Re: Au contraire mon frere

Sun, 30 Jan 1994 20:18:36 -0700

M. Forstadt writes "current biological theory is especially important...since
the concept of *inclusive fitness* seems to be particularly useful for
understanding the evolution of group traits." This line of thinking seems
wrong-headed to me. I would, however agree with his earlier assertion that many
traditional cultural evolutionists have failed by having done little to
substantively distinguish themselves from strictly functional explanations of
cultural systems. In short, these approaches, heavily typological in nature,
have purported to study systemic change while ignoring issues of evolutionary
process. However, I would further assert that most selectionist models of
cultural evolution have focused themselves on process at the expense of truly
understanding systemic change such as the transformation of cultural

Again, as in my earlier post, I would ask the question: how does the concept
of inclusive fitness serve our understanding of the transmission of cultural
behavior? For example, in Yanomamo society, Chagnon applies the evolutionary
ecological model by viewing the trait of aggressiveness as an adaptation
serving to guarantee reproductive success. Men who are called unokais have
gained reputations for ferocity which deters aggression against themselves and
members of their kin groups. These unokais apparently also benefit by gaining
certain reproductive and marital benifits. The question one must ask, however,
is whether or not this selection is significant in an evolutionary way.

The problem with the selectionist/Darwinian model itself, therefore, may lie
in its lack of an adequate theory concerning the cultural transmission of
behavior. Without such a theory, evolutionary ecology can no more serve as a
model to explain systemic change than can functionalism. The obvious advantages
of aggressive behavior should be readily apparent to all within Yanomamo
society, not merely to the decendents and kin of aggressive individuals. And,
in fact, Chagnon's own data seems to suggest that large kin groups (large
presumably due to reproductive advantages given aggressive elder individuals
within that group) are no more likely to produce unokais than are smaller
kin groups. Unless a seperate, parallel theory of cultural transmission is
proposed, the long-term impact on behavioral change cannot be predicted. At
any rate, the synchronic nature of evolutionary ecological analysis makes it
difficult to test the role that behavioral evolution may play in shaping
change in cultural institutions. So what use is it?

J. W. Forstadt BITNET: azjwf@asuacad
Department of Anthropology Internet:
Arizona State University