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Ten Human Universals

Published 2005-03-18
This is one of my favorite essays

As I Learned Them from Seven Years of Anthropology Classes

  1. Who you consider a “family member” is closely correlated with the list of individuals in whose proximity you regularly sleep.
  2. You need to eat a wide variety of food including meat. As far as your body is concerned, eggs, milk, shellfish, blood, and insects are meat. You can trick it with legumes, but that takes a lot of work. You will need to cook most of your food before you eat it. The time and energy saved in chewing and digesting can be put to use on all the other things on this list.
  3. Your body is built to run or walk long distances every day.
  4. If you have a lot of something, you will want to consume it as rapidly as possible. This makes good sense if you are nomadic. Everyone else should try to save some back.
  5. If you are a man, you will want to impregnate as many women as possible. Preferably young women with good skin. If you are a woman, you will need to be choosier. Try for the guys with steady jobs, big shoulders, or another wife.
  6. People who share with you both of your parents (or the equivalent genetic material) are the most important people in the world. You will break the law and risk your own neck to help them. People who share one of your parents (or the equivalent genetic material) are less important, but definitely trustworthy. People who look like you but don’t share either of your parents are probably OK. Everyone else: watch out.
  7. When you are recently born, you will listen to the noises other human beings make, and emulate them. You will do this even if no one teaches you to do so.
  8. Patterns are everywhere. If you spill a bag of cleaned bones, for example, they will fall into a pattern on the floor which might portend a rainstorm, or a bad harvest, or the birth of an albino calf. Other important patterns include constellations, music, box scores, and leading market indicators.
  9. The universe is social. Inanimate objects, animals, meteorological phenomena, social institutions, dead people, landscape features, and/or the universe itself all have personalities. They will reward you if you respect them, and punish you if you disrespect them. If they fail to reward or punish you themselves, a person has been appointed to do so in their name(s).
  10. If you rub your eyes very hard, or stare at the sun for too long, or take a lot of drugs, or ingest poison, or are deprived of sleep, oxygen, or food, you will see the following (probably in this order):
    • Visions of familiar places, people and objects
    • Sparkly zigzags and other geometric shapes
    • A long dark tunnel with a bright light at its end
    • Visions of unfamiliar places, people and objects, including some people that you know are dead, or are probably gods.