would easily drain downward.
Moral evolution requires more than just seeing animal deaths
Millions of people watched pig slaughter for decades. The watching appears to have done little or nothing to turn those people into vegans.
But this should be no surprise, in retrospect, since slaughter was until then done mostly in public streets and alleys, one animal at a time, just as it is done now outside the developed world. Even today, much of the world sees animal slaughter routinely, from an early age.
The process of overcoming “human chauvinism,” as Marsh calls it, requires a moral process much different from merely seeing animals being killed.
This is where the absent chapters about humane history might have helpfully been included, in amendment of the demonstrably false claims that “Supremacists usually try to hide the harm they inflict” and that “Supremacists disguise their wrongdoing with euphemisms and code words.”
Hiding atrocities reflects humane success
The examples of the Nazi holocaust, King Leopold’s atrocities, and the women’s suffrage movement that Marsh examines in depth have most in common that all three originated after the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century rise of the humane movement in the original human-centered sense of the term.
Further, all three examples arose after physician Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) and his sister Jane Bowdler (1743-1784), both of them ardent social reformers, introduced the practice of “Bowdlerization,” or expurgation of sexually explicit and/or gruesomely violent passages from literature. Between them, the Bowdlers expurgated 26 plays by William Shakespeare and the historian Edward Gibbon’s Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire.
Unable to actually stop much of the exploitation and abuse that they deplored, many leaders of the broad-fronted early humane movement enthusiastically took up Bowdlerization to at least hide the mayhem from view.
This coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901, coronated in 1837), in whose time chairs eventually gained skirts to hide their legs.
Bowdlerizing the Bible
Abolitionists and animal advocates, in particular, resisted Bowdlerization, seeing that stark depictions of abuse often moved public opinion in their favor. Influential examples included Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Anna Sewell’s 1877 anti-animal cruelty novel Black Beauty.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1915-1902), on the other hand, who was founding president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, even led a 26-member committee effort to Bowdlerize the Bible, completed in stages between 1895 and 1898.
Bowdlerite influence among nominal progressives, including within the animal rights and vegan causes, remains evident today in frequent attempts to reconstruct the English language to eliminate whatever words and phrases particular individuals, usually academics, decide might be in some manner offensive.
From public pogroms to the hidden Holocaust
Meanwhile, generations of propagandists for the likes of King Leopold and Adolph Hitler, including Heinrich Himmler, and for the meat industry of today, have recognized the potential value in using Bowdlerization to conceal their deeds, while pretending to belong to an increasingly genteel, superficially reformed world in which naked supremacism has for the first time fallen out of favor.
Not to be forgotten is that the Nazis adopted a series of “humane laws” discriminating against Jews in particular, took a public position against vivisection even while practicing it on humans in concentration camps, and some, including Hitler and Himmler, even purported to be vegetarians while purging the German vegetarian societies.
All of this won the endorsements of the American Humane Association and most leading British humane societies.
(See Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover, by Rynn Berry.)
Why supremacism is often now hidden
As Marsh points out, supremacism, despite societal pretenses to the contrary, is no less widespread than ever, especially when practiced against animals.
Before Hitler and Himmler’s time, centuries of czars directed pogroms differing more in scale from the industrialized Holocaust than in outcome for the individual victims. Those czars suffered few adverse consequences from public opinion because, before the rise of mass media, their rule was not vulnerable to public opinion.
Just a few decades later, however, the existence of mass media and public embrace of humane ideals, at least in the abstract sense, caused Hitler and Himmler to conceal deeds which formerly were conducted in public and, indeed, often celebrated as moral triumphs.
Hiding atrocities reflects humane success
The cause of farmed animals may be the last of the many components of the original broad-scope humane movement to win widespread public sympathy. It is still very far from success, though the rise of a plant-based food manufacturing sector visibly cutting deeply into animal industry profits is an encouraging sign.
Understanding, as Marsh encapsulated in his title, The Supremacist Syndrome: How Domination Underpins Slavery, Genocide, the Exploitation of Women, and the Maltreatment of Animals, is useful and essential.
But also useful and essential is understanding that the extent to which supremacists “try to hide the harm they inflict” and “disguise their wrongdoing with euphemisms and code words,” reflects several centuries of humane success.
Jamaka Petzak says
COMPASSION. You either have it or you don’t. And although it should be taught and prioritized in all societies, to my knowledge, it isn’t in any.
Sharing to twitter with gratitude. Due to a fb glitch I’m unable to access, let alone share.
Margaret A Cleek says
An interesting read with many valuable observations. However, the point about the language used triggered a memory for me.
At age 5 my oldest son happened to see a tag on a chicken I bought. It was from a free range source with the brand name “Rocky chickens”. The tag on a fryer said “Rocky Jr” and my son was very upset that the chicken had a name. Where he heard the the term I am not even sure, but as a kid in kindergarten he used the word “flesh” instead of meat, and declared he would not eat “flesh”. It makes a difference indeed, and the word is quite disturbing. Both he and his wife are vegetarian to this day.
M Leybra says
In general, humans are not ‘harvested’ for meat, used in vivisection labs, hunted for sport trophies, or exploited for free by pet & entertainment industries, yet every so many years someone comes along w/ a take on connecting animal cruelty to human-on-human abuse. This serves no purpose other than distraction. Many animal species are facing inevitable extinction, (e.g. African elephants, who are still trophy hunted, are also killed in 2021 for ‘infringing’ on ‘shrinking land.’) While at same time Africa’s human population is projected to double by 2050. Dwindling myriad species are threatened by wildlife trafficking, while all insects, birds, bats, snakes , frogs, etc. are documented to be in decline, from pesticides, polluted water & other human industry activities for a globally expanding human population. The point being, that ‘The Supremacist Syndrome’ reg. human slavery, genocide, female exploitation & even “maltreatment of animals” have become no longer relevant at this point in time, when the loss of the whole damned animal kingdom (incl. the fish in the sea) is already foreseeable. And is equivalent to the loss of the planet’s biologically diverse, web of life. But thank you for reviewing the book here.
Peggy Larson says
Peter & I worked together to force the AVMA to change their policy on pet overpopulation. Their policy was that spay neuter didn’t work and poor people didn’t get their pets fixed anyway. Once their policy changed, spay clinics started opening up all across the country.