Marshall Sahlins

Only apes have «human culture»

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Keywords: human nature, culture, apes, West, mutuality .

For more than two millennia we in the West have been haunted by the spectre of our own inner being: an apparition of human nature so avaricious and contentious that unless it is somehow governed it will reduce society to anarchy. I claim this is a specifically Western nightmare, for it supposes an opposition of culture and nature that is distinctive of our own folklore and our native Social Science - and contrastive to the many peoples who consider beasts are basically human rather than humans are basically beasts. Indeed it is not even true of our kinship relations which, like those of other societies the world over, involve mutualities of being and belonging that entail intersubjective commonalities of experience and interest beyond all sense of individual self concern. Kinsmen are people who live each other's lives and die each other's deaths. Recent experiments show that the roots of this symbolic capacity of mutuality already exist in infants of nine to 12 months - but are unknown to great apes, who rather are singularly concerned with their own existence.

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