Humans: what we all have in common

Iranian students underground make satiric art
Naughty teenagers: Iranian students satiric art

Anthropologist Donald Brown wrote Human Universals, about the things all humans share, across different times and cultures. This brought down a mini schmidt-storm on his head from the anthropological community, which preferred cultural relativism, but cheers from the psychological community, which assumes all humans think pretty much alike.

But why should humans sharing many innate characteristics be controversial at all? Because it challenged some pretty dogmatic worldviews, like John Locke’s idea that we are born blank slates that can be written upon (and can be programmed into a New Man through social engineering.)

If all humans share certain characteristics from birth, if an African pygmy is at his core the same as British Lord Snouten Trough, then we are all sort of equal in some ways-we are all equally human.

You may believe that anyway, but it sure messes with blindly waging war, either class war or classic wars. So this is yet another example of politics reaching its bloody, bony fingers into the realm of science, as it does into the realm of religion and let’s face it-into every other realm.

Politics want to say that some are a lot more equal than others and SHOULD have more resources, power and privilege. So tally ho, let’s get on with it.

Pets: not quite universal but very common
Putin’s puppy>Pets are not quite universal but very common

Anthropologists usually build their careers from finding the differences in peoples. Look at these cannibals, or these sun worshippers, or these sexually liberated happy savages. Anthropologists have lied and exaggerated about these differences.

Well, anthropologists are only human, and it is a human universal that humans lie sometimes.

So what do all we humans have in common? We all tell jokes, we all have the same emotions, we all have empathy and we all believe in something beyond the physical realm. You may doubt that last one, but you will find that everyone believes in some ultimate value and some abstract goodness, like love, truth or beauty.

We also adorn our bodies in some way, even if it is only with pigments, leaves and jewelry made from shells. We all recognize kinship groups and prefer our own to other kinship groups, thank you very much. We all play, gossip and have a concept of fairness, or reciprocity.

I think it would be very good for us to grasp that we are all equally human. I think it would be very hard to hurt other people if we saw them as laughing, gossiping, members of families, instead of just “collateral damage.”

Iranian comedian Maz Jobrani>A Saudi, an Indian and an Iranian walk into a Qatari bar…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s