Re: Applied Evolution

Matthew S. Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Tue, 26 Sep 1995 11:09:50 -0500

Thanks to Nick for the elaboration on his example. McCreery and Schmid have
succinctly described positions which I _sometimes_ share regarding
evolutionary metaphors in the analysis of cultural diachrony. However,
rather than criticizing evolutionistic thought, I'd like to focus on what it
might ADD, when properly applied and understood, to an understanding of
culture. Bob Graber (Dave Rindos and others), from what I understand, has
partly answered this question by limiting the scope of analysis to
biological big picture data such as demographics and ecosystemic complexity.
But these sorts of data are inherently evolutionary in application and
construction (please note that I do NOT mean to belittle the accomplishment
here since I think we clearly MUST recognize that humans ARE animals and
thus are susceptible to biological constraint). When you start to apply
these metaphors to archaeology, which necessarily involves problems like the
ideological causation of specific ceramic designs (Note also that I DO
recognize multiple causation and I am not ruling out selectionism in this
case), you immediately risk overstatement - conflating singular causes and
effects in order to explain why, for example, fortifications were erected,
and then ignoring all of the other causes and effects of the fortification
(like ideology, alignment of the stars, power and agency) is reductive and
not particularly satisfying. The chief complaint about evolutionis is its
tendency to be used in linear causal frameworks, where cause and effect are
singulkar and conflated and no other causes and effects (e.g. ideology) are
recognized or considered relevent. I don't believe evolutionism requires
this kind of reductionism.

Nick - you've explained your example nicely and I think that your analysis
is probably more correct than the alternative you sketch out regarding
Andean Culture History, but I still fail to see why this is a specifically
evolutionary as opposed to simply diachronic or historical. And by the way,
please don't write off culture history in such a cavalier manner. Many of
the best archaeological thinkers I have read were culture historians and
some still are, at heart. Anti-culture historical propagandists have laid
claim to virtually every useful discovery archaeology has made. For a
little perspective on just how innovative and just how many times these
great discoveries have been suggested before, see Glyn Daniel's _Brief
History of Archaeology_ and Trigger's oft-cited _History of Anthropological
Thought_. Perhaps you will then be able to see why the example you
presented has very little to do with the particulars of evolutionism. Dick
Schaedel, die-hard culture historian and brilliant theorist (here at UT
Austin) sketched out models very much like what you brought out about 40
years ago while finishing his PhD. I don't think he'd approve of being
called a selectionist. He calls processualism "the history of rocks!"
(note that this is not my opinion) while waving his hands frenetically and
rolling his eyes. Evolutionary models should be, I hope, more than labels
and buzzwords.

Matt Tomaso.
Anthropology. University of Texas at Austin.
Phone/Fax 512-453-6256