I’m currently reading Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature which, 100 pages in, seems more or less an extended polemic aimed at those who want to ignore or refute or minimize the genetic component of Human Nature. Since I take Pinker very seriously I’ll probably write more about this when I’m finished, but I have to share this list that he talks about and then helpfully includes, of Human Universals, from Donald E. Brown, of whom I know nothing. Brown devised this list in 1989. If there is such a thing as Human Nature, this list is all about it.

The complete citation is Brown, D.E. 1991 Human Universals. New York: McGraw-Hill., and it it also appeared in N. Roughley (ed.) Being Human: Anthropological universality and particularity in transdisciplinary perspectives. The idea is that these have showed up in every human culture that anthropologists have ever looked at. I’ll pick one or two from each letter of the alphabet to the extent possible; some letters are missing or very thin. If you like these, there are lots more (400 or so).

  • actions under self-control distinguished from those not under control

  • baby talk

  • copulation normally conducted in privacy

  • division of labor by sex

  • economic inequalities, consciousness of

  • facial expressions, masking/modifying of

  • government

  • grammar

  • hairstyles

  • inheritance rules

  • jokes

  • kin, close distinguished from distant

  • language, prestige from proficient use of

  • males more prone to lethal violence

  • meal times

  • music

  • overestimating objectivity of thought

  • poetic lines demarcated by pauses

  • private inner life

  • rape proscribed

  • snakes, wariness around

  • sweets preferred

  • taxonomy

  • tools to make tools

And in late-breaking additions to the list since 1989 we find:

  • husband older than wife on average

  • proverbs, sayings

  • resistance to abuse of power, to dominance

  • thumb sucking

  • tickling


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October 21, 2003
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