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Are culture and society what makes us human?

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Human. What exactly makes us human? Or, when can oneself start being considered a human being? Is it from the very first moment after birth, or later? If it’s later then when exactly? Are we human simply because of biology, or by socialization? Can  we say that reason and rationality make us human and so differ us from animals? What about a newborn, especially during the time before a proper brain development?

These are some questions we may ask ourselves. This quite anthropocentric questioning has the interesting advantage of offering us a certain framework within which we can think about culture, its usefulness and what differentiates it from nature. 

Why culture? 

Situating culture in terms of its contribution to our humanization raises valid questions about what it is to be human. There are several possible approaches to that matter. In a more rationalist perception, it is the reason that makes us human. 

Culture can be referred to as an attempt to adapt within the living space, by conditioning relationships either with oneself, or between each member of a specific community, and also with the environment in general: so it’s about how we treat ourselves, other beings, our natural environment, and it includes rules, morals and ethics, which themselves contribute to what we call traditions.

Ultimately, culture is a mechanism of standardization of the way of life for those who refer to themselves as human beings, capable of reasoning. Or, is it? Some of us can say that at least it helps control the animal in us. In other words, culture refers to a set of actions designed to overcome the limits of nature in order to tame and/or dominate it. Culture therefore is also a “measure” of the sum of experience that derives from the “how” and “why” of our reactions to “natural” adversities and complications. 

In this respect, culture and society (with all the things that society entails in terms of the possibility of cohabiting with others in relative peace), remains indissociable. No culture, no society; no society, no culture, and therefore no human beings. By inventing society we have also invented culture and at the same time created the human we say we are, different from the animals we can still become if we cross the borderlines of the Social Contract as seen by ‎Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

We recreated ourselves and decided to exist as human beings because not doing so would be too dangerous. In other words, culture, society, and humanization are all here to keep us safe by using guidelines like morality, rules, and our values. They are the result of our survival instinct in action. We have decided that for us to be, we need to be good, to ourselves, to each other, and somehow to nature. 

How human and humane are we? 

But now, some more questions for you: what about cultural diversity? If culture, together with society, brings us not only morality, but also virtues and dignity by attaching our probability to survive to the probability of others to survive, why and how were some of us able to invent slavery, participate in genocide, and, as of now in the 21st century, be racist? Why do you think that is?

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David Celestin
David Celestin

David Celestin is a diplomat turned creator and entrepreneur. David Celestin holds bachelor's degrees in Law, Philosophy & Political Science. He also holds a Master's degree in Management, has been a diplomat for over 7 years, and is now an entrepreneur and a content creator. Sharing his life lessons. Book your free business consultation

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