the culture animal


According to genetics, there is not much that makes us human; depending on how you count, we share 98.5 per cent of our genes with chimpanzees. Perhaps this is not such a significant matter, given that we also share about 60 per cent of our genes with tomatoes. As this shows, human beings are fully part of nature, and the elements that make us make not just the rest of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, but the rocks beneath our feet and the stars in the sky above us. So what does make us human? It is not that we live in social groups: ants, antelopes and sparrows do the same. It is not that we have nuanced emotional lives: so do dogs and baboons. It is not even that we have language, for other things – including trees, as it happens – have communication systems, too, and it might be that some of those systems are quite complex, as appears to be the case with dolphins, for example. But in the human case the system of communication – language – is particularly complex and flexible, with great expressive power, and this makes possible the phenomenon of culture. If I were to pick one thing that separates humanity from the rest of the living world, culture is it.

more from AC Grayling at The New Statesman here.