When asked which they fear more -- a shark, a tiger or a fellow human being -- studies show most people would go with the shark or tiger.
But psychoanalyst and best-selling author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson said this response isn't based on rational fact. He said the truth is that none of nature’s known predators are nearly as violent as humans. Humans are the only species that kills its own -- to the tune of 200 million people in the past century alone.
“We’ve always used the term ‘he’s an animal’ or a ‘beast’ in a negative way, and I think we really need to think that we’re the beast,” said Masson.
Masson has been studying animal behavior and emotions for a long time, but in his new book, “Beasts; What Animals Can Teach Us About The Origins Of Good And Evi l ,” he tackles what he calls the wildest creature of all: the human being.
He said he believes that animals have much to teach humans about empathy, morality and friendship. For example, he said a human's first reaction upon meeting someone is to judge them based on differences. A dog's first reaction is to meet, greet and play with the other dog with excitement and happiness.
“(Humans) can’t do that,” he said. “We make these distinctions based on religion, color, ethnicity, language, class, income. It’s just infinite that we can distinguish ourselves from others. And not distinguish because it’s nice to know we’re different, but distinguish so that we can ... dominate or harm or in some way behave as if the other is not worthy of respect, and can even be killed.”
Masson subscribes to the ideas of David Blight, a professor from Yale University. Blight has just published seminal work on the study of slavery, resistance and abolition, which theorizes that slavery came from the domestication of farm animals. Blight said that those animals were captured, enslaved, chained, branded and whipped -- practices that would later come to define slavery.
Masson said he believes that if people treated animals with more respect and dignity, they would likely start to treat each other the same way.
Masson follows a strict vegan diet and believes that if other humans were to do the same, the benefits would be significant.
“First of all, if we did that, we would be able to feed everybody on Earth, and that’s a major plus! We would not have world hunger, there is no question about it,” he said. “We use so much water, so much land to feed cattle which we then feed to ourselves just to make us sick, that it really doesn’t make sense. So, people are giving it up in droves.”
Masson is the author of nine books on the emotional life of animals. His book, “Dogs Never Lie About Love,” has sold over 1 million copies worldwide.