Jeffrey Masson – Lessons from Gurus, Psychoanalysts and Animals

Jeffrey Masson, a former psychoanalyst, a thinker and a vegan, has written 31 books from Sanskirt to Sigmund Freud to the inner life of animals. We covered so many topics in this conversation-starting at his upbringing living with a guru to studying Sigmund Freud's personal letters and then the inner life of animals. We covered so many topics. His history is such an interesting one. It has relevance to our situation that we find ourselves in today. And there are some real pearls in this, which I'm sure you will enjoy as well.

Jeffrey Masson – Lessons from Gurus, Psychoanalysts and Animals Introduction

Today, our guest is an author, a former psychoanalyst and a thinker, and a vegan, as you will hear.

Jeffrey Masson has written 31 books. And I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with Jeffrey over many conversations in recent times. And I’ve always been fascinated by that. We covered so many topics.

His history is such an interesting one. It has relevance to the situation that we find ourselves in today. And there are some real pearls in this, which I’m sure you will or, I hope you will enjoy as well. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jeffrey Mason.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:07] Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, today, our guest is an author, a former psychoanalyst and a thinker, and a vegan, as you will hear.

Jeffrey Masson has written 31 books. And I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with Jeffrey over many conversations in recent times. And I’ve always been fascinated by that. We covered so many topics. His history is such an interesting one. It has relevance to our situation that we find ourselves in today. And there are some real pearls in this, which I’m sure you will or, I hope you will enjoy as well. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jeffrey Mason. Welcome to the show, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Masson [00:00:56] Pleasure to be there, Ron.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:58] Jeffrey, you know, we’ve spoken over coffee. We have a lot to chat about. But one of the things that struck me was that you have such an interesting background and you have authored you 31 books.

Jeffrey Masson [00:01:14] That’s right. That’s right. Thirty-one, I should be ashamed of myself.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:01:19] I mean, in many ways, this is you know, I want to talk to you first about your background and how this all evolved. I want to touch on a little bit about the process of writing the book, but the themes that you’ve covered over these 31 books. But I wondered if you might just share with our listener a little bit about your background. It is a rather interesting one.

Jeffrey Masson’s Journey

Jeffrey Masson [00:01:40] It’s strange. It’s a strange background. I would say that I’ve had three completely distinct careers in my life. So I started out I grew up in a very India-oriented family, a Jewish family. But my parents were very involved with India. We had a resident guru, a man by the name of Paul Brunton, who was famous in the 1940s and 50s for introducing Indian mysticism, Indian spirituality to the West with a series of books. And he wanted me to be his successor. So he lived with us for many years.

And I grew up in that atmosphere and really accepted it until I went off to Harvard. But even there, I was studying Sanskrit because that’s what the guru wanted me to study. And then I suddenly woke up and said, wait a minute, this is not me. I don’t believe any of this. Some of it’s charming. Some of it is pleasant, but a lot of it’s insane. It was a kind I tell you what it was. It was a positive conspiracy theory. He believed that he came from another planet. He believed that he came from Venus. And evidently, he sincerely believed that Paul Brunton, because I remember once saying to him, P.B., why is it you don’t drive a car? And he looked at me and had a mysterious smile and said, Jeffrey, on Venus, there are no cars.

Jeffrey Masson [00:03:23] And I said, wow, you know, I was like 10 years old. Wow. This man comes from Venus. And of course, the irony is now we know there may be life. So he may be smiling up there down to me. Haha, I got the last word. In any event, I did go off to Harvard. I did study Sanskrit. I got a B.A. in Sanskrit from Harvard. When you have a B.A. and something like Sanskrit, the only thing you can do is get a PhD in Sanskrit. So I got a PhD from Harvard in Sanskrit. And when you have a PhD, the only thing you can do is teach it.

So I wound up at the University of Toronto teaching Sanskrit. And I had a negative epiphany standing at the chalkboard telling my students; I’m going to now write up the Sanskrit alphabet. It’s going to take you a couple of weeks to learn it. Don’t worry. You’ll eventually get it. And they looked at me, all four of them, and they said, hey, wait a minute, we want to fly to other planets. We’re not interested in the Sanskrit alphabet. And I thought to myself; you know what, Masson, you made a terrible mistake. This is not you.

So I decided then I wanted to change careers and I had this job by then I had tenure. And pretty soon I was a full professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto, could not be fired so I could do anything I wanted. I was teaching very little, by the way, I think in the end I was teaching three hours a week. What a job. Terrible, disgusting. So I thought, well, what do you want? You’re fascinated by people’s inner lives. So you should become a psychoanalyst.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:04:58] And, of course, the natural progression, the natural restoration.

Jeffrey Masson [00:05:02] And it just so happened that I had a friend who was a professor of philosophy at the university. But 10 years older than me. And he was a psychoanalyst, and he said Jeff, this is one of the few places in the world where you can train without being a medical doctor. Normally you have to be a medical doctor. Then you have to become a psychiatrist, and then you can do your 10-year analytic training.

But in Toronto, if you had a PhD in the allied subject, you could apply now why they thought Sanskrit was allied to psychoanalysis. I don’t know. I guess they didn’t know what it was. But in the end, first, you have to do a year of analysis yourself. The analyst has to decide whether your material or becoming an analyst. And after a year you can apply. I did apply. I was accepted. And I began a 10-year training in clinical psychoanalysis.

Now, it’s a long story, and I’m not going to tell it, and it’s been told by many people, especially by me. It is also a very mean-spirited book by the journalist Janet Malcolm from The New Yorker, who wrote up my story. And that led to a lawsuit which, believe it or not, went to the United States Supreme Court where I won. The nine justices voted in my favor. But it still had to go back to the federal court in San Francisco. And I lost the lawsuit. That’s another story.

But while I was becoming a psychoanalyst, what happened was I was taught, as everyone was at the time, that women would come to you and tell you that they’ve been sexually abused. They have not been sexually abused, said, my teachers. They are suffering from what we call hysterical mendacity. That is, they are telling themselves lies because they want to cover up their own sexual feelings as children. And I said to them at the time, that makes no sense to me. If a woman, a grown woman comes to my house, sits on my couch, and tells me, look, I was abused when I was 12 or 13, my brother, my father, a neighbor, a friend, whatever; I don’t immediately think, oh, that’s not true. But at that time in the 70s, now we’re talking.

I started my training in 1970 ended in 1979. That was the prevailing view amongst psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts. So what they said to me is the reason you don’t know this is because you haven’t had the appropriate training. And one day you’ll understand. Well, I never did understand. And I made it my mission to investigate this more deeply. And as fate would have it, I met Anna Freud, Freud’s daughter. And to make a very long story short, she became friendly with me because I like dogs and she like dogs. And she told me, go learn German, go to Germany, go to Austria, you’ll learn German, come back, and I’ll talk to you about allowing you to see the letters that have never been published about child abuse. And I did. And that became a book called The Assault on Truth Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. And for that, I was fired.

I was then about to become director of the Freud archives. I’d given up my full professorship. I was to move into Anna Freud’s house. I would take over the archives, and all hell broke loose when I first announced that Freud was wrong. These women were not making it up. It’s true. There are letters to show it. We have been handed a false history. And you cannot imagine this was 1980; you cannot imagine how that reverberated through the world of psychoanalysis. But in any event, I was fired. I lost my position. It was no longer at the university. I could no longer be a director of the Freud archives. I could no longer be a director of the Freud copyright. I could no longer call myself a psychoanalyst. And in a way, Ron. That was freeing.

It freed me up to do what I really wanted to do. So at the time, I was living with the great law professor, Catharine MacKinnon from Harvard in Michigan on a ranch in a very obscure place in California. And she said to me, darling, you now have the opportunity to think about what you really care for. And apart from me and what I cared for were animals. So she said, why don’t you write about the inner life of animals? That’s what you talk about. That’s what fascinates you. So I did I wrote a book called “When Elephants Weep: The emotional lives of animals”, and it became a gigantic bestseller. It sold one million copies. But that was luck, and that’s another. Sometimes you and I will talk about that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:14] We will we will.

Jeffrey Masson [00:10:16] I am very lucky. And that turned me into a vegetarian. And then my publisher said, write anything you want. No. So I wrote my second book called “Dogs Never Lie About Love”. And that, too, sold a million copies, became a gigantic bestseller that you can do no wrong. You write anything I said, okay, I’ll write about farm animals and their emotions. Oh, oh. It went south, as they say in the trading. In the trade. It didn’t sell at all. By the way, it had a kind of resurgence now because people are much more interested in plant-based health.

But at the time it sold zero copies. And every book I wrote subsequently did not sell. But I didn’t care. I was able to write what I wanted. I was living eventually with Leila by my beloved wife, who is a pediatrician. We’ve been together for 26 years. We have two grown children. I have never been happier in my life. And I think my fourth career is going to be don’t do anything Masson, just support Leila. I am. I am. I am doing that in every way I can. I am. I was a receptionist. But right now she’s only doing telehealth. So I don’t have much to do.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:32] Yeah. Well, may you continue to do that for many years, and Leila of course, we had a great interview with Leila about a year or so ago and we’re going to revisit that again. But gee, Jeffrey. Now, let me just unpack this a little bit, because there’s so much there. And as you were talking, there were questions I wanted to ask. And I want to come back to the beginning because you mentioned Sanskrit. And, yes, as a 10-year-old, you were impressed by somebody not having to drive a car on Venus, but your parents were not 10 years old. Right. And they were attracted to this message. Firstly, before we go into that in itself, remind our listener about the back of a Sanskrit 101.

What is Sanskrit?

Jeffrey Masson [00:12:17] Well, this is the language of ancient Indian scriptures. So it’s an endo-oriented language. So it’s related to our languages is not that difficult. It is difficult. Is not an easy language like learning Finnish. And I would say for the first four years, I wasn’t very good at it, but I eventually got very good at it. I spent time in India, and I worked with traditional pundits. So I was studying and puny. And that’s where the university is. And there were a lot of traditional pundits from South India. So they didn’t speak English. They didn’t even speak Hindi. They spoke Sanskrit amongst with people that could do it. Mostly they were silent because they couldn’t.

Some of them didn’t speak Hindi. They didn’t speak English. What were they doing? There were just scholars. They would do their research. But when they started teaching me that one, in particular, was a very great man. Srini Vossler. And he liked me. Took a real liking to me. And he said you and I are going to converse in Sanskrit. It’s an ancient language in a sense. It’s a dead language. But not for me. He spoke beautiful Sanskrit. And so he taught me to speak Sanskrit. And I think the reason was he wanted to ask me questions that he wouldn’t dare ask in any other language. So he was what is known as a Brahmachada. That if he was in his 40s or 50s at the time and he had never touched a woman, and he would say to me, essentially, what’s it like? Tell me what it’s like to be with a woman which he could never, never get to do that.

And in Sanskrit, we would talk about it, but we would talk about everything. He was a great scholar, and we would be on the bus together, going to university. And people would look in awe; they practically followed his feet because we were speaking Sanskrit, the sacred Indian language. It has a huge literature. So they write about mathematics. They write about spirituality. They write about poetics. They write history. The Kamasutra is written in Sanskrit. Almost all the yogic texts. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are in Sanskrit.

So it and it’s a magnificent language with beautiful literature. And I enjoy doing that, even though even after I’d left behind my spiritual interest, I was so fascinated with this language. And I became good at it and decided that I wanted to write my PhD on the subject of what is the essence of poetry according to Sanskrit texts. I did that. It was published in the Harvard Oriental Series, a 900-page book about the essence of poetry. I look at it today. I can’T understand a word so much Sanskrit and 5000 footnotes and so on. But yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:15:12] But I’m intrigued. So and I know this these writings would go back thousands of years for thousands of years. Thousands of years. And I’m intrigued by your Jewish background. The 1940s, 1950s, obviously coming out of a shocking war, particularly for Jews. And yet and here were your parents, enthralled, enthralled by this philosophy weren’t what do you think was it about that that appealed to them? I get the 10-year-old being impressed. But I’m intrigued by your parents.

Lessons from Gurus

Jeffrey Masson [00:15:49] Well, you know, this is a very interesting and deep question. Not easy to answer because it raises I mean, my father was a lovely man, totally uneducated or self-educated, but very intelligent and very skeptical in general. So my question like yours is how you could believe a lot of this nonsense? And yet he did. And he retained his ability, was a very successful businessman in the jewelry business. He loved being around Paul Brunton. I must say Paul Brunton had a wonderful sense of humor. So being around him was fun. And he was always surrounded by strange people. It was always entertaining.

I remember when we were in Hawaii, the man who played Tarzan, the second one. I’d met the first one, Johnny Weissmuller. I raced him when I was 12. I lost, I’m afraid to say, in the water. But then the person who played the second Tarzan came to our house and tried to hypnotize. There was always something going on. So it was very entertaining. But I did eventually write a book about this, and it’s called “My Father’s Guru A Journey Through Spirituality and Disillusion”.  So my parents went along with it through the first half of the book. But they never became disillusioned. So my father helped me with this book. He gave me all the letters that Paul Brunton had written to him. His brother had written to him and how we met him. And I was able to tell the whole story.

But Paul Brunton still has a lot of followers, and they were very, very upset with my father. And my father said, look, son, I don’t agree with you, but you’re entitled to your point of view. And it’s fascinating, and I’m intrigued by what you’ve been able to turn up. But I still believe that one day I will be illuminated, as Paul Brunton promised me. So what P.B. told my father is I had a vision. In which I see a man some forty-five years of age who has the power to read another person’s spirituality by reading their chakra. He looks, and he can see the colour that’s coming out of their head. And he knows where they are on the spiritual path. He’s becoming increasingly known in European secret cells.

Jeffrey Masson [00:18:22] It was a kind of conspiracy theory, as I’ve said, but in a positive way. And my father was thrilled. And I remember he keeps saying to PB. PB, where’s this vision going? I still haven’t gotten it yet. You know, they would laugh and play and joke about it, but he was convinced that one day the Kundalini, the serpent power in him would come up through his different chakras blossom out into his brain. And he would attain these mystic powers if he wanted that. Well, I don’t blame him. I’d like it to seem that it exists.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:59] You know, one can only imagine what would have what P.B. could have done with social media.

Jeffrey Masson [00:19:04] Oh, my God. Yes, he would. You’re absolutely right. And most people, unfortunately, especially today, as you and I know, are using it for the wrong purpose. He would he was benign. You know, he was. I have to say at the very end of the book; I think I remember saying I don’t even regret having been his friend or whatever you want to call it for those many years because he was benign. He was not after money. He was not after power. He was not a vicious person. There definitely was no sexuality involved. He was a gentle vegetarian and a very tiny man. He wasn’t even five feet tall. And he had a wonderful way of speaking. And he did, after all, introduce the West to India.

So he was the first person to write about Ramana Maharshi. Who I believe even now, a great spiritual person, even though I don’t agree with him, he really had something to say. He was an amazing person. And like P.B. himself was not interested in fame or money or sexuality or power over other people. And he was the first to introduce that notion into the West. And he wrote about 13 books, “A Search in Secret India”, “The Hidden Power Beyond Yoga”, “The Wisdom of the Overself”, “The Secret Path”. All these books are very, very popular bestsellers in the 50s.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:20:33] I mean, how wonderful, actually, irrespective of whether you believe it or not, to be exposed to a vision that is outside of the Western kind of model of, you know, the way we are exposed to things. But then you move on to psychoanalysis. And it’s interesting that you know, your uncovering, if you like, of the the the truth of child abuse. And yet this was so institutionalized. I mean, you know, this is something we’re exposed to just recently in the Royal Commission on Child Abuse and then covering that it is so endemic through not just various religious organizations, but within homes. Yes, the very real thing. And yet you were almost, dare we use the term, crucified, because of your kind of questioning of these.

Jeffrey Masson [00:21:24] Yes, yes. Yes. Good point. I mean, I haven’t read that report, but I’ve certainly seen the reports about the report. It’s wonderful. It’s magnificent. And I just had the unpleasant experience, as I’m sure you did early this morning, of reading that George Pell is on his way to the Vatican, that man should not be welcome in the Vatican. I believe he did it, but whether he did it or not, he certainly covered it up for others. And now we know that. I mean, nobody would say all these children who were talking about what happened in the Catholic Church, they just imagine it. Nobody says that. But when I was doing my training, everybody said that there was no such thing. There were very, very, very few people who believe that sexual abuse of children was real.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:22:15] Yes. So, I mean, Freud. That’s like the God of psychoanalysis. I’m sorry. I mean, Freud is was then and to some still considered now, but was then the God of psychoanalysis.

Freud, The God of Psychoanalysis

Jeffrey Masson [00:22:30] And if he said it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. Mm-hmm. But what I was able to show is he didn’t really believe that. So for me, still, even today, I’d have to say the most exciting intellectual moment of my life was when Anna Freud sat me down at her father’s desk and said. Go through the drawers; look at whatever you want at that time. Wow. Very close to me. She liked me. She trusted me. And I remember I open the right-hand drawer, and there was a stack of letters, maybe 50 letters, unpublished letters, and they were all about the sexual abuse of children.

And I said to Anna Freud, what’s this? And she said I have no idea? And I began. They were all in German. I began going through them. And it was clear that Freud had a bad conscience about having told the world that it didn’t exist. He was preoccupied. And I said to his daughter, well, he must have been preoccupied with this to the end of his days. And why would you say that? Because all these letters are right here at his personal desk. In the front. Right-hand drawer. How do you explain that? And she said I have no idea. And I said, well, I have lots of ideas about that. And that kind of became the centre of that book, The Assault on Truth.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:24:03] Because to go to that point, I mean, as I listened to you, I can only think of two reasons why he wouldn’t expose that to the general public. And the one is, is that he was a perpetrator of that himself. And it was a truth that was just too. He was not going to expose that—number One alternative. The second alternative, which I think actually has relevance to a lot of health issues and advice today, is that he built his entire reputation on this premise. And this guy was not for turning to use a terrible quote from a politician I generally don’t like. You know, when Margaret Thatcher said this woman’s not for turning. I sadly think that this is something that is endemic in so much health advice we get today. Which of those two things do you think, given everything?

Jeffrey Masson [00:24:58] Very, very well said, your second point, your first point is wrong. It’s not that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:25:05] I’m pleased to hear it. I’m pleased to hear.

Jeffrey Masson [00:25:06] No, no. I am also pleased to believe that I absolutely believe Freud had not abused anyone. Yes, he was abused. That’s for sure.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:25:16] He was sexually abused?

Jeffrey Masson [00:25:17] He was sexually abused by a nurse. He says so. Right. OK. What I don’t think he realized is that when that happens to you, one of two things can happen. You either become a crusader to make sure people know this, or you repress it and deny it. And don’t ever want to hear it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:25:33] He knew he needed a good psychotherapist.

Jeffrey Masson [00:25:36] He certainly did. So you’re second. And I thought you put that very well. I think that’s exactly what happened. And it happens in many, many professions. But it’s worse when it happens in the health professions because then you’re not. And we see it happening right as we’re speaking in the United States, we have the president of the most powerful country in the world denying the reality of both climate change and COVID. And it costs lives, as did what Freud did. So this was not a trivial issue. And what the analyst said to me at the time was, look, we’re getting these calls. When it broke, the news broke. It was in The New York Times two-part article about what I was finding all these letters. And people would call, and they said, look, Jeff, this is terrible. We have patients coming in complaining and saying, look, I told you I was abused. You told me it didn’t happen. Are you aware of the mischief you’re doing? I did.

But what if it’s not mischief? But it’s the truth. We’ve got to face it. At the time, I was naive enough to believe that analysts would say, well, we didn’t realize this. That’s interesting. I guess we’ve been on the wrong trail. Let’s make amends. But they didn’t do that. They shot the messenger. That was me. And they really did. I mean, they did a number on me. They not only took away everything I had at the time, but they vilified me in the press. Then Janet Malcolm wrote this vicious book about me called “In the Freud Archives”, in which she made up quotations. And that’s what went to the Supreme Court. Are you allowed to make up quotations? Because I know you’re not. So she lost that part of it. But she won the second part. But in it, I mean, she was a true believer. And her father was a psychiatrist who believed in Freud. She didn’t want some young upstart coming along and saying, no, no, wait a minute, you’ve been wrong on a very crucial point. Now, I believe naively, as I said, that psychoanalysis could continue.

But they’d have to change that. I don’t think. I think they were right and I was wrong, that it was kind of the underpinning because Freud then developed the notion of an Oedipus complex. And if you took away that he thought he’d understood the importance of childhood fantasies of sexuality. Well if you took that away and you took away that he didn’t really understand male sexuality because it was mostly men who were abusing children. So he didn’t realize what was happening to men’s sexuality. He didn’t realize what was happening to female sexuality because they were being abused or to children or to fantasy.

Jeffrey Masson [00:28:33] There’s not all that much left. On the other hand, I was perfectly prepared to say. In fact, many years later, I did publish the Freud’s interpretation of Dreams in a new addition with my annotations and beautiful paintings from many centuries. Which I said, look, Freud was a genius. He wrote beautifully. He had a lot of very good ideas and a lot of very bad ideas. Like most people, and we should be able to take the good and leave the bad. He was wrong about sexuality. Wrong about children. Wrong about fantasy.

But he was right about dreams. He I think he’s correct to say there is an unconscious. He was the first person to use the concept of denial, which I think is still very relevant today, even for COVID. And for climate change and so many things that we visit today. So I was not willing to completely jettison everything that Freud taught us, but because it was a guild and because it was a kind of sector or almost a religion. If I wouldn’t go along with it, then I couldn’t be part of it. And I had to be vilified too. I had to become at one point they said; you’re the Antichrist in the church of psychoanalysis. Well, I don’t believe in churches.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:58] I mean, it’s it speaks to a more fundamental issue, too. I think that we love certainty. I mean, we love certainty. And if that’s certain certainty can come in a simple explanation, it’s even more appealing. I guess the challenge for us as humans are that actually, the world doesn’t actually work that way. But on the other hand, it’s appealing. I mean, one could argue that’s part of what makes religion so appealing as well.

Jeffrey Masson [00:30:25] Yes. Well, and even medicine look traditional training in medicine. Not that I’m qualified to speak about it, but I live with a medical doctor, so I see a lot of it. They, too, they like to believe, you know, this is what you’re taught. This is the truth. Don’t question it. Go dig deeper. And don’t go against the grain of established medicine or you will get yourself in trouble. You know, you can’t talk about all kinds of things that you have opinions on, which is wrong.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:30:54] But, Jeffrey, so many of the books you’ve written have been focussed on animals.

Jeffrey Masson [00:31:01] Yes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:31:01] What’s been the what have you you know, you’ve talked about a pig on a plate and lost companions and secretive farm animals. Excuse me.

His books about animals

Jeffrey Masson [00:31:11] I like that title Pig on a Plate. That’s not it. It was called The Face on your plate. The Face on. I prefer pig on a plate. Thank you, Ron.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:31:19] The Face on Your Plate. I’m sorry.

Jeffrey Masson [00:31:23] If I could reissue it I would call it The Pig on Your Plate.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:31:24] Could be the next it could be the next edition. But you know, the cat who came in from the cold, the elephant. And of. What was my father? Oh, the evolution of fatherhood. Who sent to the moon? I mean, what’s happening here? What have you? What have you brought to this?

Jeffrey Masson [00:31:42] I don’t know. I don’t know, Ron. You ask the best questions. At first, I believe that what intrigued me. Well, first of all, I was coming back to my origins. I began as a vegetarian. I wanted to find out. Is it okay to eat animals? Because before I wrote that book, I was I’d given up vegetarianism at Harvard. And I was eating meat and fish and animal products. And then I began to think about it in a deeper way. And I thought, well, I wonder if it’s OK. And I thought, well, that’s why I’ll write this book “When Elephants Weep” because my idea was if animals have the same emotions that we do, is it okay to slaughter them and eat them just because we can? Or just because we want to?

And the conclusion I came to in that book is they do have felt every bit as profound as our own. And therefore, no. We don’t have the right to kill them. We really don’t. And so I became a vegetarian after I wrote that book. And then I went further because I began to think, well, what about dairy, you know? Did we evolve really as a species to drink the milk of a different species? There’s no animal on the planet that drinks the milk. I think there are some ants that do that. But no mammal drinks the milk of another mammal. Just humans. And is that healthy for us? And is it morally right? What are the ethics behind that? And that’s what led me to look at the emotions of farm animals. And I decided that, no, it’s wrong. They have to suffer for us to take their eggs or their milk.

And if people knew the amount of suffering and the degree of suffering that was involved, they wouldn’t do it. You know, there’s this little thing circulating on the Internet. I think it originated in Israel. But it probably I mean, it’s everywhere now. It’s very hip, young, attractive couple says that they only eat the freshest food, organic, fresh, and they walk into the butcher shop, and they tell the butcher if you’ve got anything very fresh. And he hands. Now we want very fresh. So I have just the thing for you. And he calls his assistant. And of course, as you can imagine, what happened, he brings out a baby lamb. This is fresh. Now, the couple were horrified, but that’s the truth. You know, when you go into a restaurant, you say, I’d like to eat a baby lamb, we are eating an animal, hasn’t had much of a life. You have to face that. And if somebody can say, I don’t care; I don’t care how much that animal’s suffered because I like the taste and it doesn’t matter to me. I would have no argument with them, but very few people will tell that to me. Okay. I don’t want animals to suffer right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:44] But you mentioned, you know, we haven’t evolved to drink the milk of another animal, but we have evolved with animals.

Jeffrey Masson [00:34:53] We have evolved with animals. But have we evolved to eat them? OK, I’m prepared to say that a Hunter-Gatherer society and we have those here. We have we’re able to see that up close in Australia. We can see that there probably were no vegans. One hundred thousand years ago. Fifty thousand years ago. Probably until very recently, there were no such things as a vegan. However, I have been impressed by meeting various elders from the Aboriginal community. That for them, taking the life, say, of a kangaroo is a very serious matter. It’s not something they engage in. They don’t hunt for the sheer pleasure of hunting. The way you see these idiots trump suckers who go off to Africa and shoot some beautiful animal because they can not because they want to eat it, but because they want to hurt it.

So in any traditional society, it’s a very serious matter. And the animal is often a totem animal. They’re often part of their lives. They ask forgiveness before they do that. And I can understand that. And of course, they had no choice. Remember, we didn’t have alternatives even to milk. Not that we needed it. We didn’t really need it. But now everybody has. You can go into Coles and get beyond burgers, which are delicious. You can’t tell whether they’re meat or not meat. They’re not meat and soy milk and oat milk and rice milk and coconut milk. And we have so many almond milks, have so many alternatives. And my question is always, if you can have this and not harm another living being, why wouldn’t you do that? Now, something I wanted to say that I rarely get a chance to talk about. But you asked, and you’re so smart that you’ll get this. I also believe that animals, unlike humans, do not have an unconscious.

So I admire Freud for having, quote, discovered the unconscious and elevated its importance in our life. And I do believe he was right about that. I believe he had one beautiful phrase which I’ve always admired him for. He said, A man, and you’ll like this Ron, a man can be in love with a woman for many years and not know it until many years later. So even love, we can hide from ourselves. An animal can’t do that. No. And that was what got to me about dogs. I thought, you know, what dogs feel is so much on the surface. Usually, it’s just love. They’re not pretending that they love you. Cats are a different story.

But dogs, you know, they’re with you. They don’t pretend they love you. They don’t have the ability to feel unconscious love. They just love. And that fascinated me. And it made me wonder. And I’ve never been able to write about it because I don’t have an answer. Why did humans develop an unconscious? No other animal does what an animal feels. It expresses it doesn’t try and hide it from itself or from others. So there is that unknown, an unanswered question. Why are we the only species that can engage in denial?

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:38:26] Yes, well, we’re. We certainly have a unique ability to communicate with each other, which is very different from all other animals. Interestingly, I think for the first well, they say now we’ve been around for three hundred thousand years as a Homo sapiens species. It’s only since we started writing and sharing our knowledge from one generation to another that we’ve been able to really build exponentially.

Jeffrey Masson [00:38:53] And deceive.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:38:55] And and?

Jeffrey Masson [00:38:56] Deceive.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:38:58] Deceive, which maybe is where the conscious comes from it would be interesting to do a psychoanalysis of a human. 10, 15, 20 thousand years ago.

Jeffrey Masson [00:39:11] Exactly. You know what I’m asking. I have not gotten an answer. Maybe if you if enough people hear this, someone will say, Jeff, I can answer that question, I want to know whether Aboriginal communities had a word not have it now. But originally, before anybody came to this country from the West, whether they had or words for war, for an enemy, and for torture. I’ll bet you this is just a theory. My theory is they did not. They didn’t even have that concept that hunter-gatherers did not have a notion; this person is my enemy. I hate this person. I want to go to war against that tribe. I’ll torture them if I ever catch them. I don’t think they had those words yet.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:40:02] I mean, I think we have so much to learn from our indigenous people because, you know, God, they’ve lived here for… Well, it depends on the studies again. Sixty. Seventy eighty thousand years. Two hundred and fifty years or maybe more nations. I don’t know-how. I mean, if we were around as a society in ten, five thousand years to 1000 years, you know, the way we’re going, I’d be really surprised. I think we have just so much to learn about them and their dream time. You know, this sort of way of explaining the world would have really dug into the unconscious. I think I wouldn’t know. It must’ve.

Jeffrey Masson [00:40:43] Yeah, well, I believe they probably didn’t have a necessity to deceive others or to deny what was happening. And that’s why they know about the fire. They know how to use it. They know what to eat. They know that there are literally thousands of plants you can eat. They knew what to avoid. And it behooves us as a species to go to them and say, teach us.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:41:09] Jeffrey, tell me, given all your journey through life, which is fascinating, and it’s been interesting to you to go through that, how are you seeing what’s happening now? What’s you what’re your observations of what’s happening now as we face this pandemic globally?

An observation about pandemic globally

Jeffrey Masson [00:41:25] Well, I believe, and I could be wrong, but I believe it does have something to do with. And I think there’s some evidence for that and certainly not alone. I’m not telling you this or the first person. I think this has a great deal to do with the way we’ve been treating Earth, the way we’ve treated the planet, the way we’ve been treating our fellow beings on this planet. I don’t think we would have most of these pandemics that we’ve been exposed to if we did not harm other creatures. I mean, I don’t know about you. I’m sure you’ve seen it, too.

But some of these pictures of the so-called wet markets in China and other places are absolutely horrifying when you see the amount of suffering going on. Snakes and rats and rabbits and every imaginable creature just skinned alive and lying there. Some of them not even completely dead. Of course, we’re going to expose ourselves to pathogens, if that’s what we do. So we need to stop that. And even China recognized, at least momentarily, that we will not allow these markets. You cannot eat these kinds of animals anymore. I think in the next hundred years if we survive, I agree with you or 200 or 300, we will stop this kind of behavior. We will stop treating the Earth as if it was there to trample upon. We will stop killing animals. We will eat a healthier diet.

And, you know, it’s not that difficult, Ron. And many people I know today will become vegan, are plant-based because of their health. And I think that makes sense to me. And I do hear a lot about it. I read a lot about it. I think the vast majority of people who go that way do it. Many of us. I did it exclusively because I did not want to be complicit in the suffering of another living creature. I think there are a number of people who believe that, and there is, even more, today who say I don’t want to harm the Earth. And as long as we’re eating meat, we’re hurting the Earth because we’re planting these gigantic plantations of soybeans, not to make tofu, but to feed cows which we then slaughter and eat and arm ourselves. It doesn’t make sense. And I think that we’re in for a major, major change in the next 10 years.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:44:05] Jeffrey? You know, I do. I mean, our program this program has focussed a lot on regenerative agriculture. And, you know, I think when I know, I don’t when I hear vegans talking as I know you are, one of the questions, two of the questions that I have, I’ll just pose a couple of them to you. I think I’ve already posed one, but here’s one. Is there a culture in human history which has evolved and thrived generation after generation on a vegan diet?

Jeffrey Masson [00:44:40] No.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:44:43] OK, that’s a good answer, yes, the second answer is, you know, we have over millions of years. I mean, even before Homo sapiens walked on the savannas of Africa, we have evolved over millions of years to have a sacred relationship with animals. That is true. I mean, I think, you know, you mentioned that when an indigenous Aboriginal person killed a kangaroo, it was not done frivolously or that it was done with us. Treating the animal is sacred. So if one could argue, and I’ve heard this said of regenerative farms that that tend to animals, that they only have one bad day in their life. And that’s the day they die.

And then we should honor that animal by eating it—nose to tail. So we’ve had a relationship with animals for millions of years. I know that’s become perverse. I totally agree with you on that. But the other thing that I also know is that soil that I’m about to give a talk into China at a conference in China in November about soil and health. And we are losing soil hugely through agriculture, through agricultural practices of both vegetables and animals. We are losing soils at the rate of inches and it and according to science, it takes five hundred years to grow an inch of soil. But if you manage animals properly in a regenerative space, you can grow an inch of soil in three to five years. So is there a difference between?

Jeffrey Masson [00:46:25] Well, I mean, it’s a big, big topic and.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:46:28] I couldn’t let it go, Jeffrey, I couldn’t let it go.

Jeffrey Masson [00:46:32] Yeah. No, no, no. It’s well worth asking. First, let me just say I’m on the second one. There is a movement now in, and I love this regenerative agriculture, and there is a movement of doing it without animals. So using plants. Yes. And that’s equally successful. Yes. The main point, which you, of course, make is we must do a new form of farming. I totally agree with that. Yes. And there’s a lot of research being done about how that should be done. I sincerely believe it can be done without animals. And it should be done. But I totally agree with you. There’s a big difference between allowing an animal its full life and having, quote, one bad day, on the other hand. I mean, it’s an old idea.

And I remember when I first came across it, and it bothered me because it makes so much sense. And yet, you know, if somebody said your son is now at the University of Melbourne, he’s going to have the best time there for four years. And our son is at the University of Melbourne at Ormond College and doing so well. And he is going to have three hundred and sixty-five days times four. And at the end of that, he’s going to have one bad day, and we’re going to use his body to get his brilliant brain somewhere. And his eyes somewhere. Wait a minute. You are not going to do that to my son. I do not want him to have a single bad day. And I think. You know, we don’t really have the right to take a life if we don’t have to. I understand.

Twenty thousand years ago, we had no choice. Totally agree with you. There is no historical record of any vegan society. But I think there will be in the future. You know, we didn’t. I mean, there are all kinds of things that we didn’t have before that we now have now. There are also certain kinds of knowledge we didn’t have. And there’s some knowledge we did have. I’m sure that Aboriginal communities knew that kangaroos had an emotional life, that they had an inner life, and that they respected that. Yes. We lost that for a long time. It’s only now coming back.

So then we’d have to face the fact. OK. If a kangaroo has an inner life and they care about their young, and they have these little joeys, and they take care of them, and they love them, and they love one another, and they’re in mobs, and they do no harm to the environment. They drink very little. Do we have the right ever to kill even one of them? When we don’t have to. Now that, you know, OK, I’m happy to talk to an Aboriginal elder who says yes. And of course, they may have had to they didn’t have access to beyond Burger. They didn’t have access to soy milk, and all of these other things cause they didn’t drink milk. I don’t think Aboriginals drank milk until fairly recently.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:49:42] It was hard. It was hard to milk. Kangaroo.

Jeffrey Masson [00:49:46] That’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:49:47] That would have been a challenge.

Jeffrey Masson [00:49:48] And it would be very hard to milk a wild cow. They would kill you. Go. So it’s only when we kind of cheat. But I mean, these are open questions. I agree with you. If these can be talked about, I don’t want to be done there. And they’re important questions.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:50:07] Now, just finishing up because we’re coming to an end. It’s been a fascinating conversation we’ve just had, but we’re all in this health journey together through life in this modern world. And I wondered if you might share with us what you thought was the biggest challenge for an individual on that journey. I mean, yeah. What do you think the biggest challenge is?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Jeffrey Masson [00:50:26] Well, I think the biggest challenge is to recognize that we have been brought up, not to question what has been around us, to not question the way we’ve been brought up. So people will say, why would I go for organic? You know, it’s perfectly OK for my parents to eat whatever was around. And I was brought up to eat this, that and the other. What do you mean a supplement? I mean, we didn’t have supplements 50 years ago. And I say, well, you have to be willing to question things. You have to be willing to think about things. You have to be willing to talk to people who know more about this than you do. You have to be willing to do the research. It takes time, and it takes energy, but it’s worth doing.

And if you just accept everything because you were taught that as a young person. That’s wrong. You have to be willing to question everything. And many of the things we were taught are right. But much of what we were taught was wrong. And we have to be willing to sort that out. So men need to have, especially men, need to have conversations about health issues. You know, and especially as we age, Ron, you know, and I’m further along than anybody I know right now. Alas, I’m about to turn 80. I realize there are all kinds of things I need to talk to other men about. So what did you do? And it’s hard for us because we’re not used to it. And often I’ll say things and men will say, gee, that’s an awfully personal question. Yeah.

But I’m asking not out of mere curiosity. I want to be able to exchange information. I learned something. You learned something. Let’s share it. So I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to keep a skeptical mind, but keep an open mind. And try and find the best sources you can. You have to be able to trust, especially in today’s world where so much information is available, but so much of it is not useful information. QAnon, you know, these crazy kinds of conspiracy theories, you know, use your head. Think about that. Don’t just take it in. So be skeptical, but be open.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:56] Well, Jeffrey, what a note to finish on, and thank you so much for sharing your time with us today.

Jeffrey Masson [00:53:01] Well, Ron, I have to say, you ask the most intelligent questions. Thank you. I mean, that’s a pleasure.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:53:11] Right. Thanks, Jeffrey. So there it is, I mean, interesting to follow that history is a family that is absorbed by a visionary in the 40s and 50s and as a 10-year-old boy his experience with that. But what attracted his parents to it? His journey through psychoanalysis and actually questioning the norm of Sigmund Freud and where that ended up and why Sigmund Freud would actually resist what he had hidden in his drawer and yet build whole psychoanalysis.

I think the relevance of that is just so important. So much of our health knowledge today is built on reputation, and it’s very hard to turn that ship around once you have people that are in positions of power that are formulating public health policy, even if, like Freud had received letters which showed that he was actually wrong. There was no way that Freud was going to allow that to happen.

And that is happening today. That is still happening today. And we’ve covered some of those issues, and I’ve covered some of those in that episode, “The Elephant in the room”. And what a prolific author, A gee. I mean, I’ve only written one book and Jeffrey has got a few years on me, but I will definitely be getting together with him for him to be mentoring me through. I hope I can write a few more books anyway. I really enjoyed that conversation. I’ve so enjoyed talking to Jeffrey anyway, and I wanted to share that with you. So I hope this finds you well through these challenging times. So until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.