Jeffrey Masson: What Animals Can Teach Us

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 12, 2014

ALDF’s Animal Book Club was so pleased to sit down last week with bestselling author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. His brand new book Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil hit shelves on March 4 and has already been making waves. In it, he discusses how the most supreme of our planet’s “apex predators” are orcas and humans. Yet humans have killed hundreds of millions of their own species while to our knowledge wild orcas have killed none. Why? The answer to that question—and its relation to our own violence—may well surprise you! Check out ALDF’s video below!

Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil presents a new understanding of human violence and nonhuman animal behavior. “This is probably the first book to discuss it in this way,” Masson explains. “We have shortchanged animals, and tried to understand human violence by looking at animal violence: that’s backwards. I think these are projections. They’re our way of attributing to animals what in fact belongs to us.”


In fact, exploiting animals led to our increased cruelty, according to this new study. “Our violence as a species actually comes from our attitude towards animals and our history with animals. The domestication of animals was the beginning of human downfall. Apart from cats and dogs, who probably domesticated us rather than the other way around, every other animal you find on the farm—the pig, the cow, the sheep, the chicken, the duck—has been put there for our exploitation. We want to take their skin, their flesh, their eggs, their milk, their children, their fur. We want to use them up and discard them. We have no interest in their living the life they were evolved to live.”


The fundamental problem facing nonhuman animals is that under the law they are considered mere property. That legal status often prevents their full protection under the law—and for billions of animals in laboratories, factory farms, theme parks, roadside zoos, and entertainment this means unimaginable suffering. As we began acquiring “possessions” our species became more violent to preserve this “property.”


And that is why, Masson says, animals need lawyers. “ALDF is doing what I feel needs to be done—and can only be done by lawyers. We need laws that are going to change the way people behave, regardless of what they think… It’s really the only way to advance the status of animals.”

Masson has also penned some serious must-reads for animal advocates including: Dogs Never Lie about Love—which has sold over a million copies worldwide—and When Elephants Weep: the Emotional Lives of Animals. His many other books include The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Dogs Make us Human, The Face on Your Plate, and Raising the Peaceable Kingdom. He lives with his family in New Zealand, and they share their home with three cats and Benjy the Failed Guide Dog—the hero of Jeff’s book The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. Check out his blog for more information—his books are available at Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes and Nobles, and select independent bookstores.

One thought on “Jeffrey Masson: What Animals Can Teach Us

  1. Jeffrey – I read that with every heartbeat, 300,000 animals are put to death for human consumption. How do I stop my heart from beating? Thank you for writing this book and I am ordering it ASAP because what you said in the video clip is what I have felt in my heart for so many years: our violence is fed through our treatment of them. The horses here at the sanctuary are my fellow travelers on this incredible miracle of a planet and I often feel they are my guardians, not the other way around!

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