- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 4, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1608196151
- ISBN-13: 978-1608196159
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil 1st Edition
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Masson (Dogs Make Us Human, 2011) has written extensively about emotions in animals and what studying animals can teach us about being human. Here he examines the negative emotion, anger, and its manifestation as aggression. Humans often refer to each other as animals, meaning that the other person’s behavior is dangerous or cruel, but how true is this characterization? Masson argues that the comparison is not at all apt, that we display much more violence and cruelty against our own species than any other animal on the planet, and that we can actually learn to change by observing the purported “beasts” that share our world. Examining such human endeavors as war, exploitation, and hatred, Masson delineates the differences between humans and other animals and points out that we are the only species that ever shows these behaviors. Even the supposedly positive human traits of kindness and altruism, which we like to think separate us from the “beasts,” have been frequently demonstrated in other species. Heavily footnoted and with an extensive bibliography, this one will make you think about the definition of human. --Nancy Bent
“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 of 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
“A noble pursuit . . . . intriguing.” ―New York Times Book Review
“This one will make you think about the definition of human.” ―Booklist
“Masson's writing is easily accessible to both a general audience and those already familiar with the subject. With a personal, passionate, and sympathetic style, Masson makes an imperative case . . . . Beasts implores us to rethink our long-entrenched beliefs regarding the nature of non-human animals, in hopes that by more accurately perceiving the world around us, we may learn to treat not only other species with greater kindness and compassion, but perhaps our own as well.” ―The Oregonian
“A compelling, unsettling, provocative examination of the relation of beast to man.” ―Kirkus Reviews
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The myth of human supremacy is dispelled and the truth of the animal kingdom illuminated.
Highly recommend Jeffrey's recent text, along his already illustrious body of work.
This kind of BS turns up on the average every 5-10 pages in this self-indulgent, poorly researched and downright dishonest book. I had the good fortune to read a library copy. Masson has seen his last nickel from me.
In the Comments, a complaintant argued that the Kurosawa error didn't relate to Masson's real point, so it was irrelevant. I answered the complaint, but I also offered to go back to the book and document some "relevant" errors. I got the book today at the library and opened it at random to the following pages:
104: "wherever you go in the world, you see people interacting with dogs in this affectionate manner" (referring to how much humans love dogs). In fact, most cultures regard our love affair with dogs as both bizarre (It's just a dog!) or criminal (You spend more on your dog that I have to spend on feeding my kids). I work with shelters that specialize in pariah dogs and "rez dogs," and both are just a few steps short of feral and highly at risk of starvation. That's right here in the U.S. Any legitimate current book on dogs (I'm looking at you, Michael Doerr) will tell you that all over the world dogs are filling the niche that probably is where their domestication began, as scavengers. Some of them are studied precisely because of their "throwback" living conditions.
40: Attacking a baby whale to rip out its tongue (and leaving it to die) is not "cruel." I guess words mean what we want them to mean. Masson's justification is that killer whales "are hungry." So apparently (but not if you buy into Masson's moralizing) it's ok for me to rip off a live chicken's leg if "I'm hungry." But no, I'm "cruel," because I don't have to eat meat. Well, get a clue, orcas don't HAVE to eat baby whale tongues. They could kill the whale and eat all of it. Just imagine what Masson would have made of people eating lark's tongues, goose liver, or live lobsters.
100: "the idea of 'the other' as someone without value could be traced back to animal domestication." Set aside for a moment that very few people with domesticated animals regard them as "without value," unless that means something Masson is too imprecise to say. He probably means 'the other' has a different value than 'us.' Regardless, he almost certainly knows that his vague suggestion is not true. Jared Diamond (quoted often in the book) has documented pretty exhaustively that the idea of 'the other' as dangerous is a commonplace of hunter/gatherer societies with no domesticated animals, not even dogs. The orca who rips out a baby whale's tongue can only be excused if you assume that it regards the baby as 'other.' So BS, Jeff.
160: Animals don't fight to the death among themselves. This is arrant BS. Wolves do not fight to the death (usually) in the family, but they have no compunction about killing non-pack wolves, particularly lone wolves. One of the big problems with wolf "rescues" is that introducing a new wolf is likely to result in lethal rejection. Chimpanzees are documented as warring with other "tribes." Ask a zoo about throwing non-family into a colony. Ants will kill an ant who "smells funny." And for a major blow to the generalization, Google Druid Peak 42 and read about Wolf 40, who tyrannized her pack when she became alpha and was eventually "executed" by her sisters.
The last two pages are not random selections. I remembered something hinky about his discussion of Amur tigers, so I found it in the index.
72: John Valiant's The Tiger documents the horrifying record of an Amur tiger who tracked down, killed and ate a hunter who had hurt him. Masson doesn't want us to believe animals "take revenge," so after admitting that this happened, he slips in a bit misdirection. He observes that Valiant believes some tigers kill bears "on principle." (What that has to do with killing a huner for revenge is not explained.) Masson offers no evidence to contradict this, but refuses to believe it. Which is not exactly scientific refutation. And it's pretty well known that wolves kill dogs "on principle," though the principle may be exogamy.
Finally, after looking randomly on p 104, I re-read the bullet list on the sins of domestication on p 105. Here are some:
* Domestication is exploitative, with "zero attention to their needs." Any farmer who pays "zero attention" to his animals' needs is not making a living.
* Domestication requires confinement or mutilation to prevent "escape." Tell it to Basque sheep herders, Masai cattle owners, or Indonesian villagers with a flock of chickens in and out of the house. Very few cows try to "escape," incidentally, but that could just be despair.
From an evolutionary perspective, domestication is potentially a win/win. The animal's primary drive is to pass along its genes, and domestication eliminates all sorts of barriers to that: starvation, predators, disease. Ask a sheep who grew up with a Great Pyrenees for a foster brother how he feels about domestication.
So yes, the entire book is larded with this kind of bad thinking, special pleading, and factual error. As I said in the comments, the Kurosawa distortion illustrates all the problems this book has, in one epitome moment.
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