Beasts - What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil
Jon Patch chats with Jeffrey Masson, author of Beasts - What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil. There are two supreme predators on the planet with the most complex brains in nature: humans and orcas. In the twentieth century alone, one of these animals killed 200 million members of its own species, the other has killed none. Jeffrey Masson's fascinating new book begins here: There is something different about us.
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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a writer who lives with his family in New Zealand. He has a 39-year-old daughter, Simone, who who recently became board certified as a Nurse Practitioner in Gerontology. His wife Leila is a pediatrician and they have two sons: Ilan and Manu. They live on a beach in Auckland with three cats and Benjy the Failed Guide Dog - the hero of Jeff's book - The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving.
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Harvard University. He was Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. While at the university he trained as a Freudian analyst (from 1971-1979) graduating as a full member of the International Psycho-Analytical Association. In 1980 he became Project Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives.
Given access to Freud's papers in London and the Library of Congress, his research led him to believe that Freud made a mistake when he stopped believing that the source of much human misery lay in sexual abuse. Masson's view was so controversial within traditional analytic circles that he was fired from the archives and had his membership in the international society taken away. Janet Malcolm has written a book about this episode (In the Freud Archives - the subject of a libel suit by Masson) and Jeff has published a series of books critical of Freud, psychoanalysis, psychiatry and therapy.
Jeffrey and his family
Skeptical that humans could be understood (at least by psychologists) Masson turned to animals. In 1995 he published When Elephants Weep, an international best seller, followed by the equally popular Dogs Never Lie About Love.
Since those two books he has published 7 more books about animals, looking in every one at their emotions: About cats he wrote The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats (along with a fable, The Cat Who Came in from the Cold); He looked at fatherhood in the animal world and the lessons to be learned for humans in The Evolution of Fatherhood; writing about the emotional world of farm animals in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon turned Jeff into a vegan.
Lately he wondered why animals did not engage in genocide, and wrote Raising the Peaceable Kingdom. He wrote an encyclopedia of his 100 favorite animals (often with an animal-rights angle) called Altruistic Armadillos - Zenlike Zebras. His next most recent book is The Face on Your Plate - The Truth About Food
His most recent book, Dogs Make Us Human, about the evolution of dogs and humans in tandem, was published in September 2011.
Jeff’s new book is called Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil. It is due out in March, from Bloomsbury USA. It is available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble.
Leila, and Jeff are vegans. Manu, Ilan and his rat are vegetarian. Their three cats could not be persuaded to follow either philosophy, and are, alas, carnivores. Benjy could be a vegan, but Jeff feels that he should not force him into this lifestyle, which should be a choice.