The Venus of Willendorf

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

The Source of our Humanness is Culture

How long have we been human?  I am not talking just about our evolution from the earliest primates.  The structure of our human body has evolved, but we also evolved in the subtle qualities that constitute us as being human.  The source of our humanness, according to Humberto Maturana, has to do with culture, and particularly the social structure of life in our distant past. He calls this Cultural Biology, and it is closely associated with our capacity for language.  This culture is essentially a function of our biology.

Humans are different from other primates.  For one thing, we don’t actually consider ourselves to be primates. That talk of evolution is sometimes not taken seriously because it offends our modern sensibilities. Humans, from monkey’s?  What could possibly be the connection if not biology?

We don’t know, because the missing link remains missing. Perhaps it is not even relevant to day-to-day life. Somehow we developed the physical structures in the body which made the articulation of sound and cognitive development which made the development of language possible.  Call it evolution, but it happened in both the body and in human culture. From there, we'll consider it is history and leave it to specialists to work out a reasonable explanation that we can confidently accept. That would be good enough of most people, perhaps.

Humberto Maturana's Cultural Biology

Language, according to Humberto Maturana, has its roots are in the pre-history of our ancestral families. It is sourced in human interactions and possibly constitutes the very structure of how we survived.  Human Beings evolved not only physically, but also culturally. What we call humanness evolved in the natural family groupings that we are born into as individuals.

Families and tribes have always been the basis of survival. This is true even today throughout the world, in both modern and indigenous societies. The viability of unattached individuals, living alone, is only a possibility in the most advanced societies. That is because we in the age of the internet, we can live and interact in virtual communities.

However, for much of the world, biological living is still destiny. Families and tribes remain the basis of survival. The evolution of language has given us our modernity.  Yet there remains in us from our ancestral past a fundamental structure, which is our basic need for close love and affinity. It is a need we share with other animals.

Unquestionably this emotional structure remains from our origins in the maternal centered family groupings of early man, even as it is being replaced by hierarchical paternalistic structures of society. Our modern civilization is organized around specialization made possible by the very structure of the languages that gave rise to social hierarchy,  economics, and politics in our world

Modernity and our Humanness.

Here we are today, modern and rational. At the same time, we are possessed by the need to love and be loved. At times we struggle in our humanness, largely between our rationality and our emotionality.  Both impulses constitute us. Yet how human is our humanness? How can we be both tender and at the same time so aggressive in our nature.  Can we be both modern and human? We are a paradox, but maybe we need to recover something of our most ancient origins.

© Copyright 2015 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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