Re: Culture as learned behavior

Erik A Mueggler (mueggler@JHUNIX.HCF.JHU.EDU)
Tue, 1 Feb 1994 11:52:44 -0500

> >
> > The dog may participate in human culture, but does it have culture. I am
> > sorry if I am going to come across sounding like some sort of
> > "traditionalist" but I believe that there is a difference between the
> > human species and other living species and that is the capacity to
> > symbolize. It is in this sense that human's have culture and other species
> > do not! Learning culture is different from stimulus-response learning.
> 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.

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.