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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Author of When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

29+ Works 4,327 Members 87 Reviews 9 Favorited

About the Author

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is the author of "Dogs Never Lie About Love: Reflections on the Emotional World of Dogs"; "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals"; "My Father's Guru: A Journey Through Spirituality & Disillusion"; "Final Analysis: The Making & Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst"; & show more "The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory", among other books. After receiving his undergraduate degree & a Ph.D. in Sanskrit & Indian Studies from Harvard University, he completed a full clinical training program in psychoanalysis at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute from 1970 to 1978. Masson served for one year as Projects Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives in London. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Nine Emotional Lives of Cats (2002) 366 copies
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon (2003) 327 copies
Against Therapy (1988) 138 copies

Associated Works

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) — Editor, some editions — 5,309 copies
Kaspar Hauser (1984) — Translator, some editions — 153 copies
Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America (2017) — Foreword, some editions — 56 copies


animal behavior (108) animal emotions (31) animal psychology (24) animal rights (58) animals (416) behavior (20) biography (18) biology (52) bvs-speaker (23) cats (110) dogs (128) elephants (26) emotions (61) Emotions in animals (18) ethics (18) ethology (39) food (25) Freud (47) hardcover (15) Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (17) memoir (23) natural history (22) nature (78) New Zealand (24) non-fiction (396) own (21) pets (39) philosophy (22) psychiatry (25) psychoanalysis (84) psychology (140) psychotherapy (23) read (23) science (111) to-read (195) travel (24) unread (22) vegan (16) wildlife (18) zoology (36)

Common Knowledge



I found myself getting mildly annoyed as I read this book...partly at his dogmatic attitude, partly at his lack of scientific knowledge and partly at his inability to consider the consequences of his recommendations. For example his answer to the farmer who wishes to treat his animus more humanely is to grow vegetables. Well this might sound like a solution to him but try growing vegetables in arid grazing lands where water is unavailable except for a few wells. And then try transporting the vegetables 2,000 km to market in 40 degree C temperatures. So Masson certainly has his limitations. But his dogged arguments and insistence on taking the high ground have had an impact on me. It's partly his arguments about animal emotions and animals desire for a "good life". Well Socrates spent his life looking for the answer to what is a good life and never really came up with an answer. And he wasn't trying to do it for non-verbal animals. A bigger influence has been my daughter in law who di philosophy with me at the ANU.....who challenged me about vegetarianism and being consistent. My own attitudes have always been a bit uncertain. As a biologist, I'm totally aware that every bit of protein that is formed becomes "food" for some other protein or life form. and this applies right up the food chain. Nature and evolution did not really develop morality except to the extent that certain sorts of altruistic behaviour can be explained as furthering the success of your genes. And primates certainly evolved as omnivores ...quite open to attacking and devouring primate neighbours.
But Masson appeals primarily to the empathetic side of our nature....."how would you like it if this was done to you or to your child etc". He doesn't really consider that we have evolved to be meat eaters. His argument (and that of my daughter in law) is that we CAN consider animal suffering and pain and we have alternative foods. And I am half convinced. Here are some of his arguments and thinking:
If a farm animal has a good life and that life ends in a painless death and the animal is used to feed people, is that wrong? Many people would answer that it is not. But I think it is worth asking first just how anybody knows what a "good life" is for a farm animal. If a farm animal has a good life and that life ends in a painless death and the animal is used to feed people, is that wrong? Many people would answer that it is not. But I think it is worth asking first just how anybody knows what a "good life" is for a farm animal. [A fair question...but difficult also to answer for a human.....maybe the good life includes having a large steak once a week].

Masson thinks it is wrong to raise animals for food. He just do not believe that anybody will take care to give an animal a "good life" if the point of that life is to end up as a meal on the table. It is too easy to cheat, too tempting not to search out what makes for a good life for any particular animal. Adequate, tolerable, bearable: these are the adjectives we are happy to use for the conditions under which farm animals live. They are clearly not adjectives we would aspire to for our own living conditions.

Where, though, can farm animals live the kinds of lives they were meant to live? Farm animal sanctuaries are the only places to Masson’s knowledge where animals can do so.

We will never know the true number of animals slaughtered for food in the world per year, but the number is almost beyond imagining. We know, for ex-ample, that 40 billion chickens (6 for every person on the planet) are killed for food every year in the world, but that does not include chickens in countries that provide no figures.

Qualities of feeling are as incomparable as they are indescribable." And so the suffering of almost all farm animals is unique, particular, mostly beyond language to describe or explain. If we give it no thought, and yet eat them for our meals, are we not morally blind, ethically dumb, and humanly remiss?

Some people have objected to the term "farm animal" on the grounds that these animals are not there by choice. We farm them, and so it would be more accurate to call them farmed animals-the emphasis placed on the doer, us, rather than the done to, them..... One of the mysteries about the earliest contacts between domestic animals and humans is whether it was the animals' usefulness or our attraction to them as companions that was the original impetus for domestication.

I defy anyone to enter a shed with up to half a million chickens in it, spend an hour in that stench, and tell me that the chickens are happy, or that we cannot know whether they are or not. It flies in the face of common sense. One might as well argue that there is no such thing as "natural" behavior when it comes to humans, so wide is the range of our behavior.

We tend to think of chickens living in the backyards of farms, enjoying the quiet life and the sunshine in the midst of their families, and out of gratitude, dropping eggs from time to time for human use. Alas, that is not how 99 percent of chickens live at all. They are incarcerated in small cages—each typically housing five hens in a space measuring eighteen inches by twenty inches and stacked three or five tiers high. The sloping wire floors cause severe damage to their feet and claws. There is no sunshine, the artificial light is kept dim, and the birds live in what can only be described as a form of hell.

These intrepid chicken-saviours find their way inside and rescue some of the hens who are near death. She is justly proud of what she did, even if she had to go to jail as a consequence. It was said that she had stolen other people's "property," though she believes, and I agree with her, that the day will come when this word will never again be used in conjunction with a living being.

I suggest, as a former psychoanalyst and someone concerned with the etiology of depression, that we would do well to examine depression in farm animals as a way of understanding human de-pression. In every case I have seen, the animals are depressed because they are deprived of their normal life.
Temple Grandin, an animal science professor famous for devising methods of killing cows "more humanely, in a paper presented to the National Institute of Animal Agriculture in April 2001, spoke of her disgust at seeing these factory farms for chickens: "When I visited a large egg layer operation and saw old hens that had reached the end of their productive life, I was horrified. Egg layers bred for maximum egg production and the most efficient feed conversion were nervous wrecks that had beaten off half their feathers by constant flapping against the cage... Some egg producers got rid of old hens by suffocating them in plastic bags or Dumpsters.

Wild sheep on their own are subject to horrible diseases and need our intervention to thrive, or so claims Colin Tudge. In an article about how farm animals depend upon humans for their own welfare, he writes,"Lakeland hill sheep may appear to enjoy an idyllically Rousseauesque freedom. In reality, they may be besieged, indeed eaten alive, by blowfly maggots in summer, and die of cold or starvation in winter."" I find it hard to believe that any wild animal normally dies of cold or starvation in winter. It would be a strange trick of evolution to produce an animal who could not survive the conditions into which it is born.

calves are weaned at six to ten months of age, live three to five months on the range, spend four to five months being fattened in a feedlot, and are typically slaughtered at fifteen to twenty months. Considering that their average lifespan is nine to twelve years, these animals live for only a brief fraction of the time they were meant to live. Joyce D'Silva tells me of one Trish cow she knew who died when she was 39! Nobody knows how long cows might live under natural conditions, but in domestication only one in one hundred thousand passes her nineteenth birthday. No cows or steers today live that long unless they are on a sanctuary.

At about two years old, she is ready to have her first calf. After she calves, a dairy heifer will become a dairy cow-"heifer" is only used until she has her first calf, after that she is called a cow.) The calf is taken away within forty-eight hours of birth, and the milk is then used exclusively for commercial purposes. The cow is rebred about three months after she calves. As long as she is pregnant, she gives milk, intended for her baby but taken by force by us. In the worst-case scenario, cows are intensively milked, most of the day and night by automatic machines worked by computers, and are exhausted after a few years, then sold for meat in repayment for their trouble. It is not a pretty life. On the family farm, rapidly becoming more and more rare, a cow is only milked twice a day, twelve hours apart.

Although most down comes from birds butchered for their meat, some are plucked live. The rippers who take these delicate feathers from live birds are none too delicate in their methods. Since they must pluck over one hundred geese a day, you can imagine how careful they are. People sometimes say that since ducks and geese moult and pluck their own feathers (especially the female when preparing a nest for her eggs), there is nothing cruel in plucking their feathers for them. But of course we do not do it for them at all, but for us. Moulting is a gradual procedure, taking several weeks. When a female plucks her own feathers to line her nest, she takes just a few. One author said that these natural processes resemble live plucking as much as yanking all of a child's teeth at once without anaesthesia would resemble the natural loss of baby teeth.* In other words, not at all.*

Ducks and geese are not only family oriented, they like to be in large congregations (bevies of ducks and gaggles of geese), as do many other species of birds. They have a pronounced gregariousness...... The wild Muscovy originates in the swamps of South America. They are excellent swimmers, can run very fast, and are able to Ay as well at great speeds. At the farms, they are bred to be heavy so that they experience great difficulty walking and are subject to painful leg disorders. Their webbed feet evolved for swimming, but on the farms they are not given access to any pond or even a body of water in which they can dip their whole head.

The question of animal happiness is hardly a trivial matter from a philosophical point of view, a scientific one, or a moral one. Gone are the days when we could quote Bertrand Russell, who began his book The Conquest of Happiness, published in 1930, with the patronizing comment that "Animals are happy so long as they have health and enough to eat." However, recent comments by the philosopher Roger Scruton that farm animals who are housed together in the winter and allowed to roam in the summer are as happy as their nature allows," are not so different.' How can Scruton, or anyone else, arbitrate what limits there are to the nature of any other creature?
More subtle versions of this viewpoint persist. This is odd, because the first generation of English ethologists, such as W. Thorpe of Cambridge University, had considerable influence in urging the British government to permit all domesticated animals to express their "natural instinctive urges."

Many animal welfare experts do not agree with the point of view that the more natural the situation of an animal the happier that animal will be. Ian Duncan and David Fraser have mounted a powerful criticism when they write:
The concept of an animal's "nature" would need to be made more specific before it could give clear guidance in judging animal welfare; generalizations might lead us astray. For ex-ample, we might conclude that seagulls (Larus) had evolved to live in such close association with the sea that this is an essential part of their "nature" However, within the past 30 years, the herring gull (Larus argentatus) and the less black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) have changed their habits in northwestern Europe and now voluntarily live in very artificial environments created by human beings: they nest on buildings, roost on playing fields, and forage on garbage dumps.
Gulls are so successful in this mode of living that such populations are expanding rapidly. Thus, it turns out that the sea is not an essential part of the "nature" of these seagulls.
A researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, believes that almost 40 percent of the world's grain and 70 percent of American grain are fed to live-stock. In the developing world, Oxfam estimates that 36.1 million acres of choice land are dedicated to producing animal feeds for European livestock.

Well, let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that somebody is worried about the extinction of farm animals. "They are only here," he would say, "because we exploit them." Would chickens really go extinct? No, they would revert to a feral existence, they would become wild again, and then their numbers would be regu-lared as they always have been, by ecological exigencies. Same for pigs, goats, and sheep. There would be fewer, probably, but so what?
Can we really say that a chicken who is destined to a life of complete misery for a few short months is better off than never having been born? From whose point of view?

Suppose, though, that somebody says: I like farming, and I am not going to give it up. Fine, would be my response, farm vegetables, not animals. More and more people are going to want them and need them in the future. Why bring misery to animals?...... How is it possible to care about an animal, to think about what that animal needs and wants, to think about his or her emotional life, the world of feeling he or she inhabits, and then destroy the life of that animal, another sentient being so little different than us? Author Jim Mason asks me to think about what this does to us as well. If we kill animals with so little concern, what is to stop us from hurting one another?

But I would take this much further than has been the case until now: the ideal way to treat a pig, today, for example, would be for the pig to live with you, as well as with other pigs. Her life must be kept interesting. You should treat her more or less the way you would treat a dog or cat. If you have a goat, never keep her alone. Goats crave the company of other goats. They need large stones to climb. As entertainers, they need to be entertained themselves, and for some reason we amuse them. If you have chickens, keep them safe, in your yard for example. Be present for them; you bring them a strange kind of security. Chickens like roosters and they want their eggs to bring forth baby chicks. They don't want to be separated from them until they are ready. And don't forget large trees where they can roost at night.

Of course most of us are not going to live with farm animals in our backyards. So what can we do personally to help animals if the truth of this book has persuaded you, apart from becoming vegetarian and vegan?
1. Visit an animal sanctuary. There is bound to be one near you
2. If you are a medical student, think about studying nutrition and finding ways of staying healthy without eating any animal product.
3. If you are a vet student, think about a career devoted to care of farm animals.
4. If you are a grad student of biology or zoology or psychology think about applying what you learned to farm animals.
5. If you are a librarian, make sure that the mainstream books are not the only ones you order about animals. Include some of the classic works from my list
6. If you are an undergraduate at a university, organize a vegan society.
7. Join a group like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, IDA, etc.
8. If you have money to spare, consider endowing a chair in Farm animal emotions, encouraging real scientists to do something really interesting
9. If you are already a welfare activist find creative ways to bring farm animals onto the agenda.
10. If you are a lawyer or law student, think of advocating legal changes that benefit farm animals.
11. If you have young children, speak to their pediatrician about making them vegan. Are you taking away their choice: Not at all; either way, you are imposing your choice on them.
12. If you are a farmer, refuse to work with agribusinesses that hurt animals, the environment, and you.
13. If you work for Tyson, Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, ConAgra, Smithfield quit!
14. If I haven't yet convinced you, read more. Matthew Scully’s Dominion is outstanding. Jim Mason and Peter Singer have a new book: the ethics of what you eat. In the meantime, read their Animal Factories: Also Jeremy Rifkin's Beyond Beef:
15. If all this is brand new, read some of the best books in the field, the specific ones I mention in the notes, but also good general ones like Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (Ecco, 2001); Jim Mason's An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet.
16. For all of us: Stay informed. Get a good newsletter, e.g., the one put out by several organizations around farm animal issues: www.farmedanimal.net. Look at the Web sites of PETA
17. We need to develop a political stance toward our food. We should not trust industry sources.
 We don't hear about pigs, but pork; not cow meat, but hamburger; words designed to make us forget the origins of this food. Supermarket packaging is the same.

Research into farm animals is generally paid for by industry. Departments of animal behaviour in schools of veterinary medicine are often generously funded by the same industry. If you are doing research there, or are a graduate student, they may not forbid you outright, but you know it is not in your career interest to develop your own fully independent views.

Cargill is the nation's largest private corporation. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), "supermarket to the world," is the nation's single largest recipient of corporate welfare through federal subsidies and tax loop-holes." Tyson Foods and IBP, Inc., are the world's largest poultry producers and processor of the nation's largest meatpacking company. ConAgra, which boasts that it controls everything from "the ground to the table," is the nation's second largest food manufacturer (the first is Philip Morris—yes, the cigarette manufacturer.
Cargill and Monsanto have joint ventures that run from fertilizer and seeds to grain and raising cattle, hogs, turkeys, and chickens, then on to the slaughterhouse. Four of these firms control 82 percent of beef, 75 percent of hogs and sheep, and half of chickens. Does this matter? Well, of course it does: every farmer who opts in is utterly dependent on a handful of agribusiness firms..... Like independent bookstores and neighbourhood groceries, the old family farm is becoming an endangered species. They are no longer farmers, but "serfs with a mortgage" as they say of themselves these days.

So from being rather dismissive of the book, I've become slightly torn and will have to read some of Peter Singer's more recent stuff......and certainly re-think my own attitudes. (Of course, one can't become vegan in a vacuum.....the whole family get embroiled in the exercise and will not be amused...but that's a whole other story.
I give it five stars.
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booktsunami | 1 other review | Feb 9, 2024 |
Mushy headed. Didn't want to go past 50 pages or so.
steve02476 | 3 other reviews | Jan 3, 2023 |
A relatively quick read about how farm animals are more sentient and emotional than most people will give them credit for. I find this a very interesting topic because while society is quick to ascribe feelings to beloved companion animals (my rabbit makes it very clear when she is not happy), there is a categorical divide in our psyche between "pets" and all other animals, particularly animals that we commoditize for food and clothing.

Mousaieff Masson provides anecdotes of various farm animals who have exhibited "human" traits, acknowledging that science does not consider anecdotal evidence evidence at all, but that is all the evidence we have at the moment because the question of farm animal sentience is poo-pooed and not taken seriously by the scientific community.

While I enjoyed the book, I found it a bit incomplete. As in a number of books I've read dealing with animal welfare, animal rights, etc., the author relies on one facet only to make the case for moving to vegetarianism or veganism - in this case that animals are sentient and suffer, and our exploitation of them is immoral. But given how ingrained this exploitation and the mindset that animals are for our use is, I doubt that argument will not bring about widespread or lasting change.
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wisemetis | 12 other reviews | Dec 27, 2022 |
I got more out of Masson's book "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon," than I did this. "TPWSTTM" was my catalyst for going Vegan from vegetarian--extremely important. This book, however, was too wishy-washy about making statements that Animals DO have emotions. Duh.
burritapal | 19 other reviews | Oct 23, 2022 |



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