The Cultural Veneer

Homo Habilis, c. 2.33 to 1.44 millions years agoThe distinction of human culture is a mask that hides the fact that all of our civilized, social habits are just more involved versions of our own inherited base behaviours. Whilst more involved, intricate and innovative they are still serving the same old purposes: serving our own core social, biological and emotional needs.

Even though every living thing strives to meet the same basic needs, we fail to see the similarities – this is where the empathy problem begins. We are blinded by this simple cultural veneer and the main consequence of this is that we erroneously believe animals are not only inferior to ourselves, but most significantly, this is the justification for failing to grant animals their natural rights.

How weak an argument this is. How we treat other humans at our very worst is how we treat animals every single day and we continue to sit around talking about the concepts of rights, all the while billions of animals continue to suffering horrible torment under our collective will. What are the particular requirements are for possessing rights, rights solid enough that they generally can go their day without harm, imprisonment, abuse, infringement of physical and mental/spiritual rights?

Contrary to average opinion, many other species do actually have their own cultures, perhaps not as “grand” as we think ours is; still, they have as much if not more culture as we had 2 million years ago. For example, studies of the social and cultural traditions of whales have been going extensively since the 1970s.

“Most good candidates for whale culture involve sounds: the songs of the humpback, bowhead and fin whales, the call dialects of orcas, and the strange codas (constructed out of patterns of clicks), of sperm whales.  Another difference with great apes is in geographical patterning.  Chimps have one way of doing things in one place, another somewhere else.  In orcas, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and probably much more widely through the cetaceans, distinct cultural groups use the same waters and interact.  They have, in essence, multicultural societies, virtually unknown outside humans.” Professor Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University

Regarding the acceptance of animal culture, Frans de Waal writes that “there is growing evidence for animal culture — most of it hidden in field notes and technical reports — that deserves to be more widely known,” de Waal says. “Culture simply means that knowledge and habits are acquired from others — often, but not always from the older generation — which explains why two groups of the same species may behave differently.”

Even the way we word and conceptualize our relationship with nature is failure to accurately grasp our place in life.  “Human interests” vs “animal interests, “human behaviour vs animal behaviour” are wrong perspectives, false dichotomies. Human are just one evolutionary branch of millions of different species, some very familiar to ourselves, like monkeys and apes; others very, very different, such as a porcupine or a rhino.

Evidently as a species we have a severe superiority complex – we are no better than any other species. All species are equal in worth, just as though one cannot say a lion’s life is worth more than say a dog’s life or any other random species.


The avoidable bad is the fact that we humans know the moral difference of different actions and choices, and we choose to be overtly selfish – no other species has ever had such an impact of such a large number of other living creatures before nor been in a position to question their own actions.

Part of our history and part of our very selves, our apish origins are a huge part of who we are. Even today, we are still really just apes with very large, inquisitive and cognitively developed brains. In most other respects we are still just animals like the rest, no higher or lower. All species are equal in the eyes of nature, every being has a chance of success just by being alive – every living being has won the lottery of existence and consciousness. Let us respect the life of all things as best as practically possible. However you want to define practical, it is certainly significantly more compassionate than our current morally inconsistent, reprehensible and arbitrary moral policy towards other living creatures.

Is the key moral trump card just luck that we are a couple of million years more evolved in certain natural traits; is this what separates us from other species, is that what cuts off our ties; is this the reason, the ultimate reason that supposedly justifies our moral superiority, our indifference to suffering, and our deliberate and tragic savage impact on the rest of life? Because we are smart, we are powerful and therefore we can do whatever we please. Is this is pathetic delusion our excuse for moral superiority?

We profoundly harm trillions of other species lives – no other animal does that in a such a harmful way. If our words represent our relationship with the rest of life, our relationship with nature is decidedly selfish, harmful and anthropocentric. We make it us vs the animals, homo sapiens vs every other species, but we are just one of many, all equally different in varying degrees, we just happen to be the most physically and mentally powerful – we have mastered the material world, one credit we can certainly claim to have.

Naked, to the root, is this our best reason for our current position? Is it simply our fortune at being a few million years evolved in a certain direction of nature; a certain branch of evolution – does whoever have the most power have more worth, more intrinsic value, more of a right to life than all other species?

Instead of being caught in denial, let us admit guilty and change our ways, rather than continue our abuse and neglect of the rest of life? We are the only species in existence that damages to such a vast scale.

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