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November 3, 2009

Excerpts from The Lowest Animal by Mark Twain

Mark Twain wrote a brilliant piece; too lengthy in it’s entirety for a blog. It is hilarious and thought-provoking. Enjoy these excerpts from the Mark Twain Essay entitled The Lowest Animal from his book; Letters to the Earth. ~~~~~~~~~

 “I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that that theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, the new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.”

“I was aware that many men who have accumulated more millions of money than they can ever use have shown a rabid hunger for more, and have not scrupled to cheat the ignorant and the helpless out of their poor servings in order to partially appease that appetite. I furnished a hundred different kinds of wild and tame animals the opportunity to accumulate vast stores of food, but none of them would do it. The squirrels and bees and certain birds made accumulations, but stopped when they had gathered a winter’s supply, and could not be persuaded to add to it either honestly or by chicane. In order to bolster up a tottering reputation the ant pretended to store up supplies, but I was not deceived. I know the ant. These experiments convinced me that there is this difference between man and the higher animals: he is avaricious and miserly, they are not.”

“In the course of my experiments I convinced myself that among the animals man is the only one that harbors insults and injuries, broods over them, waits till a chance offers, then takes revenge. The passion of revenge is unknown to the higher animals. Roosters keep harems, but it is by consent of their concubines; therefore no wrong is done. Men keep harems, but it is by brute force, privileged by atrocious laws which the other sex were allowed no hand in making. In this matter man occupies a far lower place than the rooster. Cats are loose in their morals, but not consciously so. Man, in his descent from the cat, has brought the cat’s looseness with him but has left the unconsciousness behind—the saving grace which excuses the cat. The cat is innocent, man is not. Indecency, vulgarity, obscenity---these are strictly confined to man; he invented them. Among the higher animals there is no trace of them. They hide nothing; they are not ashamed. Man with his soiled mind, covers himself. He will not even enter a drawing room with his breast and back naked, so alive are he and his mates to indecent suggestion. Man is “The Animal that laughs.” But so does the monkey, as Mr. Darwin pointed out; and so does the Australian bird that is called the laughing jack-ass. No---man is the Animals that Blushes. He is the only one that does it—or has occasion to.”

“…Man---when he is a North American Indian---gouges out his prisoner’s eyes; when he is King John, with a nephew to tender untroublesome, he uses a red-hot iron; when he is a religious zealot dealing with heretics in the Middle Ages, he skins his captive alive and scatters salt on his back; in the first Richard’s time he shuts up a multitude of Jew families in a tower and sets fire to it; in Columbus’s time he captures a family of Spanish Jews and –but that is not printable…Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is a trait that is not known to the higher animals.”

“The higher animals engage in individual fights, but never in organized masses. Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and with calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out as the Hessians did in our Revolution, and as the boyish Prince Napoleon did in the Zulu war, and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel. Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country—takes possession of it and drives him out of it or destroys him. Man has done this in all the ages. There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner, or that has not been taken away from owner after owner, cycle after cycle, by force and bloodshed. Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another, and has always held other slaves in bondage under him in one way or another. In our day he is always some man’s slave for wages, and does that man’s work; and this slave has other slaves under him for minor wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who exclusively do their own work and provide their own living. Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for “the universal brotherhood of man” –with his mouth.”

“Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. He was at it in the time of the Caesars, he was at it in Mahomet’s time, he was at it in the time of the Inquisition, he was at it in France a couple of centuries, he was at it in England in Mary’s day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light, he is at it today in Crete—he will be at it somewhere else tomorrow. The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out, in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.

Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal. Note his history, as sketched above. It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is NOT a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that with that record back of him he sets himself up as the head animal of the lot: whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one. In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately. Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame, I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh—not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”

“And so I find that we have descended and generated, from some far ancestor—some microscopic atom wandering at its pleasure between the mighty horizons of a drop of water perchance—insect by insect, animal by animal, reptile by reptile, down the long highway of smirchless innocence, till we have reached the bottom stage of development—namable as the Human Being. Below us—nothing…”

18 comments:

taylor ummel said...

After i read this, i was thinking that this is funny and true. Mark Twain used very descriptive word, some that i didn't even understand. I think it funny where he compared humans to animals. This article was also pretty much saying how humans are very selfish. For example---People take more than they can eat when others don't have anything at all. Overall this was a good article to read and was enjoyable.

chelseyfink said...

From the beginning, I have gathered that Twain has figured out that humans will not hesitate to be greedy when they want something. Yet, animals are smart enough to know when to stop and leave something left for another animal in need. This was only one of the many points Twain pointed out in which the man differs between the animal. It is, however, a very interesting and profusely comical article because of the points that Twain argues. (When Twain writes, “The higher animals engage in individual fights, but never in organized masses.” I think he is wrong because in Lion King the hyenas traveled and attacked in groups.) I think Twain raises some very interesting points and if he could only see society now, I think he’d be even more frazzled and disappointed with the human race.

chelsea said...

After reading this article I dont think anyone could disagree with Mark Twain. Mark Twain is very blunt and to the point but makes it humarous as well. He was very descriptive to show you what he meant, like when he said that animals can be with a differnt kind and can be affectionate because the learned to and we as humans we cant even sit in the same room with a different race and even acknowlodge them and if we do its a fight. I coudlnt disagree with Mark Twain in this article because we as humans shouldnt think about our self so much but we do because we think we are the best but yet animals can get along with each other and they are lower than us.

Vegan Poet said...

Hi there.

Just wanted to remind you that this is not an "article" by Mark Twain, but rather excerpts from The Lowest Animal, from the book Letters to the Earth.

stef said...

When I got done reading this article it shocked me to read that man will do whatever it is to get what they want. I was very suprized to realize that we are more like cats in many different ways. After reading this article I am glad that Mark Twain went to all that work to figure out how man is. Mark Twain is a very smart person and really knows how to tell people what they want to hear. I agree with everything that Mark Twain said in his artical. I also argee with what he said about the money part. I agree with that because the people who have lots of money arn't happy and just want more. 121 words

Ross said...

After reading this article I thought Twain did an unfair comparison between man and animals. Humans have very complex lives with many things to care for and worry about. Man has to provide for their family. They have to earn a living, protect and care for their kids, look out for themselves, get an education; the list could go on forever. Animals on the other hand, have children then abandon them within a few years—maybe even sooner--and find food to eat and a place to sleep. Although some humans can be aggressive and greedy, Twain makes an unfair assumption by talking about humans as if we are all like that.

lukeb25 said...

I think Mark Twain has some true things and some false things in this article. We as humans haven’t learned to get along with each other yet and it has led to many deaths. I do wish we could get along like the animals he put in he cage, all were different but none of them decided to fight or kill each other. Yet he didn’t put an actual animal killer in the cage, all of the animals in the cage are calm animals. I think if he were to put a tiger or lion in there it would have been a different story. I think the part about how we eat as much as possible while others are starving is true, but its not like we aren’t trying to fix that problem of starving people. We have non-for profit organizations that go all over the world helping children and poor countries, but I don’t think Mark would be to happy about what our world has become today.

Vegan Poet said...

Remember this is just EXCERPTS from an article, this is not the whole article. It was written with a sense of humor and jest, keep that in mind too. But he was showing us about a part of our species.

William A. Robinson said...

While I agree with Twain on some of his theories, I believe that the human race and the way we act is much more complicated than that of animals. That makes it difficult to compare our actions to the actions of animals. The human mind is much more evolved, obviously, and is forced to make much more complex decisions than animals do. I do agree that some men, probably more than there should be, are greedy and cruel. However, Twain is allowing those ravenous, brutal men to tarnish man's name by making assumptions about the human race based on these men conduct their selves. Twain does bring up some awful traits of man in this excerpt. What he fails to mention are all the positive attributes of man. He didn't point out that man can be unflinchingly kind and compassionate.
Word Count: 140

Renard Moreau said...

[ Smiles ] Wonderful!

Unknown said...

Mark Twain has always been a comical writer, and this study was humorous. I never thought of comparing humans to animals, or even thought we were similiar. I liked how he put "I was aware that many men who have accumulated more millions of money than they can ever use have shown a rabid hunger for more, and have not scrupled to cheat the ignorant and the helpless out of their poor servings in order to partially appease that appetite." As I do agree that we do, indeed, take more than we can handle, while animals take what they need and go. Along with older post, I do agree that we, humans, live a more complex life than animals do; therefore, it is unfair for us to be compared to any animal.

Unknown said...

This excerpt was interesting to read but also disturbing. The writer definitely has a problem with humans. The tone is harsh and negative. Yet, I agree with a few of his points. Man is cruel and for selfish reasons. Animals are not. They simply show violence to defend themselves. I don't know if I agree that 'higher animals' engage in individual fights and never in organized masses. Don't lions organize masses in order to gain an advantage when fighting?
The religion topic was disturbing. The writer seemed to have a grudge against religion and obviously believes we were created by some sort of evolutionary force. The writer seems to be trying to convince the reader that humans are far below the standards of animalistic behavior.
125

Anonymous said...

Frankly its one of the most profound things ever written-and the fact that it remains so obscure shows how powerful it is. Its not uncommon for people to criticize humanity, but they still want to believe deep down that humans are the best there is, or at least equal to other life. But I think Twain hits the nail on the head--by our own standards of morality we are less than other species. For animal rights I think its an important thing to remember because usually the most hostile opponent of animal rights issues is someone who is so blindly arrogant and believes that humans are the paragon of Nature, the greatest thing in the universe. They think being able to write music or make art is something important when it is meaningless in the universe if we are fair about it. Someone mentioned that other animals abandon their young after a few years-but they dont chain them to beds or cages the way humans have done (to their own species and others). Or psychologically abuse them for years. Cats dont build arenas where other cats watch mice being tortured. Other animals dont get sexual arousal from corpses (the claims they do are based on fluke observation not real evidence of necrophilia), excrement, or violence (in Roman times prostitutes would stand by the Coliseum since the violence caused sexual arousal among some). Humans are the uncontrolled animal. The true wild animal.

Jonathan Swift also identified this in Gulliver's Travels--at the end Gulliver said he could tolerate humanity except when smitten with pride. He would never understand how such a vice and such an animal would tally together. We know that other species are also capable of altruistic behavior, and so even if one tries to cite examples of cruelty in nature we still reign supreme at wicked violence. Most of what we call human altruism towards other species is damage control-correcting mistakes created by other humans. I am going to write my own blog posting about this Twain essay because it is that important. The truth hurts but if you ever argue with hardline animal rights opponents knocking down their pride is the best way to deal with them. They have no defense since they cant find examples of nonhumans doing anything equivalent to humans urging suicidal people to jump from a building or mocking the disabled. A fly knows by instinct that it needs to wash but humans can be the greatest plague carriers of all. Seriously Twain only touched the top of the iceberg on this subject and the people who deny it are either naive or have too much pride.

Anonymous said...

Yes it's amazing you defensive some people are about Twain's acerbic jabs at "The Damned Human Race" suggesting that he was too negative or that he was selectively looking at "evil men" and not looking at the "good", in short practicing the denial and moral cowardice that allows the progressive destruction and greed to go on without any effective resistence from the "righteous". Even Jesus supposedly said "To whom much is given, much is expected!" We haven't even begun to live up to that commandment. There is another quote from Twain you didn't include that would be appropriate to the so-called 'redeemed' among us:

"[Man] He has just one stupendous superiority. In his intellect he is supreme. The Higher Animals cannot touch him there. It is curious, it is noteworthy, that no heaven has ever been offered him wherein his one sole superiority was provided with a chance to enjoy itself. Even when he himself has imagined a heaven, he has never made provision in it for intellectual joys. It is a striking omission. It seems a tacit confession that heavens are provided for the Higher Animals alone. This is matter for thought; and for serious thought. And it is full of a grim suggestion: that we are not as important, perhaps as we had all along supposed we were."

Anonymous said...

Got to love Mark Twain. As much as it hurts to read about us humans. It's all true. I do agree with what Mark Twain is saying in this excerpt. Humans sometimes act dumber than animals. Therefore, it makes lowest animal seem the higher animal.

CB said...

It's disturbing to see some of these posts. Those who are complaining, you obviously aren't familiar with Mark Twain. He is a satirist and humorist.

"Satire - the use of humor and wit with a critical attitude, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule for exposing or denouncing the frailties and faults of mankind’s activities and institutions, such as folly, stupidity, or vice. This usually involves both moral judgment and a desire to help improve a custom, belief, or tradition."

And for "it is unfair for us to be compared to any animal"...you do realize humans are animals, right?

Vegan Poet - go by the name of "Butterflies" said...

CB - I definitely realize that humans are animals. Many people don't seem to see that obvious truth. It doesn't matter which is the most intelligent...intelligence has nothing to do with how we should treat other animals. Would we sexually assault, oppress and murder a mentally-impaired person? No. If someone, human or non, is conscious, fully aware, has feelings, can suffer, can feel pleasure and want to live...then we have no right to violently assault them...seems like basic stuff....Golden Rule kind of stuff.

meow angel said...

All the lines written in this essay are absolutely true ..yes man is rational,cruel ,jealous ,indecent and vulgar .... Mark twain was right at that time he said these lines and today these things are much more visible to us ..in every country there is a new religion as mentioned by Mark Twain so the summary of my comments is salute to Mark Twain who write these things in a beautifully satirical manner