Daniel Cloud is an unlikely philosopher. He is a partner at Euphrates, a hedge fund based in Iraq, and was among the first wave of Westerners to invest in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Before that, he was an equity analyst in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and China.
These days, he spends a lot of his time thinking about evolutionary biology and the development of human culture. His new book, “The Domestication of Language,” presents an intriguing new theory of cultural evolution.
We usually think of culture as something that evolves outside of our control, a mysterious force that influences us. By looking at the language we use to communicate, Cloud suggests the alternative: we actively create our culture, and have a responsibility to do it well. Quartz sat down with Cloud to discuss these ideas and more. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
I disagree with his view in some ways.
I think he misses something critical and purely biological – the development of our children takes so long that we need to have many more individuals responsible for raising a child than a chimp does.
Chimpanzees are raised by their mother and, on average, less than one another chimp (often a grandmother). Humans have, on average, 4 other people than the mother involved in raising a child.
I think this is where culture comes form, the hierarchical authoritarian/distributed balance that we try to maintain. Our species survived because it figured out cultural ways to raise infants that took 12-18 years to be ready to live on their own.
We created culture based on the social tools that arose from the groups that figured out how to survive with such slow developing infants. The tribes that failed to accomplish this did not survive.
And we had this culture long before language seems to have developed.