In What Sense do Cultures Evolve?

Fri, 6 May 1994 16:57:32 CDT

K. Hendrickson asks in what sense I see cultures, including moral
systems, as "evolving." The first sense is simply in terms of long-term
change in our socially acquired ways of life. A second more particular
sense in which I use the phrase "cultural evolution" is to denote the
transformations that have accompanied--and continue to accompany--growth
in the size of the maximal political units into which we organize
ourselves. Structural and functional differentiation, and social
stratification, are among the dramatic cultural transformations that
have accompanied the growth of societies (maximal political units).
Cultures that can support large societies are quite different from
cultures that can support small societies. To point this out, and study
the process, is no more necessarily value-laden than pointing out that
buses, because they carry large numbers of people, are quite different
from bicycles, which do not. The analogy is good in another way: in
some respects bicycles are "superior": with fewer parts they are less
susceptible to break down; fewer people are affected when they do; and
they don't pollute the environment. --Bob Graber