Did Language Do It?

In a dialogue over linguistics, a friend once asked, "Don't you think superior language is what determined the spread of western European cultures throughout the world, while the eastern countries became isolated and aborigines remained in tune with the land?"

Well that question whirled around in my gray matter through many fictitious stories about Neanderthals and Celts and Vikings as well as historical works from the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.

Language, my friend insisted, was the key. But I didn't quickly agree. In his book The Language Instinct Steven Pinker, of MIT, postulates that the animals which became humans had the instinct for language, in fact, could not stifle it if they tried. Part of our humanness then is the language factor.

Every clan, every separated society, developed a language according to physical ingredients of their experiences and their surroundings. Hundreds of languages prevail in the world at this time, with new ones developing. And it is true, the western countries are still spreading their influence around the globe, the way an octopus releases black inky substance into the water.

Could one isolated language, indeed, be the advantage western Europe had to cause the aggressiveness shown since Roman times? Perhaps. If we did not know that aggressiveness resulting in genocidal struggles had taken place many centuries before.

Sign No More
So I examined other social aspects always trying to put myself in the cave/outdoors environment of the first humans. Language certainly played a most important part in the development of cultures. Voices of alarm, command, and excitement made social life more comfortable. We were warned of tigers and fires to prepare for our safety. We were drawn to develop leadership to define our morals. We were awed by adventurers to stimulate our imagination. We were instructed by elders to use tools for the pursuit of happiness. All by words.

I pondered this in early morning hours while performing my daily stretches in which jerks of discomfort appeared that I took time to analyze. The unusual muscle spasms hadn't occurred for some time and I searched my previous activities to discover what caused them today. The only real difference was that for the past two days I had eaten meals that included generous helpings of meat! A decided change of diet. I'm not a total vegetarian. But I know my whole body feels better when I eat only vegetables and a little fruit.

Now, now. Bear with me and I'll explain how this might tie in with social aggression. Remember, we have to go back to the human condition at the beginning of our species in the heart of Africa where the climate was warm and living was easy, at least where fruits, grasses and grubs thrived. We ate what we could find. We survived and procreated. Eventually the crowded smelly cave was intolerable to the adventurous with sensitive noses and desire for solitude so we trekked to the other side of the mountain to see what we could see.

Eat your broccoli
When another safe place with plentiful edibles was found, we did what comes naturally and procreated again over generations, to the smelly stage. As our inventive creativity produced tools and methods for tolerating less comfortable environments, we spread northward and eastward. We discovered we could float on water and the adventurous among us pushed up rivers and across seas. We developed societies and cultures as diverse as history shows. During this slow migration into lands where seasons were recognized, the science of animal husbandry and agriculture were developed to provide food when foraging was unproductive. We herded sheep but probably sacrificed more to the gods than we ate. The wool was more important for clothing and shelter to survive the desert and in that hot itchy clothing we didn't want to eat much anyway.

It was too darned itchy to wear in the close confines of caves in cold winters so we hunted a lot. We used our ingenious tools to eat those bovine critters our arch enemies, the tigers, ate. If our teeth didn't wear out too soon, we softened some hides into comfortable soft clothing and kissed the scratchy sheep off to the weavers for tenting and outer garments.

Eat The Fatted Calf?
By golly, the bovine skins were better at keeping cold old winter out of the cave so we coveted their hides as well as their flesh. Because the milk provided fat cheeses for winter storage, we domesticated cattle. They, too, did what came naturally, procreated. And because big herds took too much space and ate too much grass, we couldn't keep them all. We didn't rationalize giving too many to the gods or driving them away to devour next season's pasture. We killed them.

It was then we became consistent meat eaters. We couldn't get fresh weeds or fruit or grubs to eat, but we grew fat and sassy on a diet of meat and survived. It was almost an incestuous cannibalism that brought us to that.

Present day vegetarians probably stopped eating meat when they were graphically shown how cattle and pigs were killed for market. A variety of fresh vegetables and fruit became available year around. Vegetarians continued to expound on the value of vegetables when they realized they felt better and better as their bodies were cleansed of meat residues.

Early ancestors didn't have that option. Do you suppose that's what heightened the aggressiveness in the cultures of Europe?

Naomi Sherer