Re: Cultural selection - Electronic book available for discussion

Gerold Firl (
4 Sep 1996 19:59:57 GMT

In article <>, (Agner Fog) writes:

|> Unlike traditional evolutionist thinkers, I do not infer that cultural
|> selection always will lead in the same direction (called 'progress').
|> Rather, I have found that cultural selection may lead in different
|> directions depending on the external conditions.

I can't imagine who these "traditional" evolutionist thinkers might be;
viewing history, sociology, and anthropology from an evolutionary
perspective is hardly common, and hasn't been around enough to have any
traditions besides those coopted from our collegues in biology. If I
were to try and name some of those you had in mind, max weber,
nietzsche, toynbee and spengler are possibilities, but their view was
much more complex than the caricature of "progress" you lampoon. I will
try and read your website, but based on what I see here it looks like
you are trivializing the work that has already been done.

|> In a militant environment, where war or threat of war is common, the
|> society will develop towards a pronouncedly hierarchic organization
|> characterized by a strict discipline. Individual freedom is restricted
|> because ressources of the individual (time, energy, material possessions)
|> must be heavily taxed because they are needed to strengthen the group.

Proper anthropological practice would now use a variety of cultures to
illustrate your point, showing the universality of the relation you
propose in disparate settings.

Isn't the evolution of disciplined "regalism" in a warlike environment
the kind of rigid determinism you decry above? Your assertion of
causality has some merit, but is hardly the universal law of
sociological evolution you make it out to be. Many societies have
existed in a state of constant war for long periods of time without
developing the strict, heirarchical discipline you describe. What about
the celts and germans of pagan europe? what about the warlike tribes of
the american plains, or the algonquins? The germans were very loosely
organized, anarchic by contemporary standards, until compelled by
contact with the romans, huns, and later the magyars, moslems and
vikings to develop a more unified command and control structure.
However, until then they had been content to fight among themselves
with no recourse to the "regalism" you describe, indicating that their
evolution in that direction was a contingent adaptation, as opposed to
some kind of sociological law.

|> In an isolated or sparsely populated environment, where warfare is
|> unlikely or impossible, the development will go in the opposite direction:
|> You will se an egalitarian society where individualism and tolerance
|> prevails. Here, individuals are believed to live for their own sake,
|> rather than for the sake of the community.

Again, can you provide some examples? Polynesian society seems to
provide some support for your assertion; it certainly was isolated. In
some ways polynesian culture was very tolerant, but in others it
certainly was not. As for egalitarianism, commoners could be put to
death for allowing their shadow to fall upon a hereditary chief; is
this more or less "regal" or "kalyptic" than the warlike cultures of
ancient greece? There we see such extremes as sparta and athens, where
diametrical opposites coexisted scant miles apart. Maybe there is more
to this cultural evolution thing than you thought.

|> I am introducing the term 'regal' for the former type of society, and
|> 'kalyptic' for the latter.
|> The absolutely regal or absolutely kalyptic society does not exist. You
|> should think of a graduated scale representing varying degrees of regality
|> or kalypticity, rather than a polarization into ideal types or extremes.
|> I have found that the regal/kalyptic (r/k-) dimension has a strong
|> influence on many areas of cultural life: Religion, philosophy, world-
|> view, and political principles are gradually developing in the direction
|> which is most compatible with the position of the society on the r/k-
|> scale. Interestingly, also the artistic style and music preferences of the
|> population are strongly influenced by these factors. There seems to be a
|> psychological mechanism which makes people prefer the style of art and
|> music which is most congruent with the political structure, philosophy,
|> and world-view of their social environment. Also the sexual behavior of
|> the population is influenced: In a regal society the production of
|> children is much higher than in a kalyptic society.

Can you give some examples of high r and high k societies? How about
societies which show a mixture of both?

|> I am aware that my cultural r/k-theory has important political
|> consequences. Please keep the political and scientific arguments
|> completely separate.

I'm not sure if I can do that, but you let me know if I'm crossing the
line, ok?

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf