As always, thoughtful; and thank you for that. It's always a pleasure to talk with somebody who doesn't simply react reflexively.
I believe we are all animals in this together. You believe we're part of the family. To my mind that's close enough to establish a large area of agreement. We do have and use art, language and symbolic behavior. The degree to which we are civilized is open to interpretation. I believe we have always been too free in granting ourselves slack in that area, when the evidence to the contrary is ignored like an elephant in a phone booth.
I would probably agree with you about the nature of art, except I don't know enough about the possibility of aesthetics in non-human animals. What is the role of aesthetic in the success of a bird call, for example. and how would you define that? There are male birds who build nests out of gewgaws who offer them for the judgement of the females; is art and aesthetics of value here? How would one tell? The question is at least open to some interesting discussion.
Language becomes a like problem. Ants building a tunnel from two ends have been observed meeting in the middle. There is some sort of communication here that must be evaluated and acted upon, even when the ants are several inches apart. Is there some sort of "language" or proto-language at use here? Seems unlikely, but it is certainly a possibility. How do birds know when to turn en masse when in a flock more swiftly than line of sight and neural reaction time would allow them to do so? The same question applies with schooling behavior in fish.
Symbolic behavior, such as sign language, has been learned by chimps, who can understand it and communicate with it, and who will teach to to their kids.
I don't know that we understand the nuances of other animal communication well enough to know if there's symbolic behavior involved or not at some points along the spectrum. It is comfortable to assume there is not for us. It was also comfortable for us to assume that the retarded did not feel pain for many years. I worked for a year in a residential school and saw the results of that particular change in understanding.
I have never seen a Rome created by an animal. On the other hand, I have seen organizations as large an complex
in the form of ant colonies, coral reefs and such. Cities are a recent invention, I should remind you, in human history, perhaps 10,000 years old. Before that, for the majority of our time on earth, we were hunter-gatherers, and we ourselves are but poorly suited for city life and the adaptations it forces on us. A reef, a flock, a hive or a school is much better run as an organization. It doesn't require all the slaves that Rome did.
[Did you ever see]... Any of the other animals writing poetry or drawing pictures, or practicing religion, or cataloguing special events of their lives? How about wearing jewelry or dressing in clothes made by their own hands or by a machine they made?
As for clothes and jewels or hands or machines, Nope, I never did, though I did mention the birds who loved there gewgaws. On the other hand, it's not clear they actually needed any of these things either. I'm not terribly good at living in boiling water with loads of sulphuric acid in it, myself. Nor am I happy at swimming around 12,000 feet underwater, looking for tasty squid or zooplankton. I personally don't see much call for that sort of thing. It's not in my job description. With the amount of fat I've got on me, you'd think I wouldn't need any clothes, either, but my wife tells me otherwise. Party-pooper.
As for pictures, poems and calenders, not to mention religion, I simply don't know. Many of them seem to manage complex migration cycles fairly well. My father-in-law, who lives in Buffalo, has never been able to get to Miami for the winter, or to California. If you mean drawing and writing, I'd have to agree with you. I don't think Homer could write, nor could the Beowulf poet. We have no idea what those whales and dolphins are saying to each other now, do we? Though frankly, I think my point there is awfully weak. I'll have to think more on it.
The point of all this is, that you're holding up human beings as a yardstick. Now I'm a human being, and I happen to like being the yardstick. But looking back on everything so far, while that positions done us a got of good as a species, it's also gotten us in a lot of trouble. I mean A LOT of trouble. I happen to admire the ecological model of biology, the web of life, of which humanity is a part, and every time our mistreatment of other species knocks one off, we've cut another strand in the web that supports us.
So, are humans animals? You bet we are. We can't afford not to be. Our species is on the line if we don't acknowledge it and act accordingly.