The Damned Human Race

by Mark Twain

(Published in 1905)

have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals”
(so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I
find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance
to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it
now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and
truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the
Higher Animals.?In proceeding toward this unpleasant conclusion I have not
guessed or speculated or conjectured, but have used what is commonly called the
scientific method. That is to say, I have subjected every postulate that
presented itself to the crucial test of actual experiment, and have adopted it
or rejected it according to the result. Thus I verified and established each
step of my course in its turn before advancing to the next. These experiments
were made painstakingly in the London Zoological Gardens, and covered many
months of painstaking and fatiguing work.

particularizing any of the experiments, I wish to state one or two things which
seem to more properly belong in this place than further along. This in the
interest of clearness. The massed experiments established to my satisfaction
certain generalizations, to wit:

  1. That the human race is of one
    distinct species. It exhibits slight variations–in color, stature, mental
    caliber, and so on–due to climate, environment, and so forth; but it is a
    species by itself, and not to be confounded with any other.
  • That the quadrupeds are a distinct
    family, also. This family exibits variations–in color, size, food preferences
    and so on; but it is a family by itself.
  • That the other families–the birds,
    the fishes, the insects, the reptiles, etc.–are more or less distinct, also.
    They are in the procession. They are links in the chain which stretches down
    from the higher animals to man at the bottom.

Some of my
experiments were quite curious. In the course of my reading I had come across a
case where, many years ago, some hunters on our Great Plains organized a
buffalo hunt for the entertainment of an English earl–that, and to provide some
fresh meat for his larder. They had charming sport. They killed seventy-two of
those great animals; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to
rot. In order to determine the difference between an anaconda and an earl–if
any–I caused seven young calves to be turned into the anaconda’s 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. I tried this experiment with other anacondas; always with the
same result. The fact stood proven that the difference between an earl and an
anaconda is that the earl is cruel and the anaconda isn’t; and that the earl
wantonly destroys what he has no use for, but the anaconda doesn’t. This seemed
to suggest that the anaconda was not descended from the earl. It also seemed to
suggest that the earl was descended from the anaconda, and had lost a great
deal in the translation.

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. I furnished a hundred different kinds of wild and tame animals the opportunity to accumulate vast stores of food, but none of them would do it. The squirrels and bees and certain birds made accumulations, but stopped when they had gathered a winter’s supply, and could not be persuaded to add to it either honestly or by chicane. In order to bolster up a tottering reputation the ant pretended to store up supplies, but I was not deceived. I know the ant. These experiments convinced me that there is this difference between man and the higher animals: he is avaricious and miserly, they are not.

the course of my experiments 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. The passion of revenge is unknown to the higher

keep harems, but it is by consent of their concubines; therefore no harm is
done. Men keep harems, but it is by brute force, privileged by atrocious laws
which the other sex were allowed no hand in making. In this matter man occupies
a far lower place than the rooster.?Cats are loose in their morals, but not
consciously so. Man, in his descent from the cat, has brought the cat’s
looseness with him but has left the unconsciousness behind–the saving grace
which excuses the cat. The cat is innocent, man is not.

vulgarity, obscenity–these are strictly confined to man; he invented them.
Among the higher animals there is no trace of them. They hide nothing; they are
not ashamed. Man, with his soiled mind, covers himself. He will not even enter
a drawing room with his breast and back naked, so alive are he and his mates to
indecent suggestion. Man is “The Animal that Laughs.” But so does the monkey,
as Mr. Darwin pointed out; and so does the Australian bird that is called the laughing
jackass. No–Man is the only Animal that Blushes. He is the only one that does
it–or has occasion to.

At the head of this
article we see how “three monks were burnt to death” a few weeks ago, and a
prior “put to death with atrocious cruelty.” Do we inquire into the details?
No; or we should find out that the prior was subjected to unprintable
mutilations. Man–when he is a North American Indian–gouges out his prisoner’s
eyes; when he is King John, with a nephew to render untroublesome, he uses a
red-hot iron; when he is a religious zealot dealing with heretics in the Middle
Ages, he skins his captive alive and scatters salt on his back; in the first
Richard’s time he shuts up a multitude of Jew families in a tower and sets fire
to it; in Columbus’s time he captures a family of Spanish Jews and–but that is
not printable; in our day in England a man is fined ten shillings for beating
his mother nearly to death with a chair, and another man is fined forty
shillings for having four pheasant eggs in his possession without being able to
satisfactorily explain how he got them. Of all the animals, man is the only one
that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing
it. It is a trait that is not known to the higher animals. The cat plays with
the frightened mouse; but she has this excuse, that she does not know that the
mouse is suffering. The cat is moderate–unhumanly moderate: she only scares the
mouse, she does not hurt it; she doesn’t dig out its eyes, or tear off its
skin, or drive splinters under its nails–man-fashion; when she is done playing
with it she makes a sudden meal of it and puts it out of its trouble. Man is
the Cruel Animal. He alone is of that distinction.

The higher animals
engage in individual fights, but never in organized masses. 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 march
out, as the Hessians did in our Revolution, and as the boyish Prince Napoleon
did in the Zulu war, and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who
have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.

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. In our day he is always some man’s slave for wages, and
does that man’s work; and this slave has other slaves under him for minor
wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who
exclusively do their own work and provide their own living? 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 uniformed assassins on
hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them
from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes
the blood off his hands and works for “the universal brotherhood of man”–with
his mouth.

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. He was at it in the time of the
Caesars, he was at it in Mahomet’s time, he was at it in the time of the
Inquisition, he was at it in France a couple of centuries, he was at it in
England in Mary’s day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light, he
is at it today in Crete–as per the telegrams quoted above–he will be at it
somewhere else tomorrow. The higher animals have no religion. And we are told
that they are going to be left out, in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems
questionable taste.

is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute.
Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal.
Note his history, as sketched above. It seems plain to me that whatever he is
his is not a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac.
I consider that 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. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is
incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat
and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to
be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a
goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in
peace; even affectionately.

Next, in another
cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame
I added a Scotch Presbytarian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a
Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas;
a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army
Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to
note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there
was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and
bones and flesh–not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had
disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.

One is obliged to concede that in true loftiness of character, Man cannot claim to approach even the meanest of the Higher Animals.

It is plain that he is constitutionally incapable of approaching that altitude; that he is constitutionally afflicted with a Defect which must make such approach forever impossible, for it is manifest that this defect is permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable.?I find this Defect to be the Moral Sense. He is the only animal that has it. It is the secret of his degredation. It is the quality which enables him to do wrong. It has no other office. It is incapable of performing any other function. It could never have been intended to perform any other. Without it, man could do no wrong. He would rise at once to the level of the Higher Animals

the Moral Sense has but one office, the one capacity–to enable man to do
wrong–it is plainly without value to him. It is as valueless to him as is
disease. In fact, it manifestly is a disease. Rabies is bad, but it is not so
bad as this disease. Rabies enables a man to do a bad, but it is not so bad as
this disease. Rabies enables a man to do a thing which he could not do when in
a healthy state: kill his neighbor with a poisonous bite. No one is the better
man for having rabies. The Moral Sense enables a man to do wrong. It enables
him to do wrong in a thousand ways. Rabies is an innocent disease, compared to
the Moral Sense. No one, then, can be the better man for having the Moral
Sense. What, now, do we find the Primal Curse to have been? Plainly what it was
in the beginning: the infliction upon man of the Moral Sense; the ability to
distinguish good from evil; and with it, necessarily, the ability to do evil;
for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the
doer of it.

so I find that we have descended and degenerated, from some far ancestor–some
microscopic atom wandering at its pleasure between the mighty horizons of a
drop of water perchance–insect by insect, animal by animal, reptile by reptile,
down the long highway of smirchless innocence, till we have reached the bottom
stage of development–namable as the Human Being. Below us–nothing. Nothing but
the Frenchman.

is only one possible stage below the Moral Sense; that is the Immoral Sense.
The Frenchman has it. Man is but a little lower than the angels. This
definitely locates him. He is between the angels and the French.

seems to be a rickety poor sort of a thing, any way you take him; a kind of
British Museum of infirmities and inferiorities. He is always undergoing
repairs. A machine that was as unreliable as he is would have no market. On top
of his specialty–the Moral Sense–are piled a multitude of minor infirmities;
such a multitude, indeed, that one may broadly call them countless. The higher
animals get their teeth without pain or inconvenience. Man gets his through
months and months of cruel torture; and at a time of life when he is but ill
able to bear it. As soon as he has got them they must all be pulled out again,
for they were of no value in the first place, not worth the loss of a night’s
rest. The second set will answer for a while, by being reinforced occasionally
with rubber or plugged up with gold; but he will never ger a set which can
really be depended on till a dentist makes him one. This set will be called
“false” teeth–as if he had ever worn any other kind.

In a wild state–a natural state–the Higher Animals have a few diseases; diseases of little consequence; the main one is old age. But man starts in as a child and lives on diseases till the end, as a regular diet. He has mumps, measles, whooping cough, croup, tonsillitis, diptheria, scarlet fever, almost as a matter of course. Afterward, as he goes along, his life continues to be threatened at every turn: by colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, itch, cholera, cancer, consumption, yellow fever, bilious fever, typhus fevers, hay fever, ague, chilblains, piles, inflammation of the entrails, indigestion, toothache, earache, deafness, dumbness, blindness, influenza, chicken pox, cowpox, smallpox, liver compliant, constipation, bloody flux, warts, pimples, boils, carbuncles, abscesses, bunions, corns, tumors, fistulas, pneumonia, softening of the brain, melancholia and fifteen other kinds of insanity; dysentery, jaundice, diseases of the heart, the bones, the skin, the scalp, the spleen, the kidneys, the nerves, the brain, the blood; scrofula, paralysis, leprosy, neuralgia, palsy, fits, headache, thirteen kinds of rheumatism, forty-six of gout, and a formidable supply of gross and unprintable disorders of one sort and another. Also– but why continue the list? The mere names of the agents appointed to keep this shackly machine out of repair would hide him from sight if printed on his body in the smallest type known to the founder’s art. He is but a basket of pestilent corruption provided for the support and entertainment of swarming armies of bacilli–armies commissioned to rot him and destroy him, and each army equipped with a special detail of the work. The process of waylaying him, persecuting him, rotting him, killing him, begins with his first breath, and there is no mercy, no pity, no truce till he draws his last one.

at the workmanship of him, in certain of its particulars. What are his tonsils
for? They perform no useful function; they have no value. They have no business
there. They are but a trap. They have but the one office, the one industry: to
provide tonsillitis and quinsy and such things for the possessor of them. And
what is the vermiform appendix for? It has no value; it cannot perform any
useful service. It is but an ambuscaded enemy whose sole interest in life is to
lie in wait for stray grapeseeds and employ them to breed strangulated hernia.
And what are the male’s mammals for? For business, they are out of the
question; as an ornament, they are a mistake. What is his beard for? It
performs no useful function; it is a nuisance and a discomfort; all nations
hate it; all nations persecute it with a razor. And because it is a nuisance
and a discomfort, Nature never allows the supply of it to fall short, in any
man’s case, between puberty and the grave. You never see a man baldheaded on
his chin. But his hair! It is a graceful ornament, it is a comfort, it is the
best of all protections against certain perilous ailments, man prizes it above
emeralds and rubies. And because of these things Nature puts it on, half the
time, so that it won’t stay. Man’s sight, smell, hearing, sense of locality–how
inferior they are. The condor sees a corpse at five miles; man has no telescope
that can do it. The bloodhound follows a scent that is two days old. The robin
hears the earthworm burrowing his course under the ground. The cat, deported in
a closed basket, finds its way home again through twenty miles of country which
it has never seen.

functions lodged in the other sex perform in a lamentably inferior way as
compared with the performance of the same functions in the Higher Animals. In
the human being, menstruation, gestation and parturition are terms which stand
for horrors. In the Higher Animals these things are hardly even inconveniences.

style, look at the Bengal tiger–that ideal of grace, beauty, physical
perfection, majesty. And then look at Man–that poor thing. He is the Animal of
the Wig, the Trepanned Skull, the Ear Trumpet, the Glass Eye, the Pasteboard
Nose, the Porcelain Teeth, the Silver Windpipe, the Wooden Leg–a creature that
is mended and patched all over, from top to bottom. If he can’t get renewals of
his bric-a-brac in the next world, what will he look like?

has just one stupendous superiority. In his intellect he is supreme. The Higher
Animals cannot touch him there. It is curious, it is noteworthy, that no heaven
has ever been offered him wherein his one sole superiority was provided with a
chance to enjoy itself. Even when he himself has imagined a heaven, he has
never made provision in it for intellectual joys. It is a striking omission. 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.

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