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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-12-23
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)