On being "unique," on tools, on the question of "Only humans do X" (Carrie Rohman)

This is just a short, general note about our tendency as a species to be focused on how we are different or unique (usually called "human exceptionalism," these days), rather than being focused on how we are similar to other creatures or lifeforms or material forces.  And of course, my larger question is always, why are we so desperate to reinforce a precise difference between ourselves and other actors?  We do seem actually desperate to keep drawing a line, even as "science" erases it (in ways that former indigenous knowledges had already done, but we tend to only believe "science" nowadays).  There are many answers to why we evince this desperation, of course, but I won't go into those for the sake of space.   

 We used to say that "of course" animals couldn't use tools, and certainly couldn't make or modify tools.  But now we know otherwise.  The fact is, many many nonhuman creatures use tools and modify tools, to varying degrees.  They don't build rocket ships.  But if we believe Darwin, then every human "capacity" is just a differentiated form of other capacities that came before.  Why are we so fixated on our "uniqueness" in general, when we could be focused on our shared capacities, vulnerabilities, affects, passions, and yes, aesthetic becomings (this latter is what I've addressed in work on "bioaesthetics")?  Human exceptionalism seems not an inevitable posture, but rather an ideological one having to do (as other folks here have mentioned) with hierarchies, discourses of power, etc. that have become so entrenched we can't even see them anymore.  So for me, that is one part of "humanism" that I believe needs to go.  And because it is such a central and enduring tenet of post-Enlightenment humanism (we could go down the road with Kant and Descartes and the like) it's hard for me to imagine wanting to hold on to that philosophical position.  I'd much rather shift from some idea of human equality as a central "truth," to one that includes that as a given, because the living in general come to be more highly valued.  We will always have a "natural" tendency to put ourselves first, but it doesn't mean we should accept that tendency as ethically sound.  These are not new ideas, but it seems worth reiterating them, in relation to some of the threads in Session 1.    

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