Non-human animals rely on instinct to teach them how to thrive and survive. Human animals use symbology, such as language, to teach their offspring how to do the same thing. Instinct is genetically transferred; it doesn’t use a common language. Instinct is passed on even if the offspring never meet the parents. This is not the case with culture. Culture cannot be communicated without two people. With printed material and video recordings, those two people communicating culture no longer have to meet face to face, but two people are still required.
Animals are not the same as humans. They might be able to communicate with others of their species through audible sounds, or perhaps pheromones, but it isn’t for the purpose of teaching knowledge or values. A dog might learn to fetch, sit, stay, and “speak,” but it can’t teach these tricks to another dog itself. If anything could be considered a part of a dog’s culture, it is the ability to follow simple commands, but without the ability to communicate that to other dogs, calling it culture stops there. Dogs, like many other species of animals, are reactionary. They respond to stimulation based on instinct or individual experience. These things are not conveyed between generations.
In order to have culture a species must be able to make unique choices and then learn from the consequences. An animal must have a belief system. There must be goals and plans to accomplish those goals. It is all of this that constitutes culture. Across the continents are found various region specific forms of culture. People in Asia have different traditions, religious beliefs, and views on the family, hobbies and diets, than do people in Europe. As the world “shrinks” through increasing communication tools, we see the different cultures blending, but when separated the cultures are unique. However, a deer in Europe behaves in the same way a deer in North America does. Fish in the South Pacific swim and eat just like fish in the North Atlantic. Genetic transference of behavior is not culture. Animals do not have culture.
Humans are considered a type of animal, but is it really an accurate description? The differences between humans and every other species of animal are so overwhelming that it doesn’t seem to be. Animals respond to their environment, while humans have more control of their environment. Culture is, perhaps, the result of the biological differences between humans and all other organisms on the planet. Until animals begin decorating their dens to celebrate the summer solstice, man will be alone in having culture.