instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--12. Man, The Only Religious Animal

Mark Twain’s twelfth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion.
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.”

In this one, MT goes for the religious jugular with a well-known sarcastic cliché: “Man is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them.” He goes on to list horrendous events in history that show that “He is the only animal who loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.” He mentions the Caesars, Mahomet, the Inquisition, France a couple centuries, Mary’s England, and “...today in Crete.”

It’s true that animals don’t seem to be deliberately cruel in order to support a theory of Existence or requirements for the Hereafter, which they are supposedly forbidden. I’ll make the case that they have religion in some sense of the word—at least some do.

We struggle with the definition of religion. The 2007 American Heritage College Dictionary says religion is “1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe”... or “3a. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” Or “4. A course...pursued with zeal...”

Well, that’s descriptive, but not very useful when it comes to animals, unless, as one must, you interpret some of the descriptive words in a broad sense. Two examples: 1) A dog’s devotion to a kind master, and 2) an animal parent’s care of her young. Call it genetic programming if you like. It is no less than religious devotion, even to the point of sacrifice.

Definition # 4 could apply to fandom of all sorts. I remember a riot that broke out during a high school football team when some fans decided to take their zeal off the stands into the fieild. I was supposed to stop the flood of angered teenagers pouring out of the stands. Animals?

The other problem with MT’s argument is that we know very little about animal thinking. It’s been only a few years since animal behavior theorists could publish words expressing emotions, such was the fear of anthropomorphism--as if sincere scientists and honest pet owners produced anecdotes that were re-inventing Bugs Bunny.

At least, now we admit that animals feel real emotions very similar to ours. We know without a doubt that we all came from the same biochemical stock of miracles. We have learned recently that we share a few genes with algae. The evolutionary process simply did not fix some things that weren’t broke. Human uniqueness is a matter of degree and good luck, like hands and a large brain that can invent its own excuses, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Be the first to comment

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--13. Man Is The Unreasoning Anima

Mark Twain’s thirteenth and last Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is more about why man is inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion:
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 claims that he put several animals in a cage together and they lived “...together, even affectionately.” In another cage he put people of different religions, and they slaughtered each other. History provides his evidence. “...he is...afflicted with a Defect...permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable—the Moral Sense...the quality which enables him to do wrong....It...is a disease...for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it.” The question then becomes--If we are learning that animals do have consciousness, are we to assume that they too will lose their reason?

MT ends his diatribe with a long list of man’s failure as a biological creature, including a useless appendix and a long list of ailments, including the admission that human “intellect is supreme.” Organs and senses are useless, and in the end “...we are not as important, perhaps, as we had all along supposed we were.” Here I’ll have to agree that we have too often over-bloated our uniqueness and our worthiness. But we are capable of learning, of accepting knowledge that might not fit our early assumptions, of finding our real place in a large universe, of being thankful for our ability to appreciate its beauty and to grow in capacity to love, especially those who inhabit the Hen House and its equivalent, our domestic animal friends.

Be the first to comment

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.“

Be the first to comment

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.

Be the first to comment

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?

Be the first to comment

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.

Be the first to comment

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain-7. “Man is the cruel animal.

Written at the worst time of his life, Mark Twain’s seventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race goes on to say [Man] “...inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”
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’s list of human cruelties is not fun to read. It goes on for a full page. I hate to think what would be on the list of current incidents.

MT excused the cat who plays with a “...frightened mouse...” because the cat doesn’t deliberately torture the mouse. The kill is sudden and quick, as is the deadly throttle of experienced non-human hunters.

As MT suggests, the cat may or may not be conscious of the mouse’s fright . The jury is still out on that issue, but, at last, evidence is gathering that non-human consciousness is more astute than we have recognized to date.

If the cat knows that the frightened mouse is suffering, but plays with it anyway, we’ve got a serious problem. What’s the point? Philosophically, should we write off life knowingly torturing life as the inevitable consequences of a brain too complex for its own good.

Maybe it’s like the price we pay for being made out of stuff. The material called flesh and bone is subject to harm. Pain is an alarm system so you can fix your hurting stuff. Too much pain and you shut down—another blessing in disguise.

Looking at torture as a byproduct of the most complex object in the universe—that’s what students of complex systems call the brain, due to the super-astronomical number of connections between neurons and other brain cells—one can say that our moral or religious challenge is to rise above such complex aberrations and prove ourselves worthy of heaven.

Though that may be viewed as a primitive western myth, it has some merit in giving us motivation to be the best complex critters we can be. However, viewing the ability to do torture as a byproduct of natural processes doesn't make it acceptable, not in the least.

When Creation started tinkering with matter so that is could come alive, consciousness and complexity were as inevitable as vulnerability and imagination. Surely we can meet these challenges and live as if we were grateful for the miracle of our conscious lives.

Be the first to comment

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain 6-“Man Is The Animal that Blushes.”

Scooter, feeling what?

Mark Twain’s sixth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals since he invented “indecency, vulgarity, and obscenity.”
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.”

Well, maybe. This is a tricky one. Nature has pruned and shaped us so that our mating signals are far more obvious than most other animals.’ Hence, we wear clothes, so we can do good work without distraction. The historical and current cleavage fad is a rebellion against this work ethic and should be considered carefully. Because of our blatant biological design, maybe we should not advertise unless we mean it.

MT blames our “moral sense” for our invention of “indecency, vulgarity and obscenity,” but I blame the accident of nature’s creating a “naked ape” with a brain so complex it has resulted in the human capacity to invent such concepts, plus a million reasons why the concepts induce lewdness and/or humor.

“The “...higher animals...hide nothing; they are not ashamed.” MT’s second statement for the superiority of animals on this topic is simply not true. Dog owners know very well that dogs are capable of intense shame—though it may be triggered more often by their sensitivity to human expectations than not. Is it shame that some dogs feel when their luscious fur is shaved?

I need more input on this one. Anyone have any experience with animal shame to share? It’s closely related to, but different from, guilt, isn’t it.? Or does MT have this one correct?

Be the first to comment

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 5-- Loose Humans Are More Guilty Than Loose Cats

Mark Twain’s fifth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is based simply on the fact that humans are consciously loose, while cats are “unconscious,” hence innocent.
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 unconscious are animals? My first reaction to this assumption by MT is that in his day no one imagined what we have discovered recently about animal behavior. The old fear of anthropomorphism in this specialized field of science has finally been overcome by the rational acceptance of common sense, a huge collection of anecdotes, and some clever experiments. Recent Titles

I understand that behavior scientists can now publish words like empathy and joy when referring to animals. In MT’s day—in fact, even a short time ago—scientists would not be published if they used such words.

I suspect that what drove this unscientific verbal prejudice was our historical need to feel unique in creation. If animals did not have emotions, then we could feel superior and make cruel use of them more easily.

MT took another angle on the problem, stating that since cats were unconsciously loose, “The cat is innocent. Man is not.” He had no idea how conscious cats are. They know exactly what I’m about when I chase them away from our bird feeder. And I believe they know exactly what they are about. My childhood barnyard cat Oscar certainly did.

Oscar was so “loose,” he sired dozens of kittens, who came into the barn for the pan of milk Pa provided while milking Buttercup, our World War II Victory Farm cow. They came for the milk, I’m convinced, because Oscar showed them and their mothers where it was. He was a good family provider. He knew exactly what he was doing—proof positive of his consciousness. He just didn’t agree with MT’s condemnation of looseness.

Be the first to comment

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 4—Do Humans Rank Lower Than Roosters In The Keeping Of Harems?

This is Mark Twain’s fourth Horrendous Condemnation 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.”

I can confirm MT’s observation that “...roosters keep harems, but it is by consent...” For eleven years, Peeper, the Hen House’s resident male, a gorgeous game cock raised as an only child by a devoted hen, wooed and won his harem with generous offerings of crickets and worms, even his treasured tidbits from the kitchen scrap bucket.

However, when MT states that men keep harems by “brute force,” I’m afraid he exaggerates. Sure, it has happened in our sad history, and we still have MT’s “atrocious laws” that don’t respect women’s rights, but not all men do this. I know many good men who respect and support their wives. I’m married to one. There are many who exercise amazing patience with domestic fal de rals that any self-respecting eunuch would not endure—the famous Honey-Dos.

At least human males don’t have to fight other males every spring for mating rights, as do many of our fine furry friends. Or do they? At least, I’d say humans come out close to the top in the courtship competition category.

The animal at the very top of the list in my opinion is the humble squid--the one who wins the female by imitating her skin coloration, hence fooling the competing males and snuggling in closer than other suitors. Is there a lesson there? Or an analogy I’m missing?

2 Comments
Post a comment