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. InBeasts 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.