Monday Meslier: 97 – Refutation of Man’s Excellence


Human extravagances soon dispel, in the eyes of reason, the superiority which man arrogantly claims over other animals.

Jean Meslier Portrait

Your host, Jean Meslier

Do we not see many animals show more gentleness, more reflection and reason than the animal which calls itself reasonable par excellence? Are there amongst men, who are so often enslaved and oppressed, societies as well organized as those of ants, bees, or beavers? Do we ever see ferocious beasts of the same kind meet upon the plains to devour each other without profit? Do we see among them religious wars? The cruelty of beasts against other species is caused by hunger, the need of nourishment; the cruelty of man against man has no other motive than the vanity of his masters and the folly of his impertinent prejudices. Theorists who try to make us believe that everything in the universe was made for man, are very much embarrassed when we ask them in what way can so many mischievous animals which continually infest our life here, contribute to the welfare of men. What known advantage results for God’s friend to be bitten by a viper, stung by a gnat, devoured by vermin, torn into pieces by a tiger? Would not all these animals reason as wisely as our theologians, if they should pretend that man was made for them?

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On the plane home from Los Angeles sunday morning, I was re-reading the excellent, scary New York Magazine [nym] article about global climate change, and all I could think was

Comments

  1. kestrel says

    LOL.

    Having spent my life around animals, I never could understand that claim that humans were superior. I mean, male goats do not beat the shit out of the does, and neither bucks nor does kill the kids. They certainly NEVER band together and start killing every other goat on sight. I know a lot of people think goats are disgusting animals, but honestly, if all human being behaved like goats the world would probably be a better place. And that’s just one species of animal, and one that’s been domesticated. So yeah… that claim just never made sense to me.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Meslier had no chance to know this, but bees can see in the ultraviolet range; mosquitoes in the infrared; certain shrimp can see polarized light; some birds can detect planetary magnetic fields; and other birds have genetically imprinted star maps.

    We have bad knees, narrow hips, weak spines and a tendency to hemorrhoids from incomplete adjustment to bipedality. Thanks, Yahweh!

  3. says

    kestrel@#1:

    Just in case you haven’t seen this:

    If all human being behaved like goats the world would probably be a better place

    Yes. Most human supremacists haven’t clued into the possibility that what makes humans supreme is that we are a really nasty species: smart, mean, ruthless, and clever. I’ve occasionally encountered people who go “EEEK! A SNAKE!” or whatever and I have to tell them “It is much more scared of you. Everything is scared of humans. Except for a few animals that are too dumb.”

    one that’s been domesticated

    I am pretty sure that if I ask my friend Gary’s goat, Berlusconi, he will insist that he is not at all “domesticated.” This “domestication” is fake news.

    And then there is goat parkour:

  4. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#2:
    Meslier had no chance to know this, but bees can see in the ultraviolet range; mosquitoes in the infrared; certain shrimp can see polarized light; some birds can detect planetary magnetic fields; and other birds have genetically imprinted star maps.

    And let’s not even get started on octopi and dolphins. Apparently dolphins can ‘hear’ texture or, more precisely, dolphins’ hearing is textured. It seems that dogs can at least somewhat smell in 3D, too. And cats are born with a genetically imprinted sense of superiority.

  5. says

    To Marcus and kestrel @#1

    Do we not see many animals show more gentleness, more reflection and reason than the animal which calls itself reasonable par excellence? Are there amongst men, who are so often enslaved and oppressed, societies as well organized as those of ants, bees, or beavers? Do we ever see ferocious beasts of the same kind meet upon the plains to devour each other without profit? Do we see among them religious wars? The cruelty of beasts against other species is caused by hunger, the need of nourishment; the cruelty of man against man has no other motive than the vanity of his masters and the folly of his impertinent prejudices.

    and

    I mean, male goats do not beat the shit out of the does, and neither bucks nor does kill the kids. They certainly NEVER band together and start killing every other goat on sight.

    This is cherry picking. Among animals you can find plenty of species where animals kill members of their own species for the sake of mates, food, territory, status within their group etc. Among animals you can also find what resembles slavery. Plenty of animal species who live in groups have a leader who forces low ranking members of the group to obey. And if the low ranking member attempts to disobey, it gets attacked, bitten etc. Oh, and did you know that rape is common among some animal species? So is theft. And among humans you can also find kindness and love. On multiple occasions I have experienced situations where complete strangers helped me out when I had some problems. And you must have heard about the existence of teachers and doctors who selflessly work to help impoverished people.

    I’m not buying a claim that all animals are gentle and kind while all humans are bloodthirsty and violent. There’s a lot of variability in animal as well as human behavior. Some animal species are violent, others are peaceful. Some humans are caring and selfless, others are violent jerks. And often one and the same being can behave either kindly or violently depending on circumstances.

  6. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#5:
    This is cherry picking. Among animals you can find plenty of species where animals kill members of their own species for the sake of mates, food, territory, status within their group etc. Among animals you can also find what resembles slavery. Plenty of animal species who live in groups have a leader who forces low ranking members of the group to obey.

    Yes, (e.g: Elephant Seals)
    Rape is the only way ducks appear to have sex.

    I don’t think Meslier (or my) claim is that all animals are gentle and kind, or that all humans are bloodthirsty and violent so much as that there is nothing special about humans: we behave across the same mix of messiness as other animals; that’s pretty good evidence that we’re animals like the others and nothing divinely special.

  7. says

    All animals are capable of being vicious; humans not only excel at it, they practice their viciousness. Kind of like people who lust after revenge.

  8. says

    Caine@#7:
    humans not only excel at it, they practice their viciousness

    And we try to excuse it. The jaguar that eats someone’s face doesn’t spend any time telling them “it was for your own good.”

  9. says

    To Caine @#7
    All animals are capable of being vicious; humans not only excel at it, they practice their viciousness.

    I’m always fascinated by people who claim that humans are evil, vicious etc. (There are surprisingly many people who tend to make such claims.) So, if you claim that humans are vicious, does that mean that you also consider yourself vicious?

    Or do you believe that only other humans are vicious and you are the only kind human being on this planet? If so then that would reek like superiority bias.

    Incidentally, some animal species are capable of revenge too. Try hitting a dog and then watch how it turns the other cheek (hint: it probably will bite instead a.k.a. try to get revenge).

  10. kestrel says

    Ieva Skrebele: I am just wondering… who claimed: “I’m not buying a claim that all animals are gentle and kind while all humans are bloodthirsty and violent.”?? I have read this all over and over, and I can not find this anywhere. Can you show it to me, please?

    I mentioned goats. Just so you know, that is not the same as saying “all animals are gentle and kind”. I mentioned goats are one species. That is not the same as saying “all animals are gentle and kind”.

    And who said “all humans are bloodthirsty and violent”?? ***soooo puzzled***

    Me saying that I’ve found compassion and grace in animals does not mean it doesn’t exist in humans. On the other hand… just read a little history. Thinking that human beings are “superior” does not really ring true, at least not to me. If you are OK with genocide and war being “superior”, well, whatever, I will agree to disagree with you.

    And Marcus: the video made me LOL. I get to see that sort of thing nearly every day. :-D

  11. says

    To kestrel @#12
    Can you show it to me, please?

    I started my comment with quotes. That’s what I replied to.

    If you are OK with genocide and war being “superior”, well, whatever, I will agree to disagree with you.

    Now, could you please point out where I said that “genocide and war are superior”?

    Incidentally, I never made any claims about humans being either superior or inferior to animals. Making such a claim would be an epistemological nightmare. I would have to start with making criteria about how I can determine superiority or inferiority. Then I would get deep into the weeds, because there are countless possible criteria (reproductive success, intellect, ability to cooperate, ability to survive in hostile environments, peacefulness, selflessness etc). How do I pick the one criterion I consider relevant? And how do I defend my criterion? It’s obvious that others will disagree with my choice of a criterion. And even if humans managed to agree upon the criterion, how do we compare different species? How do we measure, which species is more [insert whatever criterion]? Theoretically, it would be perfectly possible to argue that bacteria or ants are superior to humans (if the criterion is reproductive success). And there’s no way I’m willing to get into this kind of discussion. That would quickly turn into a big mess.

    BTW genocides and wars aren’t the only things humans have done throughout history. Our species have done some nice things too.

    Anyway, the only claim I ever made was regarding animal behavior, I said that it is incorrect to claim that “animals show more gentleness, more reflection and reason” than humans or that all the “cruelty of beasts against other species is caused by hunger, the need of nourishment”. I do not believe that it is correct to idealize animal behavior (downplaying or ignoring the violence and cruelty animals sometimes display) or to claim that humans are particularly nasty. Yes, humans can kill (and have killed) more compared to animals. But that’s only because we have intellect and weapons, which make mass murder possible. When it comes to violent desires we aren’t necessarily better or worse than animals. All they have are their fangs and claws, so animals simply cannot kill as effectively as humans.

  12. says

    To Marcus @#11

    You consider yourself vicious and you are OK with that?

    As for me, I’m not OK with being vicious. I know that I occasionally have vicious desires. For example, every now and then I really want to punch somebody who has managed to annoy me. But intellectually I know that hitting others is bad, so, despite my desire, I abstain from punching the annoying person. Ultimately my behavior ends up being non vicious, so I believe that I should consider myself not vicious.

    The good thing about being a human is that if I have some violent desires and I simultaneously consider violence to be bad, then I can choose not to be violent. Which means I am not violent. This contrasts with animals who have smaller brains and no such choice, who are forced to do whatever their instincts tell them to do. And, frankly, I don’t get any vicious desires that often. Which is a good thing.

  13. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#15:
    You consider yourself vicious and you are OK with that?

    Sure, why wouldn’t I be?

    I’d even argue that being willing to respond to provocation with disproportionate viciousness might be good game theory. (Problem with game theory is you can set your game up to determine the outcome)
    I don’t see anything wrong with “you take my eye and I’ll kill you.” Hmmm…. knowing there are disproportionate retaliators out there may have a general deterrent effect, even. But that’s all self-justifying bullshit; the fact is that I have a nasty temper and an extravagant imagination, and I’m comfortable that it’s part of me and how I am. I try to control it, naturally, but mostly because society prefers a balance.

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