There are now, however, enough solidly demonstrated examples . . . for the study of social learning to be accepted as a valid and growing field within mainstream animal behavior science. . . While behavioral ecologists may question the evidence and suggest alternative explanations, they are generally not appalled by the very notion of chimpanzee or whale culture.
The fiercest critics come mostly from anthropology and psychology. Here, it is the very concept of animal culture that is anathema, not the nature of the evidence. It is part of the paradigm in most of the social sciences, insofar as the social sciences have paradigms, that humans are unique in having culture or, at least, in being overwhelmingly cultured. Culture in other species, if it exists, is an epiphenomenon, not terribly important. It is the challenge to this paradigm that is being resisted.
We have got ourselves an idea of what we mean by “culture.” We have seen how controversial the notion that nonhumans might have culture is in some quarters. We have also seen how quickly things are changing in the way we understand these issues.
We have a way to go before we have a good methodology for identifying the importance of culture to wild animals, but over the past decade the picture has changed in favor of nonhumans of some species possessing culture.
Without the information they learn from each other, their behavior would be very different. We hope that scholars with as much insight as Robert Boyd and Joe Henrich would not write today, “Unlike other animal species, much of the variation among human groups is cultural,” as they did in 1998.
And it’s on Kindle, dammit, so I’ll probably end up adding it to my pile of yet more things to read.
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