Why only Humans have Culture

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"Why only Humans have Culture"
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The studies of culture as it exists in the animal world are extensive. Animal groups are capable of amazingly sophisticated levels of group interaction and behaviors that are passed down from generation to generation.

But one overriding definition of culture has not been developed. Culture involves behaviors that become the established norms that are shared between members of a group, that can be passed from generation to generation, but which can change and evolve over time, sometimes existing and disappearing in ways that are difficult to classify or predict.

Culture can be seen as a product of ability to think and reason about things that are beyond the basics of survival and group dynamics. Only mankind is considered to have the capacity to think of such things as infinity and our reason for living, and to construct complex concepts about our origins and higher powers, for example.

Mankind, alone, has the capacity to define and codify a specific activity, to teach the activity, to produce complex tools specific to that activity, and to achieve incredible complexity of detail in thought, belief, action, interpretation and use of the tools for an activity.

Only mankind can come up with a complex construction of woodwork, a group of fine fibers, metal, and a substance based on tree sap in order to make a device that glides across taut string to produce sound that is based on the specific instructions of a musical score, which in itself contains all of the instructions needed to perform a piece in the way that a long dead composer intended it to be performed.

Only mankind can come up with such ideas as a fiddle being "uncultured", while a violin is "cultured"!

In the animal kingdom, even the purpose and use of a rudimentary tool can be forgotten in one generation. Without the written language, teaching, and advanced linguistics needed for oral history, the animal kingdom may have cultural aspects that die out with the originators of that aspect.

Only mankind can have groupings that share similar language and other complex thought and beliefs, and which number in the hundreds of millions. The animal kingdom can only have the groupings that are the optimal size for survival.

Therefore, rudimentary and shared cultural aspects and activities that are widely varied between separate groups of the same animal species, are nothing like the culture that human groupings are capable of developing, agreeing upon, teaching, documenting and passing on through generations of millions of human beings.

Only mankind can have disputes that are resolved through the diplomatic mechanisms that advanced language, complex social etiquette, and written communication allow. Humans also have the capability to negotiate, compensate, purchase, barter, make trade offs, reason and argue without resorting to physical violence.

Animal groupings are not known for their ability to make deals.

As a result, the argument could be that only humans are able to have complex and well developed cultural entities which can, among other things, be shared by vast numbers of humans, be used to create alternatives to violent battle, be passed in written or oral form from generation to generation, and which can be codified in ways that allow cultural thought and teachings to be passed on from humans who are long dead.

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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