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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain—11. The Eleventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race

We are inferior to all other animals because “He sets himself apart...to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

How many animals defend their territory? It’s a long list. And why? Usually it has to do with mating rights, the harem MT mentioned (See Blog MT #4) But it can also be to protect an area large enough to feed one’s family, as some big cats do. Or perhaps just to assure one’s family the right eucalyptus leaves to eat, like the koalas. I’m no expert, but you get the point.

As to keeping “...multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense...” in order to do the slicing—history offers us many reasons for war. I grew up in World War II when this country was united in its goal of saving the world from Hitler’s vicious slicing. Some values, like freedom and safety, are worth defending. Some are more questionable, a stretch on the freedom or safety arguments. We could all make a list, like the Crusades or Vietnam, but each list would be slightly different.

Are we still driven by our tribal instincts? Do our genes—crafted in the hunter-gatherer days—have to determine how we act? Recent theories about the D4-7 allele—that it give us a dopamine high whenever we win either food or football games—may be a problem. But aren’t we smarter than that? Or is it more education that is needed? How could we possibly “slice” up someone else’s “country” if we understood who they were at their best, if we nurtured their best potential and responded to their blogs and tweets with compassion and good information.“

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The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--10. Humans are the only animal to "enslave their own kind."

Mark Twain’s tenth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals says that only humans enslave their own kind. “Higher animals...do their own work and provide their own living.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

True, not too many animals –except for ants who farm aphids—entrap other animals and force them to provide sustenance. But neither do too many humans now, though there are some horrendous exceptions the authorities have not yet stamped out.

MT has a point. We call it hired help, but there is a hierarchy of people doing work for other people, who then do work for richer people, etc. It’s supposed to be voluntary, but no one gets hired who doesn't follow the employees’ rules. See movie The Help The wider the differential in wealth, the more repressive the chain of command. Hence the Occupy Wall street movement and needed reform.

It’s also true that MT’s “higher animals”—the carnivores and some insects on the list—provide their own living by entrapping and murdering to “provide their own living.”

I wish some brilliant biochemist would find a way to fuel intelligent life without ending some other conscious life. Some are trying. Serious business efforts are being made to develop attractive chicken-like soy vegetable “meat.” Others are trying to grow “meat” from stem cells; others print it out with 3-D printers.

We do eat lots of insects, and more of us may have to eat more, if we insist on overloading the planet with our teeming hordes. But insects enjoy their brief lives and devise clever ways to survive, like the rest of us. That’s no solution.

Maybe we could get the geneticists to isolate an herbivore gene from cows and implant it into newborn humans. Within a generation we could all survive on plants, who (as far as we know) don’t consciously enjoy life or grieve for its loss.

It’s very dangerous, this trend, because it’s a positive feedback loop. In physics, positive loops always implode if left uncontrolled. The loop? Business in bed with government—money buys politics—its called lobbying—which boosts moneyed interests, which can then buy more politics, which can therefore legislate more business interests, which can...etc.etc. In World War II Mussolini called this Fascism. Don’s blog.

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The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--9. “Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country..."

This is Mark Twain’s ninth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

“There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner...[all have been] taken by force and bloodshed.”

I’ll agree with MT on this one. Here he summarizes much of the history we had to memorize in Freshman Western Civilization—the bane of all college Freshmen until the 70’s, when you could graduate from college with a degree in basket weaving. Don’t get me started. I believe in vocational training, but I also value an education in a wide variety of the essentials necessary to open young human minds.

My argument with MT on this topic is his assumption that human beings need to own land. I think the Native American cultures—I don’t know which ones—got it right. Land is a necessity of life, like air and water. Without land one cannot hunt or gather or grow food. Someone has to do it, and everyone needs food.

In my book The Webs of Varok, second in the series,, I add to recommendations for a secure future the suggestion that no one owns land—as in Greenland—not even governments. You simply trade the productive or constructive use of the land for its care. You become responsible for its protection from harm and for the enhancement of its best potential, not just for your own monetary advantage. The idea is worth exploring, perhaps in another setting?

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--8. Man is the Only Animal that Does War?

Mark Twain’s eighth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals is open to question. Do ants do war?
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT puts it this way: Man gathers together “for sordid wages” other men “to exterminate without passion those who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.”

I’m not sure E.O. Wilson would agree. Ants do something similar. Ants They are quite good at warlike behavior, but perhaps we can excuse them, for several reasons. They have a smaller brain than we do. It is programmed to do a simple, specialized job (most likely), and the purpose is attaining food and surviving as a species. All life needs to do that. MT’s statement gives defending Homo sapiens two challenges 1) we do war against others of our own kind and 2) against others who are innocent.

I agree that (1 may be unique to humankind. We seem to have nasty tribal instincts left over from a time when competition for food was necessary for survival. Recently we have discovered a gene, allele D4-7, that gives us a dopamine high whenever we win a battle or eat good food.

MT’s (2—doing war with those innocent of hurting us—will bring a storm of protest from many who feel we always have a righteous cause. There’s always something, from someone’s point of view.
Now, however, as borders dissolve under the impact of rising global communication, economic necessity, migration and interracial breeding that produces hybrid vigor in the species—we have less and less reason to war against our human brethren, more and more reason to work together for a stable future.

In short, the writing is on the wall. Our numbers are now so large and our impact on mother Earth is so great, if we don’t get together soon to agree on a way to limit our avariciousness and our blind tribalism, we will forfeit our chances of rising to our best potential as long as Earth is habitable.

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--1. No Other Animal Wantonly Destroys

Today I’ll begin a series that may not be entirely fair, since the author can’t fight back (at least not directly). The writings I’ll cite were not published until Mark Twain was long dead. His daughter Clara finally allowed DeVoto’s 1939 edition to be published in 1962, says Henry Nash Smith, Editor at Berkeley.

I’ll begin by quoting from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.” In this ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence—thirteen horrendous reasons why humans are inferior to all other animals. MT’s tone is serious, usually, and seriously distraught at times. The satire is nearly gone. Now, fifty years after this writing was resurrected, I’ll review the thirteen faults he finds in Homo sapiens and test them against our modern perspective from the Hen House.

According to MT, given a choice of many calves, an anaconda ate only one, refusing all others, [with] “...no disposition to harm them,” but an English earl, with “charming sport...killed seventy-two of those great animals [buffalo]; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot.” The excess calves offered to the anaconda were perfectly safe while shut up with him.

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The Power of Story

The January 2013 issue of National Geographic "Why We Explore" brought it home. "The fastest spaceship ever built--the Helios 2 probe, launched in 1976...attained a top speed of 157,000 miles per hour . At that rate, a spacecraft headed to Proxima
Centauri, the nearest star, would take more than 17,000 years to make the 24-trillion-mile journey...some scientists...find the prospect of eternal confinement to two [Earth and Mars] small planets in a vast galaxy just too depressing to contemplate." (Emphasis mine.)

Where is this coming from? Are we unable to appreciate the awesome beauty and diversity of Earth, still partly unexplored and largely unknown by most of us? I suspect that the depressed scientists have been imprinted (as have we all?) with decades of stories, powerful stories, assuming humans can and should travel to the stars, even explore the galaxies and/or subdue them. True, star travel has also been irresponsibly oversold, but perhaps the power of stories based on time-bending warp drives has warped our perspective--the ability to sense the enormity of universal space and time.

Can stories really be so powerful? Religions of the world know they can be. In this holiday season, we know they can be powerful indeed .

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A Wedding, Thankfully

One more quote from "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said:"
(Hamilton Books) Eddie Cantor : "A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers." Well, not quite. In this season of holidays, I remember our New Years Eve wedding. I Really Enjoyed it, in spite of everything that happened, which, luckily, struck me funny at the time.  Read More 

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Wild Or Alien Or What?

What if there were aliens living in our solar system? Aliens native to our solar system, from some other world we hadn't yet discovered. Would they be after our resources, eager to enslave us, or better yet, eat us? Would they be wild, in our sense of the word ? I don't think so. Not if they are like most wild animals on Earth--those not on the hunt, driven by hunger. When well fed and respected, wild animals (and the wild birds I've known) recognize a friendly gesture--a peanut placed on the porch railing, a soft click and an extended hand to guide them out the door when they find themselves trapped inside the house, a crippled chicken tossed over the fence, just killed by two young hungry, hopeful coyotes. Read More 

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What is wild? Thinking of Mr. Peacock

He wasn't very wild. He wanted to be in the pen with the other birds, waited on the hen house roof until I filled the water troughs and put out the lay pellets and corn. So what does wild mean? Number one in my dog-eared American Heritage Dictionary says it means "Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed." The definition includes a lot of other things, too, like "savage...unruly...extravagant,...storm"...and "arbitrary equivalence..."

Mr. Peacock, though gradually getting used to me, was a bit arbitrary. Read More 

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In Memorium--An Allegory

Mr. Peacock is gone--all but a few scattered feathers left behind on the ice.
He couldn't override the ancient instincts to roost high in the Ponderosa.
He couldn't learn why I locked him in at night.

The raccoon watched and learned where the peacock slept.
The raccoon crept silently up the tall straight tree trunk
And took young Mr. Peacock before he could fly away.

Many search and find more than ancient instincts preach,
While many miss too much in loving the past too well.
Do we dishonor the most precious of gifts?

Why do we rebuild on flood plains and shallow bays
While the oceans rise?

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