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Author Looks To Animals For Deeper Understanding Of Good And Evil

March 17, 2014 1:59 p.m.

Jefferey Masson, Ph.D.

Related Story: Author Looks To Animals For Deeper Understanding Of Good And Evil

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. We're all taught the law of the jungle is to kill or be killed and we leave that animal instincts make is prone to violence and criminal to put if human violence was ever a lesson that we learn from animals, we find it too well. A book points out that human beings are the biggest killers on the planet and now it may take a deeper understanding of animals to bring this back in balance with the natural world. I would like to welcome Jeffrey Mason in. His new book is called beasts, what animals can teach us about the origins of good and evil. Welcome to the program.

JOE MASSON: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: For the beast that you Richard referred to in your book

JOE MASSON: work to do it is meant ironically because you can have the pick up a newspaper without beating that some human being behaves like a beast and beasts are far less violent in the animal world contains immeasurably less violence things human world and it is a paradox and it's not been marked on before but it's true.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the law of the jungle, killer be compelled, we often refer to that is that part of our animal instinct, do animals really live by the law of the jungle?

JOE MASSON: Know they do not, any more than Nature is red in tooth and claw. It's a poetic Mythologies and do not exist, it if you think about it there are between four and 5000 mammals and can you guess what percentage of carnivores that exceed other animals? It's only 10% and the other 90% are complete vegetarians, there begins that he only plants, and what we consider the animals and the animals that we like to look at and think about are called charismatic mega fauna, and that includes elephants, giraffes, gorillas, and hippos, animals that we love to see on YouTube and love to read about are all the deterring species and almost totally nonviolent, elephants almost never kill one another, and certainly don't attack other animals and thus they are protecting their young, that is true of all of these animals, we really have it backwards what for years we have tried to study human violence by looking at animal violence, we have to study human violence by a looking at the absence of animal violence.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If we haven't developed predatory nature's from animal instincts from what we learn from the animal world, where he think it is evolved from?

JOE MASSON: It's interesting that you would say predatory nature, I'm not sure that that is part of our nature, consider the fact contrary to what President Obama said During his speech when he got the Nobel Prize for peace, he said that war began the with the first man, that is absolutely false, it did not, war is something as the great researcher on early war Brian Ferguson are points out it's something that you have to learn, it's not something your done with, we're not born with an instinct to go to war even a predatory instinct as you called it, this is something that we get from our upbringing and we get from our culture around us, it is unfortunate but it also the good part is if we learned it we can unlearned. We can simply worth refuse to go along with it, we'll have to go to a war college to learn to kill others to human beings, we can say no thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That a stock a moment about the animals and whether or not they have an instinct for violence, I'm thinking about rogue animals, here in San Diego we have been paying close attention to the controversy over performing our Orcas, stemming from the documentary blackfish about it? An Orca named Tillich and who apparently went rogue and killed a couple Sea World trainers, how does an active animal violence towards humans, how does that work with your theory?

JOE MASSON: That is one of my main exhibits in my book, or in the wild have never killed a human being. Not ever, and here is the more astonishing thing, in the wild note for Has ever killed another or. It's never been seen, no warfare researcher can point to a single instance where an orca killed another orca and so, in that documentary you mentioned which was wonderful, it's in an amazing documentary and is one my favorite of all time and it point out that this orca was in a completely artificial situation and no animal of any kind let alone an animal that roams 50 miles a day should be kept in a pool, it's absurd. It is a crime against nature and so that were Became a psychopathic or Because of the trauma that it underwent living in a bathtub, if you lived in the bathtub for twenty years you would go psychotic to, no telling what a human would do, the only reason that he attacked his because he was no longer a real or, and we are to blame for that. It happens with every animal and it happens with elephants, it happens with dolphins who sometimes attack porpoises just because they are living in a toxic environment, and I am beginning to wonder if it's not true of humans to, if it may not be and this is an outlandish thing to say and I realize that, I don't think anyone has said this, I wonder if humans are not violent because we as a species have been traumatized.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That we follow up on that in a minute, and just thinking of other animals in the wild, chimpanzees attack and chill killed other children seems, was a between those attacks and humans killing other humans?

JOE MASSON: First of all the scale, if you consider the set the fact that in the twentieth century alone humans have killed more than 200 million other killed humans, and that we have things like genocide and slavery and torture, and child abuse, these are things that one does not find nature and it is true that chimpanzees tend to be more violent than just about any other primate, but are we as closely related to chimpanzees as we are to be nobles? No, it turns out we are slightly more closely related to bonobos who never engage in violence, I'm not sure that you could say that we have a tendency, even if we have of all to do these things we can choose not to do them, that is the one or the wonderful thing about being human, we're the only animal that gets to choose what we eat and every other animal in nature eats what every other animal of that species eats and only human can say no, I don't want to eat that I Tuesday differently, and that since we are somewhat different because we may have evolved to eat meat or we have done so for tens of thousands of years, but though there are many of us they could say no, I don't want to and a will.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Getting back to that theory that you just talked about that there may be a traumatizing event that has turned the human race more violent than ever would have been, but with that traumatizing the event at have been?

JOE MASSON: With a speculative that it nobody has ever said it, my own ideas in this and I've written article that many of your listeners should be aware of called the worst mistake in the history of the human race I was startled by the title, and it's a remarkable writer and he suggested in that article in a very short article that you can find online anywhere, he said the first worst mistake in the human history is ag of agriculture, I read that and I was persuaded and many other scholars have written about this, once we had agriculture we got despotism and racism and greed, which is still very much with us today, we have war and slavery and all of these things happen only about 10,000 years ago, and I want to add to that that we also started around domesticating other animals, and when we did that I think the unleashed something in humans that has remained with us to today and has not been to our benefit because the only reason we domesticated those animals and I am excluding their dogs and cats because dogs and cats, we didn't do as Kate, they domesticated us and they have an entirely conceited, we're not as good as dogs, our nature is not as friendly and her power of love is not as good as dogs but they are trying hard and they're still working at it, if you think of chickens and goats and cows and pigs and sheep sheep and oxen all of these other animals that we have domesticated, we did it exclusively in order to exploit them, we wanted their flesh, we wanted their skin, who wanted their children in their eggs, we wanted there will melt, we did not care ultimately how much they suffered, and the end result of that is factory farming and no one will say that factory farming is a good thing for humans animals or the planet, and this is why Al Gore has now announced that he is a beacon for the sake of the planet, and Bill Clinton did it for the sake of his health, and many of it do for the sake of animals, but the point is when we started to mastication we began something that is had a snowball's not slow traumatizing effect to make as a species that is willing to exploit other species and ourselves, our own species and if you think about it, where did the idea from slavery come from? It came from animal domestication, that is a consensus from the scholars who are working on slavery and my question to them is, if it was so wrong to do to another human being and it's of course, is it okay to do it to another animal?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are some tantalizing questions in your book like what can we learn about love from dogs, to give us a taste of that, what can elephants tell it teaches about grief and it strikes me that there is not even an agreement among humans that animals have emotions like that, let alone can teach us anything, what easy to that.

JOE MASSON: I say they're wrong and we are more and more animals and I wrote about it when animals when elephants weep, and I went on to it look onto farm animals that have deep emotions and that was some time ago, but it is pretty much well accepted now, there are very few people who would deny it and elephants of course I did for our favorite example of this because there is YouTube sensation that was sent to me at least 100 times of these elephants in the wild when a man who had been helping them died, they came I don't know how far but maybe 100 miles, they came in a huge procession to pay their respects to their dead comrade, and I believe it, at first I thought maybe that is not true, I looked into it a bit more carefully and apparently it is true, they actually did do that, and so they knew that a human had died and they knew that this human and helps them and they came to repay the respects, and in that sense we're a little bit similar because we also pay our respects to that elephants, but we don't want to keep them into his anymore than any more than elephants want to keep us in captivity in the wild, that is the lesson that they're trying to teach us, live and let left.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there, I've been speaking with Joe Masson and he will be Speaking about his book beasts, with animals can tell us about good and evil tomorrow at seven at the Institute for peace and justice of the University of San Diego, it's been a delight, thank you.

JOE MASSON: Thank you so much.