Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Bloomsbury, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60819-615-9
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.)
Reviewed on: 12/23/2013
Release date: 03/04/2014
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