Mark Twain argues in his essay “The Damned Human Race” that man has not ascended from the animals but rather descended from them. According to Mark Twain, the animal kingdom is more civil then human society. During the course of this essay, I will address why Twain’s argument is flawed and endeavor to show that man is not, as he would have us believe, the lowest of animals. Man is, instead, accurately called the “highest of animals”. Humans have the ability to reason and have compassion on the less fortunate, of both his species and others.
Man is also the only species that builds upon, and learns from, the knowledge of previous generations. One of the first arguments Twain makes, is an anaconda is less cruel then an earl. While on a hunt an earl kills seventy-two buffalo, eat part of one, and leave the others to rot. To see if an anaconda was as cruel, there were seven calves put into its cage. “The grateful reptile immediately crushed one of them and swallowed it, then lay back satisfied. It showed no further interest in the calves, and no disposition to harm them” (Twain 526).
It is true that an anaconda will not kill more then it will eat, but what about other animals? Twain states that man alone engages in robbing territory from those who are weaker, and that man is the only species that kills just for the pleasure of it. In August, 2009, there were 120 sheep killed near Dillon, Montana by a pack of wolves. Several of the sheep were eaten but most were just left to rot. Dolphins have been known to kill porpoises, just for the sport of it. The dolphins do not eat the porpoises. It has been documented that coyotes will kill chickens and eat only the heads.
In fact, officials use chicken heads to vaccinate coyotes against rabies. I have personally watched as my cat tortured a mouse for two hours before she finally killed it. My cat did not eat, or even look at, the mouse once it was dead. These animals are just as ruthless and wasteful as the earl in Twain’s essay. Mark Twain argues in the Damned Human Race that “The higher animals engage in individual fights, but never in organized masses” (Twain 527). “(Man) is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and with calm pulse to exterminate his kind” (Twain 528). Man is the only slave” (Twain 528).
Twain obviously did not study the culture of the ants. Ants have been observed gathering forces and marching en masse against a foe that has challenged their borders. The ants wage war against each other. Whichever side gains the victory, enslaves their opponents. Even in the absence of “war”, slave-making ants will invade a colony, steal eggs, and bring them back to their own nest. When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings are immediately put to work as slaves. It is obviousthat man is not the only species to engage in war, or make slaves.
There are many other examples I could discuss to prove that animals are no better than man. Male lions, for instance, will challenge the dominate male. If the challenger wins, he will then kill all the cubs of the previous “ruler”. Zebra herds are ruled by one stallion. When a mare joins his herd and is pregnant by a different stallion, after the birth, the stallion will kill the foal. Chickens will kill any other that is seen as different. Man may be ruthless, but he is not the only species that is so. Unlike the animals, humans have the ability to build, and learn from, previous generations.
Man also has the unique desire to learn more than what is necessary for survival. America in Twain’s time was more civil then the America in George Washington’s time. The America today is gentler and has more freedom for minorities then in Mark Twain’s time. Today women can vote, advance their careers, and obtain the same education as men. The same can be said for people of color. We no longer have a segregated society where people of color are required to have their own schools, churches, and voting booths. This has been possible, in part, by learning from our past and having the courage to change in order to become a better people.
Women’s rights and the civil rights movement are examples that people are still evolving. Unlike in the animal kingdom, humans have the ability to care for those who are weak, sick, and otherwise unfortunate. In the wild if an animal is sick or weak, they are abandoned by their own species and are, ultimately, a source of food for another. Man’s ability to have compassion is not limited to our own species. There are many organizations that are created to help people in need. There is the Red Cross that steps in during an emergency to provide shelter, blood and food to those who need it.
There are homeless shelters that take in the homeless to shelter them from the elements. There are soup-kitchens that feed the homeless. There are children’s homes that provide a safe place for orphaned or abandoned children to grow up. There is Breast Cancer Awareness, AIDS foundations, and a society to end world hunger. There are many organizations that aid animals and the planet. Some of those include PETA and Green Peace. The list could go on and on. All of these organizations are founded to help someone or something that is in need.
Twain argues “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” (Twain 526). While it may be true that rich men want to get richer, I find that it is the wealthy who donate the most money to charitable organizations. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the richest men in America, give millions of dollars annually to various foundations and charities that help people all over the world. The animal kingdom is full of violence.
The ants wage war and take slaves, the younger lions challenge the dominant one and kill the cubs, and wolves, cats, and dolphins kill for just the enjoyment of it. Man also engages in these types of activities. This does not prove that man is the lowest of animals, instead; it proves man still has these instincts left over from the animals. Humans are the “highest of animals” because they are overcoming their natural, violent, instincts and are becoming more concerned about the welfare of others. Mankind is evolving and, although there are setbacks time to time, today’s society is better then yesterday’s.