We are all heirs — and our inheritance comes to us in two ways. It comes in the genes we inherit from our parents and it comes in the culture we inherit from our parents and everybody else we encounter. I was always taught that the great division between humans and “animals” is that we have culture and they don’t.
And that’s wrong. Chuck a tame chimpanzee or a scarlet macaw out into the wild and they won’t have clue what to do. They haven’t acquired the culture of the place and the community in which they find themselves. They won’t survive. They don’t know how.
This border country – the Badlands that lie between human and non-human animals (and we’re all animals together are we not?) — has long fascinated me. I’ve just read the latest from the American writer and scientist Carl Safina: Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace.
I wrote about the book for this week’s Spectator, and they also asked me to take part in a podcast. Carl was able to join us from Long Island; I had visited him there to discuss a previous book and gone for a fine dog-walk with him as well.
So we talked about the way the songs of whales change, the way chimpanzees use wooden tools in one community and stone tools in another, and how the idea of human uniqueness is an illusion that we cultivate “because of our deep insecurity,” Carl said.
Every difference between human and non-humans animals is one of degree, not of kind. Darwin said that, but we’ve spent the last 160 years trying to avoid and misunderstand the inconvenient truths he revealed.
Read Carl’s book. Learn about the culture of sperm whales, scarlet macaws and chimpanzees – and by doing so learn about what it is to be human.
Eddie’s blog Wild June 3