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What Aspects of Our Behaviour May Have Changed Little Since the Time of Our Proto-Human Ancestors? Essay

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021

Abstract

Man has an inherent skill of developing his own culture. He is also gifted with craftsmanship and artistic abilities. His biological characteristics have helped him evolve his behaviour over time.

Man lives by the concept of mutual cooperation and support. His survival is dependent upon the aid of his fellow beings. In order to accomplish goals and achieve success, he needs to support and cooperate with others.

Many critics argue that the evolution of culture and behaviour have resulted in a negative outcome with man engaging in wars and conflict with his fellow human beings and term hostility as being part of human nature. Nonetheless, they do not look at the big picture. They give too much emphasis to a few past or contemporary wars instead of analyzing the minute details of the philanthropy and generosity committed everyday.

Influence of Genetic Characteristics in the Evolution of Culture

The history of biological evolution has been marked by a series of crucial watersheds…. Another much more recent watershed, of overwhelming significance for life on our planet, was the evolutionary emergence of the human capacity for culture. This relatively small change in the genetic material of our ancestors….. has had repercussions of gargantuan proportions…. (Boyden 2004).

According to Boyden, the most vital feature on inherent ‘culture’ is the human ability to formulate different sounding words and organize them in statements to communicate with each other. It is interesting to learn that this capability to create a language is relies on the ‘characteristics of the brain’ as well as ‘on special anatomical arrangements in the region of larynx, pharynx and tongue’. ‘Culture’ is not restricted to language only. It includes ‘knowledge, assumptions, beliefs, values and technological competence’ which are related through language. (Boyden 2004).

Boyden asserts that ‘human dexterity’ is another exceptional ‘biological’ skill which has led to the enhancement and development of ‘culture’. With time, man devised different instruments and ‘tools’ to help himself carry out and uncovered his ‘craftsmanship’ to convey messages through different forms of art such as ‘rock painting, sculptures’ and playing ‘musical instruments’. Evolution occurred with the passage of time as the man used another remarkable intrinsic biological attribute to pass ‘technical’ abilities from ‘generation to generation’. (Boyden 2004).

Evolution of Culture and Behaviour

Boyden elaborates that despite the fact culture, values and thinking have evolved and changed over millenniums, the human beings have not biologically transformed in the past 15,000 years. From a ‘hunter-gatherer’, the man has now makes up the ‘modern planetary civilization’. It is the various environmental factors which have led to evolution of culture and behavior. These include the agricultural and industrial revolutions and many other phases in human history. (Douglas 2004).

The man has undoubtedly has a ‘unique ability to develop culture’. However, the consequence of the growth of culture has taken a ‘disastrous collision course with the ecosystem on which we depend for survival’. Boyden has devoted an entire chapter to discussion on war and terrorism. He purports that conflict and hostility is not really genetically inherited. It is rather an overwhelming side effect of the ‘paradigm’ created by the culture that we developed. According to Boyden, it is caused by “narrow, pernicious and maladaptive cultural fallacies”. (Douglas 2004).

Kropotkin & Kropotkin (2004, p. 158) introduced the concept of “mutual-aid” stating with affirmatively that it is the “network of guilds and fraternities’ which has led to the evolution of cultural and behavioural norms. From barbarian times to medieval age to contemporary life, it has always been the close of association of people belonging to one socio-economic class or social background which has resulted in the development of culture.

New economical and social institutions, in so far as they were a creation of the masses, new ethical systems, and new religions, all have originated from the same source, and the ethical progress our race…. appears as a gradual extension of the mutual-aid principles from the tribe to always larger and larger agglomerations, so as to as embrace one day the whole of mankind. (Kropotkin & Kropotkin 2004, p. 158).

Different Philosophies Regarding Development of Behaviour and Culture

The theory of Kropotkin apparently neither contradicts nor supports Darwin’s theory of evolution which centres on the ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy. Nonetheless, critics often regard the two ideologies as opposing each other. Pollen (1993, p. 227), however, came across a real-life situation in his professional career as a physician when he noticed the connection between the two theories. He realized that Kropotkin’s theory could be applied to his colleagues and Darwin’s philosophy could be applied to his patients. Therefore, both the ideologies were actually ‘complementary’. (Pollen 1993, p.227)

If viewed clear-headedly, cooperation with fellow beings is part of human nature and is enforced by almost all cultures of the world. However, only that culture or school of thought survives which is stronger and able to influence and manipulate others, and at the same time avoid competition and rivalry. As behaviour is determined by biological characteristics and culture, people belonging to one cultural and social paradigm tend to have the same behaviour. Over the years, social norms and genetic traits have been passed down from one generation to another. With each generation, the culture created evolves due to environmental circumstances. It is modified to meet the needs of time or that particular era.

People who have created or inherited a particular culture are more likely to help and cooperate with each other and work towards achieving mutually benefited objectives rather than those who have formed differing cultures. According to Kropotkin (2004, p. 209), no matter whether people consider anatomy or ‘supernatural’ to be the determinant of ‘mutual-aid’ principle, one point is very evident that this cooperation for each other exists even within animals. He purports that the ‘mutual-aid’ concept can be traced back to the ‘earliest beginnings of evolution’. The author further elaborates that it is ‘mutual support’ and not ‘mutual struggle’ which had helped in the ‘ethical progress of man’. (Kropotkin & Kropotkin 2004, p. 209)

Higher Stage of Civilization: Breaking or Tying Bonds

… as soon as we come to a higher stage of civilization…. we are bewildered by the struggles and conflicts which it reveals. The old bonds seem entirely to be broken. (Kropotkin & Kropotkin 2004, p. 85).

Kropotkin (2004, p. 85) elaborates that it is seen throughout history of mankind that conflicts and fights among ‘tribes’ and ‘individuals’ have resulted in the creation of castes, tyrants, and separate nations and countries. According to him, a ‘pessimist philosopher’ might deduce that conflict and ‘warfare’ are the basic nature of human beings. He blames the historians and the contemporary press and media for focusing more on the negative aspects of human characteristics rather than emphasizing on the ‘support’ and cooperation that man provides everyday to his fellow beings. Neither is any attention paid to ‘our social instincts and manners’ which constitute the ‘very essence of our’ daily lives.

.. the best-intentioned historian unconsciously draws a distorted picture of the times he endeavours to depict… (Kropotkin & Kropotkin 2004, p. 85).

The author states that only a few rulers or individuals engaged themselves in fighting. The majority loved ‘peace’ and lived in tranquility. The only problem is that ‘minute’ details of the wars fought are provided with in-depth analyses by the historians. Therefore, the readers of the works of great historians get the impression that human beings do not follow the ideology of ‘mutual-aid’. Kropotkin argues that had it not been for mutual support and cooperation, the evolution of the man into what he is today would have been rather difficult. (Kropotkin & Kropotkin 2004, p. 85). It is through coordination and working in teams or groups that any task can be accomplished with perfection. No man can work in isolation and yet, achieve success. Those fighting wars also need the support of their armies and citizens. Although two enemy states may engage themselves in brutal war, each of them would require working on the principles of mutual-aid with their own people to give their rival a tough time.

Boyden shares a similar view. According to him, the ability to formulate culture was of great biological benefit to mankind. It helped the man evolve and invent new instruments and tools of comfort for himself. In fact, it was culture and the ‘biological advantage’ in the ‘evolutionary environment’ which has ‘resulted’ in a rise in the ‘number of human beings’ in the world.

Although the ‘capacity for culture’ has its downside, it has provided tremendous relief to mankind and the man stands where he is today because of this capability combined with craftsmanship. For Boyden, the past and on-going strifes and the unfortunate events bringing ‘pain, suffering and anguish’ are a consequence of the development of culture. He does not refute the fact that hostility is part of human nature. However, he does not place much emphasis on it either. He focuses more on the advantages which the capabilities of man have brought about. (Boyden p. 5, 2007).

Conclusion

Man has an intrinsic ability to create and develop his own culture. Culture is communicated primarily through words or works of art and has helped in evolution of human behaviour. It is asserted by a philosopher that mutual cooperation and support has of great help in developing behaviour. The pessimist historians believe that the evolution of human behaviour has lead to social and political turmoil in the world. However, Boyden and Kropotkin disagree.

References

Boyden, S. 2004 The Biology of Civilisation: Understanding Human Culture as a Force in Nature, UNSW Press, Melbourne.

Boyden, S. 2007, A Biorenaissance –the Hope for the Future, Occasional Paper No. 10, Nature and Society Forum, Austraila.

Douglas, B 2004, Book review: ‘‘, Australia’s e-Journal of Social and Political Debate- Online Debate, 2007.

Kropotkine, P. A. & Kropotkine, P. 2004, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Kessinger Publishing, Montana.

Pollen, D. A. 1993, Hannah’s Heirs: The Quest for the Genetic Origins of Alzheimer’s Disease, Oxford University Press, USA.

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IvyPanda. "What Aspects of Our Behaviour May Have Changed Little Since the Time of Our Proto-Human Ancestors?" September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-aspects-of-our-behaviour-may-have-changed-little-since-the-time-of-our-proto-human-ancestors/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "What Aspects of Our Behaviour May Have Changed Little Since the Time of Our Proto-Human Ancestors?" September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-aspects-of-our-behaviour-may-have-changed-little-since-the-time-of-our-proto-human-ancestors/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'What Aspects of Our Behaviour May Have Changed Little Since the Time of Our Proto-Human Ancestors'. 11 September.

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