Is Man the “Lowest” Animal?

Is Man the “Lowest” Animal?

            The Lowest Animal, a philosophical essay written in 1896 by Mark Twain, shows how man is the “lowest animal”. Some people believe that humankind has descended from the “highest animal”, while others believe that they have ascended from the “lowest” animal. I think a man is the “highest” animal, but their actions make them the “lowest” animal. Compared to other animals, man is intelligent and has all senses but fails to make the right decisions. In Mark Twain’s essay, people are, vengeful, immoral, and prejudiced against their fellows. However, bad traits do not make humans the lowest animal.

In The Lowest Animal, humans are the only animals inclined to slavery. Twain claims that man is the only slave and also the only animal enslaves. He says humans are slaves in one form or another, holding other slaves in bondage (P. 3). Twain shows how people work for others to get minor wages to cater to their needs. In contrast, other animals like ants are also disposed to slavery. Research by Tennenhouse shows how the blood-red ants go on a mission every summer to capture slaves. The ants invade the nests of other ant species and kill the queen. The ants later kidnap the pupae to raise an upcoming slave generation that gathers food as they defend the colony. Therefore, contrary to Mark Twain, other animal species are also subjected to slavery.

In addition to humans, other animals can dispossess their fellow species. According to Twain (P. 3), man is the only animal that plunders their helpless fellow in their country, takes possession of it, and drives them out of it or destroys them. Inversely, most animals are known to defend a certain area against intrusion and to maintain access to the territory’s resources. On the one hand, some fights are brutal, whereby most animals end up injured or dead. On the other hand, these fights lead to cannibalism; animals feed on their prey to eliminate their competitors or even feed on their young ones. As stated by Coon et al., parents kill their offspring to make themselves available for mating so that they can produce a better brood. Therefore, other animals are also as acquisitive as humans.

Counter to Twain’s essay, humans and other animals can identify their own and other species. According to Ward et al., a single species can dominate social aggregations of fish, thus the ability to distinguish between their own and others and a tendency to be socially attracted to conspecifics. Fish can also bias their behavior in favor of kin and familiar individuals, requiring a more specific form of social recognition (P. 2). Moreover, animals can discriminate their species through smell, sight, hearing, or behavior. The animal’s ability to distinguish other species proves they have the same senses as humans. While humans have larger brains, other animals use their senses to differentiate themselves.

Mark Twain is one-sided when it comes to animal intelligence. In Twain’s essay, the Higher animals have fewer diseases while man starts as a child and lives on illnesses till death (P. 5). Giving all examples of the diseases that can affect humans, Twain shows how people are the weakest animals, whereas they are the strongest. In this case, humans are the highest animal because they work hard and do research to find cures for illnesses; others people study animals, while the rest become veterinarians and cure animal illnesses. Twain also shows how humans are less smart than other animals by saying humans are incapable of learning things that other animals learn fast (P. 4). In defense, most animals learn through classic conditioning. Hence, humans are the most intelligent, as they have to learn ways of caring for animals.

Humans are known to seek revenge, while other animals are calm and appreciative. According to Twain, human is the cruelest animal (P. 3). However, animals can show vengeance and appreciation. The elephant is an example of an animal that shows appreciation and seeks revenge. According to a Newsweek report by Jones, a certain villager killed an elephant’s calf and buried it in the village. A week later, as he was grazing, a herd of 44 elephants approached and trampled him to death.  In another case of appreciation, when Lawrence Antony, the conservationist, died in 2012, a herd of elephants traveled for hours to stand vigil at his house. While most animals show their appreciative and calm nature, they also seek revenge like people.

In a nutshell, Humans are vengeful, immoral, and discriminative towards others, which does not make them the lowest animals. Twain is overly one-sided as he criticizes human slavery and vengeance, greed, discrimination, and intelligence. Through his techniques, some readers agree with his ideas. Nonetheless, looking at another dimension, a reader may disagree with his theories. Thus, humans are the highest animals, and despite their flaws, they can work towards perfection.









Work Cited

Ward, Ashley. “Social Recognition and Social Attraction in Group-Living Fishes.” Frontiers in Ecology and Revolution, vol 8, no. 15, 04 Feb 2020, P. 2. Accessed on 09 Jan 2023.

Tennenhouse, Erica. “How blood-red ants Became Slave Snatchers.” Plants and Animals, 11 April 2018. Toronto Canada. Accessed 09 Jan 2023.

Coon, Jaime et al. “Observation of parental infanticide in Dickcissels (Spiza Americana): Video evidence and potential mechanisms.” Wilson Journal of Ornithology, vol. 130, no. 1, 2018, pp. 341-45. Accessed 09 Jan 2023

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain’s book of animals. California: University of California Press, 2010.Print.

Jones, Spencer. “Elephants In India Get Revenge on Man Involved in Death of Calf.” Travel Noire, 24 Oct 2022.

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