Plant and fungi simply exist.
Animals ‘perform’.

Basically the main difference between plants and animals is that while plants – and fungi, ‘digest’ parts of their environment, the animals actively search for food and perform other activities which help them survive or result in the individual performer experiencing ‘pleasure’.

Most animals, number-wise, behave as if they were pre-programed. They act ‘instinctively’. Almost plant-like, only enjoying a lot more physical freedom. A bed bug will move a lot more than the plant on your night-stand but that doesn’t mean the bed-bug is considerably more intelligent than the lavender which guards your sleep.

At least some of the animals can learn. Meaning that individuals can alter their behavior, consistently, to suit changes in their environment. As if the ‘programs’ that have been ‘hard wired’ in them allow the individual members some leeway. As if parts of those programs can be re-written, at will, by the individual members themselves. And they don’t even need a brain to do that. These kinds of animals seem to enjoy a different sort of liberty than the simple liberty of movement

As we climb higher and higher up the evolutionary tree we encounter ‘trainable’ animals.
Which can be ‘convinced’ to perform a certain skill. For instance Norman, a dog, who has been bribed/trained to ride a bike.

dog-riding-a-bike

Animals who can be trained usually can also learn by themselves. Wolves, and dogs, learn how to hunt by watching their brethren while a simple slime, as we learned earlier, can learn how to deal with certain chemicals.

Men have taken this to the next level.

Animals, as opposed to plants, have a certain liberty. They can move. It’s exactly this liberty which sets the stage for their ability to be trained. By the environment – the wolf who doesn’t learn to hunt ends up hungry, or by a trainer – the dog who rides a bike gets tasty treats.

People, the human beings, enjoy an even wider liberty than the rest of the animals. Those who grow up surrounded by other human beings, of course.
The handful of individuals who had the misfortune to grow up lacking adequate attention from members of their own species had failed to develop a certain part of their mind, hence they remained prisoners, even after being ‘found’, in the ‘animal kingdom’.
It’s as if a certain ‘opportunity window’ has to be used before it inexorably closes, sometime between the 5-th and the 10-th anniversary.

If all goes well, human individuals are conditioned – first by training and later by learning – by those around them into something which is deemed to be the ‘acceptable behavior’, as per the social standards valid at that moment in time.
During this conditioning process most individuals also learn – mainly by trial and error, as opposed to ‘being trained into it’, how much individual freedom is included in those social standards.

At some point during this conditioning process, which actually never stops, the individual is considered ‘mature’ enough to be held fully responsible for his fate/actions.
This ‘moment’ has varied significantly during our history and it depended on many variables besides the obvious one – individual proficiency. Well… usually even that was measured indirectly, by considering the age of the individual.
And, for most of the time, Lady Luck has been the most important factor in determining how much freedom was going to be enjoyed by a certain individual. One could have been born a slave, a slave owner, a free person, a man, a woman, a serf, a landowner, in Europe, in sub-Saharan Africa during the TransAtlantic slave trade, in Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Russia, in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, in North Korea…

In each of these situations he had to learn, fast, a skill. In order to make himself useful enough to the rest of ‘his gang’ so that they would ‘make some room’ for him. So that he would be able to trade the results of his skillful work for the ‘resources’ he needed in order to survive or even to prosper.
In order to be efficient, one must also become ‘meta-skilled’. Being skilled, at anything, is almost never really useful if one doesn’t know when/how to use his skills.

And, on top of all this, one should also learn to what end to use his skills.
Choosing properly one’s goals – and being able to evaluate correctly what others do or promise to do, is important not only for each individual but also for those who had helped into his conditioning – if they are still around, for his other contemporaries and also for their children.

Let me give you an example.
Driving a car is a skill. A rather basic one. So basic that a monkey could do it.
Learning to refrain from driving when you are too tired, or in a blizzard if the vehicle is not suitable, is a meta-skill. Sometimes a lot more important than the mere ability to start a car and to drive it from A to B.
Volunteering to drive an unsuited vehicle trough a blizzard to save somebody’s life or refusing, despite being offered a huge bribe, to drive a lorry full of hazardous waste to an illegal dumping site is what gives the real measure of your true self.

And, also, how free was the society that helped in your ‘conditioning’.