An Essential Difference Between Human Animals and All The Rest

If I asked you to begin listing differences between humans and all other animals, I'd likely get a good long list.

  • Conscience
  • Morality
  • Tool creator and perfector
  • Producer beyond environmental constraints
  • Capacity for highly reasoned intelligence

...And so on, and all true. Some of these are quantitative differences and some, qualitative.

In most ways, the balance sheet appears to stack up for humans. Hell, unless an animal has the capacity to burrow into the ground or bore into a tree, they're pretty much left to the elements, without much shelter. On the other hand, watching a lot of nature shows—and especially those at environmental extremes—I'm often awestruck at their resilience and ability to survive, without a single bit of outside help from anyone.

...But there is one thing that solidly tends to balance the whole balance sheet for me:

Take any metropolitan or city zoo and instantly remove all the cages, bars, barriers and quit feeding them. What would happen? To the extent they could, all who could would scurry off to the wild and to their natural freedom as fast as they could. Most would evade recapture to their utmost ability. And many wouldn't be able to survive because the surrounding natural environment wouldn't be suitable, but that won't stop them either.

Humans, on the other hand, live in a zoo with "bars," "cages," and "barriers" of their own mental and imaginary making. Not only that, but they kinda love it. They'll argue with you, telling you there is no freedom to be had, that it doesn't exist...it's an illusion...that this is the natural order of things. Then they'll tell you all about the cherished delusions they live under and how it's necessary for everyone to remain in the zoo because another might have "needs." Others will admonish you as to how well they have been able to get along in the zoo "system," and you can too yay! And besides, the feedings are regular, like clockwork.

...And every few years they line up with much fanfare, excitement and antagonism: to decide what new color to paint the bars.

What's the real and most essential difference between human animals and all the rest? They know what real freedom is, and humans don't, anymore.

Free The Animal is supported by readers like yourself shopping Amazon and CLICKING HERE to do so. Costs you nothing but sure helps out around here quite a lot. Always appreciated.

Comments

  1. Excellent! I’m honored to know you.

  2. jimmyisgettingrippedagain says:

    Oh god (or whatever) help us! When did FTA become a site for “Social Commentary on the Human Animal Condition”?

  3. Richard, sometimes you speak my mind – and better than I can. Why I keep hanging out here I suppose, like so many….well, that and the torture by comfy chair :). Brilliant.

  4. ladysadie1 says:

    Exactly, Marie (minus the comfy chair)

  5. Fuck me! Wow! Wife and I read it 4 times.
    Beautiful Richard!

    Marc

  6. skip the personality wars and stick to this stuff!

    • Jakey

      I know what you mean, but this post was conceived of in 5 minutes–just a wild ass idea– and publish about 20 minutes later.

      Except for the more sciency synthesis posts that’s how it goes. You probably can’t get one without the other.

  7. Resurgent says:

    The freedom from something is not true freedom.

    The freedom to do anything you want to do is also not completely freedom.

    True freedom is to be yourself.

    It is not a question of getting freedom from something. That freedom will not be freedom, because it is still given to you; there is a cause to it. The thing that you were feeling dependent on is still there in your freedom. You are obliged to it. Without it you would not have been free.

    The freedom to do anything you want is not complete freedom either, because wanting, desiring to do something, arises out of the mind – and mind is our bondage.

    The true freedom comes after choiceless awareness, after choiceless awareness the freedom is neither dependent on things nor dependent on doing something.
    The freedom that follows choiceless awareness is the freedom just to be yourself. And you are yourself already, you are born with it; hence it is not dependent on anything else. Nobody can give it to you and nobody can take it from you. A sword can cut your head but it cannot cut your freedom, your being.

    Freedom from things is dependent on the outside. Freedom to do something is also dependent on the outside. Pure Freedom has not to be dependent on anything outside you.

    You are born as freedom.

    Richard, you are awesome…!

    • “Pure Freedom has not to be dependent on anything outside you.”
      Resurgent, what a terrific distillation of the freedom concept (the buddhist overtones notwithstanding). Very hard for anyone to get their head around, in fact I wonder if the only people who would see this are the ones who are, well, already free to see it. Or do you think it can be taught?

      • Resurgent says:

        @marie – Thank you for your comment.

        You are right, Buddha’s whole religion can be reduced to a single word. That word is freedom. That is his essential message, Nobody else has raised freedom so high.

        And it seems very fundamental to understand why Buddha emphasizes freedom so much. Neither God is emphasized nor heaven is emphasized nor love is emphasized, but only freedom. There is a reason for it: all that is valuable becomes possible only in the climate of freedom.

        Love also grows only in the soil of freedom; without freedom, what grows in the name of love is nothing but lust.
        Without freedom there is no God. Without freedom, ‘God’ is just imagination, fear, greed.
        Without freedom there is no heaven. Without freedom ‘heaven’ is just a fancy, only a dream.

        All great values of life grow in the climate of freedom; hence freedom is the most fundamental value.

        By ‘freedom’ he means a state of consciousness unhindered by mind. It is utterly empty, because if there is something, that will hinder freedom; hence its utter emptiness.

        You ask, Can it be taught?

        First, For full disclosure – I am not Buddhist, in fact I am an atheist, I do not believe in any organized religion.

        There are 3 kinds of freedom.

        Freedom ‘from’ creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist.

        Freedom ‘for’ creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician.

        And just freedom for its own sake creates the truly spiritual.

        The first, freedom from, is very egoistic because it has to fight against. It is violent; It needs great ego. The politician is nothing but pure ego.

        The second, freedom for, also has ego, but more subtle, not so gross as the politician’s. The musician also has the ego, but softer. The poet also has the ego, but not so bitter as the first. They both are ego expressions.

        Only in the third, pure freedom – neither against nor for – is there no ego. One has to understand the ego to attain the third freedom.

        It is easy to learn – Watch the ways of the ego. Go on watching. There is no need to fight for, no need to fight against; there is only just one need: to watch and be aware of how the ego functions, its mechanism. And slowly, slowly out of that awareness, one day the ego is found no more. Because the ego can exist only in unawareness.
        When awareness comes and the light comes, the ego disappears like darkness. And then there is freedom. That freedom knows no ego.

        “Existence is the self’s possibility to be or not to be itself.” This is an existentialist statement.
        Man is freedom. Freedom is our essential core, and that is our dignity.
        Animals are less free, trees are even less free, rocks even less free.
        That’s how we decide who is more evolved – according to freedom.

      • Resurgent, you have a way of setting out the logic that is very clear, o.k., maybe it Can be taught
        Along this awareness track, I do have a problem with the buddhist approach, in that I don’t know if I Want the freedom that comes without ego. Yes, it’s not true freedom otherwise, the logic is irrefutable, because as long as our ‘freedom’ has an external reference, ‘from’ or ‘to’, then we’re not free, we depend on that reference.
        But….not having any wants means not having any pleasures – booh.
        I know, I know, happiness and pleasure are not the same, but damn it, no pleasures! :(
        Or have I been reading that aspect wrongly all these years? I don’t see a way around it.
        So I’m kinda partial to human ego, having given rise as it has to towering spires, magnificent poetry, soaring music and gentle verses, exquisite sculpture, delicate drawing -as you note – and yes, all kinds of evils as well. That ego-less state, to me at least, sounds rather like a retreat from life.
        Perhaps human freedom, taking into account the creativity of the human animal’s intelligence, defines a different logic? I don’t know….

      • Resurgent says:

        @Marie – Pure Freedom is only an opportunity, It is not in itself the goal.

        Just freedom in itself does not mean anything, one has to have a creative path. If one is a musician, the quality of music that one will now compose will be entirely different as one’s hands are not in chains anymore. If one has the talent to be a dancer, for the first time one will dance without their feet in chains.

        Freedom becomes the creative force in your life, it is simply getting rid of the prison, it is getting rid of the chains. Including chains of the ego.

        You mention pleasure, happiness..

        Human creativity, when in true freedom, is free from ALL bondage. There will be a certain playfulness at whatever one will do, there will be no stress about success or failure, there will be a joy that will arise from the overflowing energy that will spread in every direction. Because now you are a watcher NOT a doer. This ‘pleasure’ has a totally different quality.

        And more importantly, the world cannot take this freedom away. It can try, but its failure is absolutely certain – for the simple reason that to you, freedom is more valuable than your life.

        That is why they say – body can be destroyed but consciousness is indestructible.

        Erich Fromm has written a very beautiful book, Escape from Freedom. The name is very significant: Escape from Freedom. He is right – everyone is escaping from freedom. 
        Freedom is infinite – one becomes afraid. So you make a cage, draw boundaries, and live within them. Then you know where you are and where you are going. You have escaped from freedom. We are escaping in every way. Why? Because freedom is such a total thing, so big.

      • Resurgent, trip down memory lane! (and sorry for slow response but it was my turn to host Sunday family dinner).
        I haven’t looked at Fromm since student years… “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
        Yes.
        But it doesn’t link for me to all the above. I don’t see how creativity can be ego-less, yet the absence of ego is central to the ‘pure’ freedom of the transcendentalist. There’s a disconnect for me, but I will certainly revisit now and consider.
        Thank you for your thoughtful response and making the effort to give me a refresher course (smile).

  8. Learned helplessness.

  9. Resurgent says:

    @Richard

    The imprisoned have a certain reason for remaining imprisoned.

    That’s why millions of people in the world remain prisoners of religion, of race, of creed, of nation, of color.

    All kinds of prisons they go on tolerating – not without reason.
    Their reason is that when they are imprisoned they don’t have any responsibility, they don’t have to be creators, they don’t have to find some positivity in their freedom.
    It is enough for them to remain imprisoned, because then others will go on taking care.

    But there is something, fundamental to the whole question of freedom: responsibility and freedom are together.
    If one doesn’t want to have responsibility, one can’t have freedom either.
    They both come together or they both go together.
    If one leaves responsibility, one has to accept slavery in some way or other.
    How many do you know who would take responsibility instead of painting the bars a different color…

  10. All the herd/community-forming animals in the zoo – including primates – would likely seek out groups once in the wild. Groups that would provide them structure, rules and a place in a heirarchy. They wouldn’t question the rightness of doing so, they simply would. Likely only predatory carnivores such as lizards, some big cats (lions are an obvious exception) and the like would seek out a solitary, nominally “free” existence to some degree or other.

  11. It should be noted that lizards and snakes are notoriously without social conscience. Primates are possessed of very strong senses of community. Is it a coincidence that these animals are also considered the most intelligent in the non-human realm and their communities appear to be the most sophisticated and like our own? If we look at the large sea mammals like whales and dolphins, who also show high levels of intelligence, we again see strong community-forming instincts in the wild and in captivity.

    • Gene, why do you equate social conscience and community-forming with Authoritarian or Hierarchical systems? Yes, community-forming is a big part of human evolution and in fact having traits for cooperation (stronger for some, less for others, along a distribution curve, like most traits) helped human survival. However, developing a large brain is also part of that evolution, humans and their societies didn’t stop evolving at the primate stage .
      This brain is unique among animals and from it all the other differences, chiefly reasoning, derive….like the essential difference of this post.
      As far as can be seen from extant hunter-gatherers (and those recorded in recent 150 years too), the social groups that those brainy Humans made were very communal with little or no hierarchy.
      It wasn’t until agriculture that humans developed violent, authoritarian, hierarchical societies.
      .
      So I’m just musing here, but it occurred to me that the peaceful, communal hunter-gatherer stage, by even conservative estimates, lasted some 150 thousand years and saw the greatest expansion of humans over the earth, succeeding in wildly diverse environments. I don’t know if I want to stack it up against a blip of 7 thousand years (3k in northern Europe) of authoritarian, violent agricultural societies? The fat lady ain’t sung yet – and wow, is she fat! She might keel over all on her own and end that show prematurely :)
      .
      Seriously though, the point I’m trying to make is that the trait of community-building does Not equal hierarchical (authoritarian, violent) communities and human societies evolve too, may even take dead-end side-tracks along the way, like the rest of our evolution.

      • “the social groups that those brainy Humans made were very communal with little or no hierarchy.
        It wasn’t until agriculture that humans developed violent, authoritarian, hierarchical societies.”

        I’ve seen evidence both ways. Moreover, homicide of/warfare upon members of outgroups was apparently quite common prior to sedentary agriculture, and to think there weren’t heirarchies amongst groups living close together (don’t mess with the McCoy’s, ol’ Jim will take your aurochs and eat your liver, too) seems counterintuitive, even if there was some kind of egalitarianism within societies. That said, it also seems counterintuitive that there wouldn’t have been heirarchies based on parental status (adults over children) and more capable members over less capable members – i.e. if you’re out hunting and Bob The Good Hunter says “lets go left” and Joe the Guy Who Never Catches Shit says, “stay put”, I suspect the group are often going to go left. I really don’t see a strong argument that early humans broke that far from what is common behaviour in all other primates.

      • Gene, I think we’re talking past each other. The kind of hierarchy you’re talking about is of course self-evident and based on age/experience or capability in some facet of communal life, but most importantly, others choose to take the advice voluntary, it was not enforced by violence.
        That is the defining characteristic of any state, even a small \tribal one, the Imposition of authority, backed-up by violence – whether it’s the violence-backed authority of a king or the violence-backed authority Assigned by a plurality.
        Which brings me to the other non-sequitur, for me, in your arguments : you seem to equate all tribes and pre-technological societies to hunters-gatherers. Non-sedentary agriculture…meaning nomadic? Live-stock domestication is still ‘farming’. Groups living close-together? Not until After the population explosion that was enabled by agriculture, nomadic or sedentary. Whereby we got a lot more people, at a lot lower quality and duration of life.
        So I don’t know where exactly you could have seen ‘evidence both ways’, not in the paleolithic record and not in the handful of surviving tribes that are actually hunters-gatherers.
        .
        Paleoanthropology definitions aside, my original question remains, you didn’t address it at all : why do you equate you equate the brief and very recently improved life in the west to being the product of States, when the advent of States actually led to thousands of years of war-fare, abject poverty and misery for the vast majority of humans. In the face of thousands of years of recorded evidence, ongoing too, you’re saying that it’s nevertheless State-hood that benefited us?
        Here’s one hugely detrimental aspect of statehood, the mass murders, out-groups AND in-group :
        http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM
        Another massively detrimental aspect being that even in the ‘winner’ states, the large majority of people for thousands of years were slaves, peons or serfs and lived truly poor, brutish and short lives. To the point where Hobbes famously thought this actually Was human nature.
        .
        Is it not logical to you, even intuitive, when actually facing the evidence of mass-scale murder and misery that has been created by States, to then ascribe the relatively recent industrial, philosophic and technological revolutions to a rising of humanity above, against and Despite the oppressive, dehumanizing effects of thousands of years of Statehood?

      • “I’ve got mine.”

        The quintessential product of the State.

  12. jimmyisgettingrippedagain says:

    Richard, the bars in the human zoo exist because there are humans in the zoo (other than you and your pose of libertarian/anarchy/not really paleo but still a bit paleo friends) that want them there. Sure, the people that put them there have a totally different set of preferences to you, but my point is if you want to remove the bars, you’re going to have to remove the humans that put them there. If you’re good you may be able to convince them that you have a better alternative. One that will make them better off than they are already- Pareto optimal if you will.

    For what it’s worth, I’d rather live in the world you imagine, but unfortunately I am outnumbered – as are you. At the end of the day it’s just an old the rest are bigger than us argument.

  13. Well, it’s kind of inarguable that the existence of humans prior to agriculture and the states that arose thereby were technologically backward and incapable – eventually – of fighting off the advances of the sedentary, technologised urban primate. I mean, discounting a couple of setbacks (The Mongol Invasions) etc. the “fat of the land” hunter gatherer took a serious shitkicking from the more highly organised zoo human and continues to do so.. So, who’s the King of the mountain?

    • Gene, what states prior to agriculture?

      • I meant states that arose because of agriculture. Pardon me if I wasn’t clear. It was early over here.

    • All the shitkicking that ever went on pales in comparison to the self-imposed bondage people have willingly ceded to as a result of clever delusions and manipulations by Church, State and other “authorities.”

  14. jimmyisgettingrippedagain says:

    You cannot ask the humans in the zoo to take away the bars they benefit from without offering them something in return. Just what do you have to offer them? Can you replace their pensions, their “free” medical care. What will happen to their consumer protection rights?

    One thing I have noticed with all libertarians is that they have well above average intelligence. Just the sort of person that would thrive in an environment without bars. So what do people with below intelligence do? Would they be better off without the bars? Probably not. The bars are there to protect them, to spare them the harsh realities of life. The bars exist because these are the people that want them there.

    • “So what do people with below intelligence do?”

      Leave me the FUCK alone. That is the _only_ thing I require of them.

      True story: Lyndon Johnson is said to have expressed shock at hearing that half of all Americans were of below average intelligence. Sounds like he was one of them.

      • gallier2 says:

        Why? He was maybe shocked that the median and the average were equal? A truely rare occurence. It could be possible to have 90% of a population being below (or above) average. It doesn’t shock people when talking about wealth distribution, where 1% of the population hold more than half of a nation wealth.

      • Gallier2. It’s a joke.

  15. What is the intrinsic value of “freedom”?

    • “What is the intrinsic value of “freedom”?”

      OK, let me get this off my plate. No such thing as intrinsic value. Intrinsic value is the basis of every scam from enviro-wackoism (as contrasted from rational conservationism and stewardship) to the abortion of fetuses.

      Values pertain only to a valuer. The only way “values” make sense is if there’s a human or other lower animal with _some_ level of recognizable consciousness around to value whatever it is you’re talking about. Curiously enough, non-human animals appear to have a better grasp on valuing freedom than do most humans, which of course is the point of the post.

  16. I don’t think humans are capable of letting other humans live in peace, so freedom is always unattainable.

    You could separate yourself from other humans, but then you run into the problem that humans cannot live without other humans, in five years you become unhinged and before you know it you’re the Unabomber.

    So if other humans won’t let you live in peace, but you can’t live without other humans, then you’re fucked, you either agree to live in a cage or you go insane.

  17. Gordon Shannon says:

    Richard – I’m curious whether you ever read any Rousseau.

    • Jean Jacques? Some, in parts and excerpts, long time ago, along with Kant, Hobes, Lock, Bastiat & others.

      I think the idea of “the social contract” is bunk.

      • Gordon Shannon says:

        Yeah, the social contract/political stuff is silly. But his earlier stuff, in which he considers cultural evolution and naturalism, is by far some of the best exploration I’ve read on the issue. Not saying I agree with it all, but he goes places many others aren’t willing to. His First Discourse, parts of the Discourse on Inequality, and his Reveries are all worth reading.

  18. Human now is addict to they own amusements, drugs and comforts, even as they species swirling toilet bowel. Is no they fault really. I no think you big fat brains was ready for crazy-ass, hyper-stimulations you concoct. You mind and senses on Mr. Toad Wild Ride just looking for next fix. How is anyone to care for other creatures, environments or civilization when Ipad3D5GADHD and Sun Chip Harvest Crack Flavor coming out! No way genie going back in bottle.

  19. Wooo, consider maybe that society doesn’t Have to be an authoritarian, violence-based one? It wasn’t for 150 thousand years after all, as far as we can tell.
    During that time, we expanded across the globe, succeeding in wildly different environments. Then came agriculture, a brief now 7-10k (3k in Northern Europe) and the formation of states/authoritarian regimes.
    __Well, most of this time under States has been spent in misery for the large majority of people – so, it’s not the sheer existence of States that’s giving us ‘the good life’ now. Would you agree?
    Industrial revolution, technology, information age, yup, they did the trick. O.k., the revolution in thought that was the Enlightenment was critical too. But why assume that correlation is causation, that they would not happen without a violently enforced hierarchical state?
    .
    Might someone not conclude just as well that Human Creativity can triumph Despite the oppressive state? Freedom will out, as you’d expect if it’s our nature :)
    .
    To say current successes are Because of the existence of States is a big assumption, in the face of evidence to the contrary from the thousands of years of misery that preceded the relatively comfortable last few years (in our corner of the planet)….and we needn’t even go again into the misery our comfy states are inflicting elsewhere to support said comfiness.
    .
    And all the while, evolution, social evolution, continues.
    Well, unless we drive ourselves into extinction in a sleep-deprived, overfed, over amused, over stimulated frenzy, under a blue-screen haze :)

    • “To say current successes are Because of the existence of States is a big assumption, in the face of evidence to the contrary from the thousands of years of misery that preceded the relatively comfortable last few years (in our corner of the planet)….and we needn’t even go again into the misery our comfy states are inflicting elsewhere to support said comfiness.”

      http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

  20. Only humans dine…

  21. No one wants to tackle the intrinsic value of freedom, I see. Me neither, to be fair. It’s a toughie.

  22. Nice.

  23. Mr. Nikoley, I’m can’t remember his name, but he said he was going to start a blog giving advice to women about relationships and talk about being “alpha” and so on — is his blog/website up and running yet?

  24. Yeah, that’s him. Thanks for reminding me of his name, I’ll go look for his FB profile.

    • P.S. are you going to do a follow-up post on what you thought about the PUAs and being “alpha”?

      • Yea, maybe, one of these days. Probably when the video of my presentation comes out. Doug McGuff’s (which I blogged about) is supposed to be released in a few days.