What distinguishes humans from animals?

For years the myth was of “Man the Hunter.” Gone now, thank god. But in its place do we really need to be “Man the hunted?” That humans have always been prey to larger, better equipped predators like the big cats, bears, and wolves? I have been thinking about this in preparation for my book comparing us to other apex (top) predators. The closest to us, at the very top of the food chain, are orcas. And, as I never tire of telling anyone willing to listen, orcas have never killed a human in the wild. Wait, there is more and better: as far as any orca scientist knows (and I have asked) there is not a single documented killing of an orca by another orca! So the question naturally becomes: what happened to us? 200 million humans killed by other humans in the last century. The greatest danger a person faces is in the form of another human. Forget other animals; they hardly impinge on us. Yet we kill them by the billions. Has any animal ever hunted a human just for the fun of it? Highly unlikely. Even the famous so-called “man-killers” in history were invariably injured by humans first. Animals don’t kill for fun. They just don’t. There are some pretty important lessons here, and I am trying to tease them out. It is not that I think humans are all bad. In fact, it is rare, or unheard of, for a wild animal to place his or her life in danger to save a member of another species. But we act on this altruistic impulse all the time, or at least some of us do, often (even people who liberate animals from cages often risk their own future to help the helpless). Animals in the wild seem to be indifferent to us, even to humans suffering agony. They are more like bystanders. (Just as were most Germans during the Second World War, if they were not perpetrators). Are there Jesus ants, as my friend Andy Ross asked? I kind of doubt it. But then Jesus humans are pretty rare too! Even the Mother Teresas of our world turn out to be nothing like the Mother Teresa of our imagination, if we are to believe Christoper Hitchens (and in this instance I co). Thoughts?

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608196159/ or the eBook http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608199914/
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9 Responses to What distinguishes humans from animals?

  1. Gata Chopada says:

    En mi opinión, lo que distingue a los humanos del resto de animales es el erotismo.
    El concepto de erotismo no existe en ninguna otra especie, excepto en la humana, y es toda la parafernalia que conlleva, lo que nos hace ser y estar como somos y estamos.
    Ejemplo: Silvio Berlusconi.

  2. No es completamente verdad: los bonobos son un poco como nostros, no?

  3. Gata Chopada says:

    Creo que no. Ya quisiéramos nosotros ser como los bonobos siquiera ese poco: “enfatizar el uso del sexo como mecanismo para evitar la violencia (sería aquello de “haz el amor y no la guerra”)” no es precisamente lo que hacemos nosotros. ¿No es considerada una de las especies más pacíficas y menos agresivas del planeta la de los bonobos? ¿nosotros somos una especie pacífica y no violenta? Diría que no.
    Nosotros aumentamos la violencia, incluso, a través del sexo.
    De todas formas, yo no habalaba de actividad sexual; hablaba del concepto de erotismo, ya sabe, eso que conlleva, la lencería, la cosmética….No me veo un bonobo poniéndose pantys negros, zapatos de tacón de aguja, ni auméntandose los labios o pechos, ni leyendo literatuta erótica, qué quiere que le diga.
    El erotismo también va ligado bastante a la poesía. Sería una especie de “guarromanticismo”. Sí, creo que es el guarromanticismo lo que diferencia a los humanos del resto de animales.

  4. Chief Redelk says:

    Nothing.. We are animals.. The illusion that we are better than, above all other life forms, or not an animal at all is based upon human fear of death. It’s all an illusion invented by man, to console man, to insulate human from the reality of dying while he is yet living. Only he who fully embarrasses the reality of dying can fully experience the joy of living. Most humans are weak and fearful. They tend to be led by there ego and will formulate illusions to protect or entertain themselves. They will defend and validate their illusion over sound reason by mind control. The proper tool they’ve invented for that job is defined as blind faith. This is simply another from of denial. The illusion that humans have a soul which at the time of death preserves their life complete with their self identity and memory including their likes and dislikes, after death is a lie. In fact humans believe themselves to be greater than the other animals because we can eat their bodies and enjoy the taste.. I suppose if a Salt water crock had our ability to reason it would believe it has a living soul and at the time of death will be transfered to crock heaven where it will happily dine on other animals while mentally isolating it’s self, happily cocooned by the illusion it’s not an animal and those helpless beings that taste good are.

  5. I think the biggest difference between human beings and animals is ignorance and arrogance. Ours … in thinking that we “human beings” are better than “the animals.” Being “different from” does not mean “better than.” We are all animals. What hurts one hurts all.

  6. What separates us from other animals is that we are constantly trying to figure out what separates us from other animals, and we are better at them at messing things up.

  7. Chief Redelk says:

    Well I enjoy reading the views and opinions but it seems a lot of people are mislead.

    Fact is.. Animals DO Kill for Pleasure.. Many are NOT afraid of humans.

    Sheep headers have had over 100 sheep killed and left uneaten in one night raid. Most often it’s the Lioness. I guess the males are a bit lazy..

    Not all killer animals have been wounded by man, all are not sick and starved, nor have been made into killers by the action of man. Often it’s inaction that played a role.

    In fact if you study Mountain Lion attacks several children were attacked in the past few years and when the Lion was killed it was found to be young and in good health..

    Some wild animals such as the beloved “Killer Whale” got that name because they do kill.

    Sometimes and most often their prey is seals. Often they toss the bodies into the air and play with them for a while and many times these seals are left dead and uneaten..

    I believe most legend has seeds of truth.

    I’ve been told that some Native Americans believed standing near the edge of an ice flow near open water and a Killer Whale can jump onto the ice breaking it to get that person to fall into the water where they are often killed..

    Unprovoked whales have been known to sink boats and a few Whales have (quite honorably ) sank whaling vessels to protect their pod. I don’t I blame them and one such good story is the Ship known as the Essex.

    Cattle, most often Bulls, and other domesticated live stock kill too.. Some have never been mistreated.

    Men who know animals well, know big strong animals must be handled with care. We never know when one will hurt someone.

    Years ago I remember hearing about a horse that reached over a fence, picked up a kid, set him down in the pasture and stomped him to death. This was a so called gentle horse and the kid only wanted to pet it..

    Animals often kill other animals for the sheer joy.

    Some animals have an instinct that triggers attacks. Running, making noises and other things can make animals attack. This may be why fish strike a moving lure.

    One black Mamba was known to kill over 30 men. Finally he was dispatched by a man on horse back with a shot gun.. Why this snake attacked and killed humans is unknown but to assume it had been hurt by man is wrong. We now know a Mamba simply is territorial and can run up to 15 mph. Get to close to one and you may die..

    The illusion that animals have a natural fear of man leads man down a road of confusion and dictates his continued failure to understand animal behavior.

    We must realize fear is NOT natural it’s learned.. Just ask Darwin.

    Animals are taught what to eat and how to kill and hunt by their parents.

    Because we humans have hunted animals we put fear into those who recognize man. Those who have never seen man do not run away. They will often keep a safe distance if they are smaller. It has nothing to do with the fact we are human. They do that with all larger animals.

    Animals larger than man very often do not run from man but rather at him….

    The parents of hunted animals teach their babies to keep a safe distance form everything bigger including us.. If the parent has been hunted and has never eaten human flesh then the offspring it taught to avoid us as prey. If that parent does not fear man their offspring are not taught to fear man and one day may prey upon a child..

    An american Cougar is a lone individual who will actually kill others of his own species. There are records of males even killing females.. They are prone to attack humans and most often choose children because they are smaller.

    Back about 1995 Ronald Regan passed a law protecting cougars who, up till then, were considered dangerous pest.. Since that time cougar attacks on humans have increased dramatically. One gentleman in Canada fought a cougar and barely escaped with his life. He’s scarred for life and lost one eye in the process. So, why did the cat attack? It was healthy. It had no signs of having been previously injured.

    One reason is, in Canada most men do not carry fire arms. No one is making that loud scary bang noise which once put fear in Cougars hearts..

    The poor man fought a big dangerous animal with only a 3 inch knife..

    These animals are becoming Less and Less afraid of men and more attacks are sure to come.

    Gators in my state are the same way.. Years ago they disappeared at the sound of a boat motor. Laws were passed that stopped fishermen from shooting at them and now they are known to jump in boats and bite people.. That just happened recently here in Louisiana.

    I also saw a video of a small gator jump off a log into a boat and bite the man in the face. I am not sure where that video was made.

    Crocks take men out of boats…They were not hurt by humans.. They see us as food..

    If we are to safely deal with animals we must first get over the illusion they are naturally afraid of us.. The dangerous ones often do not let fear keep them from attacking ..

    We must take caution and in some cases we need to be armed.. Even when I venture away from my house, but still on my land I carry a big stick if nothing else.

    Bears for example are problems in many places.
    No need to kill them but a shot gun loaded with rock salt would put some of that healthy respect our ancestors gave ole Bruin.

    To know where we are going we need only look at where we came from..Our ancestors knew animals and how to deal with them. We need not be mislead.

    Walt Disney and Bambi do not give us any idea about real Deer. Wild Bucks can be dangerous. Yes, they have attacked and killed people. Not long ago a hand raised Buck deer killed it’s owner right here in this state.

    We need to realize animals can be dangerous to us and especially our children. We need to be cautious when we hike or go where wild animals may be found..

    Small children can be taken by eagles, coyotes, cougars, wild dogs, and etc. When hiking place the children between two adults and carry something in your hand.. Even a rock is better than nothing. One mother drove an attacking Cougar off her child using her water bottle.. If attacked, fight back and use what ever you can get your hands on.

    People may laugh at the old stories handed down but I believe there is some truth in them and my little grandson is not allowed to walk around here in the country unless someone is watching closely over him..

    When it comes to my babies, no animal will to be fully trusted.

    Even Coyotes have been known to carry children off and eat them.. Two Coyotes killed an 18 year old woman in Canada..

    We now have bigger Coyotes who may be mixed with dogs or wolves. They seem to be more aggressive. I feel the reason is because we are not shooting in their direction. No need to kill but a shot placed close by does a lot to gain respect.

    We need to wake up and realize wild animals are just that, “Wild and dangerous”.

    Many of them are not naturally fearful of man and some seem to know the government has left us unarmed, weak and vulnerable.

    Those who scoff at this will see more and more animal attacks in the future.. A woman in Bossier did not believe me when I told her cougars are coming this way. Not long afterwards a Cougar came to her neighborhood, climbed a tree and took a nap in sight of her house. It’s a good thing her child was inside at the time..

    Do not let fear grip your heart or keep you from enjoying the out doors just use caution and wisdom. Do not let your ego and ignorance make you complacent..

    Always carry a big stick, watch the kids, and be alert. I recommend a carpenters hammer as a weapon if nothing eles. It can be carried in a loop of wire on your side. A good hammer is very discouraging to an attacker, man or beast.

    In most places it’s legal to carry a hammer in the open on your side. In a park I would not advertise my intention to everyone. Hey, you never know when you want to drive a nail.. If your buck knife is not allowed bring a hammer on the hiking trail.. Makes good sense..

    Good day, Chief Redelk

  8. Gabrielle Renoir-Large says:

    The cats now living in my back garden kill squirrels and rabbits for food even though we feed them cat food from the grocery twice every day and give them fresh water.

    Still, people often ask me why I prefer, in general, the company of my dogs and cats. When I tell them that no dog or cat has ever plotted to cause me harm or told me a lie, while humans have, they scoff because they think I can’t possibly feel any love with the dogs and cats. I do. I have an unbreakable bond with all the animals who come into my life. I love them and would give my life for them if necessary.

    • inthelilypawned says:

      Excellent point. No animal is so discontented with itself that it wishes it were other than what it is. One can imagine a basset hound trying to convince the animals on the other side of the fence that it is, in fact, a sleep persian cat. Animals do lie, by the way, but they do so to stay alive; an insect mimics a stick, hoping to escape a bird’s stomach – not hoping to escape for a few moments its dreary bugness, or to see if it can confuse a few other insects for its own amusement.

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