Cultural Universals

Anyone who tells you there is no such thing as human nature doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he or she is talking about. Or they have an ideological agenda for which the existence of human universals is inconvenient. This is why the left–postmodern, socialist, or communist–oppose the idea of human universals. If there is a human nature, you cannot force people into whatever mold you want. Your utopian schemes are always everywhere undermined by reality.

Frederick Turner points out that the forty-seven cultural universals (to which he adds combat, gifts, mime, friendship, lying, love, storytelling, murder taboos, and poetic meter) make it “tempting to propose that a work of literary art can be fairly accurately gauged for greatness of quality by the number of these items it contains, embodies, and thematizes” (The Culture of Hope, 26), since “it is the function of [literature] to preserve, integrate and continually renew this deep syntax and lexicon [of cultural universals], while using it to construct coherent world-hypotheses” (26).

We have, according to Wilson (actually, George P. Murdock, who Wilson is quoting), sixty-seven cultural universals (On Human Nature, 160):

age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, and weaving

Whereas I could identify in that list only twenty which chimpanzees share with humans: bodily adornment, cleanliness training (in some), community organization, cooperative labor (i.e., when they hunt), education (active teaching), family feasting (a true ritual in chimpanzees), games, gestures, gift-giving, greetings, hygiene (in cleaning each other of parasites), incest taboos (admittedly a questionable one, since it is clear the Westermarck effect is in effect, but not yet clear that it is also socially transmitted), kin groups, medicine (Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master, 254-255), postnatal care, property rights (chimpanzees are very territorial), ritual (see family feasting, above), status differentiation, tool-making, and visiting. And this does not include the cultural differences found among chimpanzee troupes. I say there are only twenty, but look at those twenty. Are we really so much better because we have developed calendars when chimpanzees have managed to develop medicine (albeit far more primitive than human medicine, to say the least, but quite impressive all the same). Many of those uniquely human cultural traits can be traced logically from this pool of twenty we share with our closest relatives. I have already mentioned religion rising from power (status differentiation, above), which would then naturally lead to things like divination and religious ritual (combining power with feeding rituals could do this). Government too would naturally arise in a species that has status differentiation and the need for rules. I could go on and on, but I think we can see how much of what we consider uniquely human is either shared by chimpanzees and bonobos or could arise quite naturally from a specialist species like chimpanzees to become a variety of things in a generalist species like humans.

Creationists of all sort love to deny our continuity with our ape ancestry. The religious creationists deny the biology outright, but the economic/social creationists on the left deny the continuity between ape nature and human nature, insisting humans magically became a “blank slate” species–which is a species of nonsense accepted only by the economic creationist left. If the left wish to remain relevant in any way, they need to reject their anti-scientific, anti-intellectual attitudes and embrace the findings of evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, economics, and the complexity sciences. Otherwise, they will be left a marginal world view with little actual impact on the world–much like their cosmological creationist cousins.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s