Friday, November 2, 2012

The Damned Human Race: “The Lowest Animal” by Mark Twain

One of my favorite books by Mark Twain: I have always enjoyed the section entitled "The Damned Human Race," particularly Part V, The Lowest Animal. Here are a few excerpts:

“…In all ages the savages of all lands have made the slaughtering of their neighboring brothers and the enslaving of their women and children the common business of their lives. Hypocrisy, envy, malice, cruelty, vengefulness, seduction, rape, robbery, swindling, arson, bigamy, adultery, and the oppression and humiliation of the poor and the helpless in all ways have been and still are more or less common among both the civilized and uncivilized peoples of the earth… 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…
“Indecency, vulgarity, obscenity—these are strictly confined to man; he invented them… Man is the Cruel Animal. He is alone in that distinction… 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… 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…
“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 uninformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in 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…
“Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute… His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. I consider the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that with that record back of him he blandly 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… One is obliged to concede that in true loftiness of character, man cannot claim to approach even the meanest of the Higher Animals… I find this Defect to be the Moral Sense. He is the only animal that has it. It is the secret of his degradation. It is the quality which enables him to do wrong… There is only one possible stage below the Moral Sense; that is the Immoral Sense… 

[Man] has just one stupendous superiority. In his intellect he is supreme... It is curious... that no heaven has ever been offered him wherein his one sole superiority was provided with a chance to enjoy itself... 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.”

Twain, Mark. Letters from the Earth. Ed. Bernard DeVoto. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1962. 


  1. Thank you for bringing this book by Mark Twain to my attention. I have to read MORE of it! It is refreshing to read someone who actually 'gets it'!

  2. Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
    And the slow parade of fears without crying
    Now I want to understand
    I have done all that I could
    To see the evil and the good without hiding
    You must help me if you can?

    Jackson Browne

  3. In 1909 time travel and time machines were the focus of experimentation. Obviously, Twain met Madigan, Daley, Rauner, Quinn, Thompson, Ryan, Pritzker, et al.
    Twain died not long after that.

  4. The nightmare in which we live.