Re: Culture as learned behavior
A. Scott Catey (data@SELWAY.UMT.EDU)
Tue, 1 Feb 1994 12:38:01 -0700
> > It is much simpler if we think of Homo sapiens as the only animal that
> > has been able to change its niche. That is what separates us from the
> > other members of the animal kingdom. If we remember this, it is very
> > simple to distinguish between humans and other critters, and it
> > eliminates the rather boring conundrum of whether Janette's dog is
> > enculturated.
> Sorry to be dog-matic, but, though the discussion might be boring, it's
> not trivial, and its not so simple either.
> 1. Not trivial: If you draw a sharp line between humans and other animals
> using criteria like "the capacity to symbolize," then there are alot of
> 'humans" who fall on the wrong side of the line. Do people with severe
> mental disabilities, some of whom are less capable of "symbolizing" than J.
> Wilson's dog, participate in culture? If you insist on defining
> "culture" by drawing boundaries around the species, you should
> be sure that those boundaries are broad enough to include us all. The
> claim that domestic animals can participate in "culture"is, like most
> claims about "culture," a political claim.
> 2. Not so simple: "Homo Sapiens is the only animal that has been able to
> change its niche." Nonsense! What about dogs? Didn't they use to roam
> the savannas hunting fast, wiley creatures for a living? Now
> they sit in your kitchen and drool for their supper.
There is a very important distinction that is escaping most of the
respondants to this simple idea. The distinction is the difference
between niche and habitat. Again, I refer you to Paul Colinvaux "Why Big
Fierce Animals are Rare", or any reliable ecology text.
> I don't understand the distinction between "participating" in
> culture and "having" culture. Surely it's too late to maintain that
> culture is contained inside heads. Finally, "capacity to symbolize" is
> weak. J. Wilson's delightful animal knows all sorts of symbols it uses to
> make its master do what it wants, most of which are not an instincual
> heretige from its savannah-roaming ancestors.
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night time."
"The dog did nothing in the night time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
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