In some regards we humans have capabilities beyond those of other species with whom we share our planet. But in this regard we are inferior to those creatures: we are the only animal that can deny our animal nature.
Not everybody does this, of course. I'm proudly animal, as is Maxim Loskutoff, who wrote "The Beast in Me" in The New York Times collection of philosophical essays published in the newspaper, Question Everything.
As you can read below, Loskutoff vividly recognized his animalness when a grizzly bear stalked him and his partner during their hike in Glacier National Park.
But it's strange that so many people are reluctant to admit that they are as much an animal as their dog or cat. Or the chicken they ate for dinner. What else could we be? We're made of flesh, blood, and bone, just like every other animal.
Sure, our brains have evolved to have the capacity to think thoughts like, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." (So said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.)
This doesn't make such other-worldly thoughts true, though.
It simply shows that we are able to deny the reality of our human animality, covering that inescapable fact with layers of religious and metaphysical fantasy about how our true nature is ethereal soul, or some other supernatural notion with no foundation in fact.
The world would be a much better place if every person recognized that they are an animal.
This wouldn't turn everybody into vegetarians, but it would go a long way toward diminishing the sense most people have that humans are special, separate and distinct from all those animals we use, and abuse, for our pleasure.
Here's excerpts from the essay.
Obviously Loskutoff and his partner survived their grizzly bear stalking. They (literally) ran into a park ranger armed with a big gun who told them that the female bear was being tracked because she was almost twelve and having difficulty finding enough food at that age, manifesting increasingly aggressive behavior.
Missoula, Mont. -- In the summer of 2012, the same year that scientists fully decoded the genome of the bonobo, the last great ape, my partner and I were stalked by a female grizzly bear.
...Several things happened in my mind at once. I realized the bear was following us. I realized she wanted to eat us, and I realized that I was an animal.
It was a strange epiphany. To be human today is to deny our animal nature, though it's always there, as the earth remains round beneath our feet even when it feels flat.
I had always been an animal, and would always be one, but it wasn't until I was prey, my own fur standing on end and certain base-level decisions being made in milliseconds (in a part of my mind that often takes ten minutes to choose toothpaste in the grocery store), that the meat-and-bone reality settled over me.
I was smaller and slower than the bear. My claws were no match for hers. And almost every part of me was edible.
...I had one concern: to get us away without being eaten.
Civilization itself is an attempt to protect us from this feeling. From its earliest iterations in fire-starting and cave-dwelling to its current zenith in the construction of megalopolises, as well as the careful documentation of every birth and the methodical laying bare of each strand in every helix, civilization is a way of setting ourselves apart from the prey we once were.
Building walls, both physical and informational, to keep out the bears.
Yet even atop the highest tower in the most prestigious university we remain animals, directed by the same base-level needs and emotions that motivate living creatures from bonobos to rats.
...Of course there are aspects of our communal society -- caring for the old, the domestication of livestock, the cultivation of crops -- that link us to only a few other species, and other aspects, such as the written word, that link us to none as yet discovered, but in no place but our own minds have we truly transcended our animal brethren.
...As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously said, "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun."
Most days I remain fully entangled in this web, cursing at my smartphone while rolling across the earth in four thousand pounds of steel. Yet there is something of the experience with the bear that remains inside me, a gift from my moment of pure terror.
It's the knowledge of my animal self. That instinctive, frightened, clear-eyed creature beneath my clothes. And it brought with it the reassuring sense of being part of the natural world, rather than separated from it, as we so often feel ourselves to be.
My humanity, one cell in the great, breathing locomotion spreading from sunlight to leaves to root stems to bugs to birds to bears.
All of us fragile, all of us fleeting, all of us prey.