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Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us about the Origins of Good and Evilby Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Synopses & Reviews
There are two supreme predators on the planet with the most complex brains in nature: humans and orcas. In the twentieth century alone, one of these animals killed 200 million members of its own species, the other has killed none. Jeffrey Masson's fascinating new book begins here: There is something different about us.
In his previous bestsellers, Masson has showed that animals can teach us much about our own emotions — love (dogs), contentment (cats), grief (elephants), among others. But animals have much to teach us about negative emotions such as anger and aggression as well, and in unexpected ways. In Beasts he demonstrates that the violence we perceive in the “wild” is mostly a matter of projection. We link the basest human behavior to animals, to “beasts” (“he behaved no better than a beast”), and claim the high ground for our species. We are least human, we think, when we succumb to our primitive, animal ancestry. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Animals, at least predators, kill to survive, but there is nothing in the annals of animal aggression remotely equivalent to the violence of mankind. Our burden is that humans, and in particular humans in our modern industrialized world, are the most violent animals to our own kind in existence, or possibly ever in existence on earth. We lack what all other animals have: a check on the aggression that would destroy the species rather than serve it. It is here, Masson says, that animals have something to teach us about our own history. In Beasts, he strips away our misconceptions of the creatures we fear, offering a powerful and compelling look at our uniquely human propensity toward aggression.
"Animal emotions expert and ex-psychoanalyst Masson (When Elephants Weep) looks to redeem animals, especially apex predators, from the reputation of being 'cruel.' He claims that the evidence mostly suggests that in the wild, interspecies and intraspecies violence is purposeful — whether as a means to eat or maintain territory — or that its origins lay in human-instigated trauma or interference in habitats, and that in fact humans 'persist in self-destructive violent behavior typical of the animal kingdom.' He goes to the early origins of civilization to explain our obsession with 'othering' — treating other persons or groups as intrinsically different from and alien to one's self — blaming for this the development of social hierarchy, the idea of property that evolved through the rise of agriculture, and the idea of living things as property that arose from domestication of livestock. Masson's writing proves fascinating to read, but this round of animal ethology feels bogged down by his explicit agenda to convince the reader that human intellectual capacity allows us to make the morally correct choice to embrace kindness and altruism, to embrace vegetarianism, to stop animal exploitation, and to stop claiming human superiority over the rest of the animal world. Agent: Andy Ross, Andy Ross Literary Agency. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Most of us see humans as morally superior to animals, while describing our uniquely human bad behavior (war, torture, enslavement, extermination) as ‘brutish, animalistic, inhuman, sub-human.' Jeffrey Masson has made me aware that humans in fact are the only animals that exhibit this behavior, and do so frequently and massively. A groundbreaking book.” Daniel Ellsberg
“Masson reveals how we shortchange ourselves with our narrow view of community, by laying down an almost impassable and rocky road between ourselves and ‘others.' Beasts reminds us of the unforgivable things humans do to dominate animals.” Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA
“Beasts is a tour de force that takes us on a journey of human nature, from the organized violence of war, to our individual cruelty toward solitary humans and animals, to the love, compassion, and altruism that we can show toward one another. After reading this book, you will never view human nature the same.” Con Slobodchikoff, author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle
“Beasts is profoundly wise, deeply compassionate, and filled with insights and understanding that can reshape the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to life itself. Inspiring and a joy to read.” John Robbins, author Diet for a New America
“Jeffrey Masson is a forward-thinking writer who's not afraid to take on some of the most entrenched ideas and revered thinkers of our age. A provocative book!” Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom
“A gentle, thoughtful and remarkably wide-ranging book that explores the nature of humanity and the nature of violence and hatred, suggesting paths we humans might take to turn toward peace and kindness. Beasts deserves to be widely read and widely pondered.” Pat Shipman, author of The Animal Connection
“This one will make you think about the definition of human.” Booklist
From bestselling author Jeffrey Masson, an eye-opening book about the animals at the top of the food chain — orcas, big cats, sharks, among others — and what they can teach us about the origins of good and evil in ourselves.
About the Author
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, an ex-psychoanalyst and former director of the Freud Archives, is the author of numerous bestselling books on animal emotions, including Dogs Never Lie About Love and When Elephants Weep. He lives in New Zealand with his family. Visit his Web site at www.jeffreymasson.com.
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