What Is Humankind? Essay, Research Paper
What is Humankind?
Anthropologists have continually attempted to distinguish humankind from its closest relatives-other primates. With so many things apparent in both human and animal life like language, society, and tools, humans are left pondering what separates them from apes and chimps. Through examining aspects of the lives of humans and primates, a rough answer to what is humankind? will be derived.
Culture: Culture is the learned behavior and set of rules shared by members of a society. Culture includes three types of knowledge: science and technology, arts and beliefs, and socialization (1; p.32 and 3; 6/17/98). While free-ranging nonhuman primates possess certain aspects of culture, they lack arts and beliefs. Discussed later in this essay, science and technology are found among chimps in their use of tools like termite sticks and socialization is seen among baboon troops (4). But only chimps in captivity show their ability to paint or make art (4). On the other hand, humans encompass all aspects of culture. They use science and technology in advanced tool making of hand axes and use socialization in the raising and enculturating children. Humans distinctly hold arts and beliefs as an important aspect to their society. Using dances like that of the Trobrianders, humans incorporate arts into their important ceremonies (5).
Society: Society is a group of people who reside in a particular area, who share common cultural traditions, and who are dependent on each other for survival (1; p.32-33). An example of a nonhuman primate society is a troop of baboons (4). Certain troops of baboons depend on members for survival and share a common culture by dividing social roles on the basis of sex. It is the male baboons role to protect the female and youths of the troop from predators. An example of human society is the Yanomamo tribe. In the forests of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela, Yanomami are dependent on each other for food and shelter (2A; p.10). They also share cultural traditions and base status upon kinship relationships (2A; pg.10). It is evident that both nonhuman and human primates share the construction of society in their various cultures.
Language: Language is a system of communication using sounds or gestures that are put together in meaningful ways according to a set of rules (1; p.92). While language stands as vital part of humankind existence, language can also be used in the communication of other primates. Certain captive chimps have been able to converse nonverbally by means of pictographs, American Sign Language, and keyboards that use symbols rather than letters. One example of a chimpanzee taught by humans to communicate is Sarah. Sarah learned to converse through using pictographs; each pictograph stood for a noun or verb (1; p.115). Although the communication of captive nonhuman primates has been successful, it has been limited by being nonverbal. Wild nonhuman primates often yell or yelp in fear when they fear a predator. This type of communication proves not to be as complex as that of human. Human s incorporate language into their culture, thus pieces of language in one culture can mean something entirely different in another culture. Laura Bohannan found this to be true when she attempted to describe Shakespeare s Hamlet to an African tribe. After explaining that Hamlet saw and listened to his dead father speak, the tribe interrupted with their own interpretation of the story based on the language of their tribe (2B; p.63). The tribe s interpretation challenged the meaning that Bohannan once found in this segment of Hamlet. Whereas humans can interpret thing differently, like Hamlet, nonhuman primates cannot. The complexity of human language stands as a distinguishing characteristic between humans and other primates.
Enculturation/Socialization: Enculturation is the process by which a society s culture is transmitted from one generation to the next (1; p.122). Socialization is the process in which individuals of a society become social and learn what is acceptable and nonacceptable behavior. An example relating to both the enculturation and socialization of nonhuman primates is seen in the Gombe chimps. When Goodall placed bundles of bananas outside her cabin, she saw a young chimp, through observing and duplicating his mother s actions, show his back to the dominate chimp as a sign of submission. Here the young chimp was learning his culture, his rank within society, and the appropriate actions for his rank (4). Humans also learn their culture and their place in it. The pygmies, or Mbuti of Africa, base their culture around hunting and gathering. The children of pygmy tribes learn about their culture by impersonating their parents; young boys hunt frogs using bows and arrows like their fathers do when they hunt (4). Through the examples of the chimp and pygmies, it is apparent that all primates are enculturated into their society through socialization.
Child-Rearing: The term child-rearing involves the way children are raised within a society. The differences in child-rearing practices have been of interest to anthropologists due to the possible effects they have in constructing adult personalities (1; p.120). In a study done in Wisconsin, infant monkeys were deprived of real monkey mothers in the process of child-rearing. The result was psychotic monkeys that were unable to function with a normal society of monkeys. The child-rearing practices in the streets of America often times also deprive infants of true mothers. Parents who are alcoholics, drug addicts, and gang members often neglect their children (2C; p.106). These kids are left only looking at the examples they have around them and turn into criminals. In both humans and nonhuman primates, it is important for children to receive proper child-rearing if they are to function within the norm of society (see below).
Norm & Deviance: A norm is social standard placed on the behavior and beliefs that are regarded as being typical. On the other hand, deviance involves actions and beliefs that differ considerably from the norm standards of a particular society. Norms and deviance in the nonhuman primates can be examined in Jane Goodall s study of mourning ceremonies among chimps at the Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania. Normal behavior, or the norm, involved visiting the deceased body for a couple of days and then disregard the body. This behavior was seen by most of Flo s children. After Flo s death, her children visited her body and then went on with their regular lives. But one of Flo s sons, Flint, displayed abnormal behavior when he refused to leave the side of his dead mother. Flint s behavior was obviously deviant (3). In our human society, norms and deviance are also apparent. An example of this is Richard Kurin s experience in the Punjabi village. As an anthropologist, Kurin did not immediately fit into the village. He couldn t keep his pant cloth on nor could he distinguish from the rice of the village, and thus he was cast as deviant from the rest of the Punjabi society (2D; p.23). Kurin wasn t accepted until he showed special traits that the Punjabi villagers valued. Thus in all primate societies, there are expected, or norm, behavior of it s members. If an individual does not fit into the ideal and common behavior, than he/she is viewed as deviant. A different importance and complexity in stressed in the human system of norm and deviance over that of other primates because humans often use laws to deal with deviance.
Innovation: Innovation is the ultimate source of change in a culture (1; p.421). Through innovation a new tool, practice, or principle is introduced and then becomes widely accepted within a society. Innovation was seen among the Japanese Macaques when anthropologists introduced sweet potatoes and a young macaque cleaned and seasoned the potatoes by washing them in salt water (4). Acting similarly to the Japanese Macaques, young Yanomamis widely accepted the steel tools, clothing, medicine, and shells introduced by Brazilian gold-mining camps. Acceptance of these new items lead to controversy and ultimately dramatic changes within their society (2E; p.75). Innovation is shared by all primate societies; however, humans have more complex innovations and more complicated ways of incorporating them into their society.
Tools: Tools are generally mechanisms used to simplify life activities. Tools among nonhuman primates include termite sticks used by the chimps in Gombe. Chimps placed long, peeled sticks into termite holes in order to fish out the delicious termites. Humankind also uses tools, but they are far more advanced and varying from termite sticks. The Yanomamo tribe uses simple tools and a technique called slash-and-burn to build great gardens (2E; p.71). Also New Guineans use the tools brought by whites such as steel axes, matches, and umbrellas (2F; p.93). In comparing termite sticks to umbrella we can see that types of tools used by humankind are more complex than that of other primates.
Adaptation & Environment: Adaptation is a natural process by which organisms achieve favorable adjustments to available environments (1; p.46). Environment can be defined as the surroundings, conditions, and things that affect the existence and development of an organism or a group. Through the evolution from mammals to primates, certain adaptations to varying environments occurred. One of these adaptations was an improved stereoscopic color vision used in the new environment consisting of trees. While humans share this adaptation with other primates, they have also gone further in adapting to different environments. Take for example the behavioral adaptation to current world economics done among the Simbu of Papua New Guinea through their acceptance of the use of cash (2G; p.87). The Simbus new environment includes money and a desire for material goods that was not previously apparent. While other primates may also behaviorally adapt, humankind has the ability to adapt to more environments due to the use of fire, cash, and other items.
In conclusion, we have looked at some of the major aspects of humans and their closest relatives in which both similarities and differences can be seen. To understand what makes humankind distinct we must recognize the particular use of arts and beliefs in our culture, the complexity of our societies and languages, our strong emphasis on conforming to the norm, our more complicated innovations and tools, and our better adaptations to varying environments. Along with our differences come many similarities, like child-rearing, socialization, and enculturation. Yet with free-ranging nonhuman primates lacking the fundamental part of arts and beliefs, it can be said that they do not have culture. Thus humans are the only true group with culture. Humankind is complexity of different aspects and structures due to culture.