How does yoghurt differ from Los Angeles? Yoghurt has more culture.
HBD Chick asks me Where does culture come from? How does it arise? Where are its roots?
Two human abilities are required for human culture: imitation and memory.
Imitation requires close observation, as one human (who could do something else) finds a reason to notice what another human does, and that some benefit probably results to that human from his action that can also be obtained by the observer who imitates him. Brain is required, even for plagiarism.
Memory is needed, particularly to remember the individual steps that must be taken, and to work out the contexts in which the imitated behaviour can be utilised again. If the crucial steps can be remembered in rhyme or better still, written down, one can pass on the tricks to the next generation.
So, culture is the cultivation of the mind (the soul, Cicero thought: cultura animi) which makes it more productive than it would have been in its wild state. It transforms milk into yoghurt, land into crops, rocks into bronze. Culture provides the petri dish were useful things thrive.
One of our greatest cultural achievements in terms of consistent product was the Olduvai Tool Set, a collection of stone implements our ancestors made, with minimal variation, for 600,000 years. In that era we were very conservative or not very bright, most probably both. If only Microsoft could quit playing around with their software, and accept that an operating system has to be rock solid before all else. Quit messing around with the commands I have learned over the years. They are part of my cultural heritage: don’t trash them. Every keystroke is a Buddhist temple to me, and I don’t want corporate Taleban terrorists dynamiting my skills.
Of course, a cultural tradition can outlive its usefulness. Restrictions on eating pork make less sense once a cultural has ubiquitous refrigeration. Culture can keep the wrong things going: stoning people to death; cutting of bits off reproductive organs; sticking to stupid ideas. Petri dishes sometimes help mould to flourish.