Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Len Piotrowski (
Fri, 27 Sep 1996 18:58:32 GMT

In article <52fmia$> (Robert Snower) writes:


> (Len Piotrowski) wrote:

>>The word "ancestry" references phylogeny, a wholly different level of
>>abstraction from ontogeny.

>Much behavior has its genetic component.

Just because there are different genes that create structures and controllers
and sensors and actuators and comparators that allow me to raise and move my
arm doesn't mean that these genes also control my ability to play second base!

> The social behavior of
>animals is largely genetically based.

I don't think so. I'm no expert on animal behavior, but it seems to me that
learning plays a significant role in the social behavior of animals.

>Is it radical to theorize that
>the behavior patterns represented by totemism, kinship constructions,
>rituals of reproductive control, had genetic components?

In my opinion, genetic influence on cultural forms is negligible, and in these
particular patterns, may even be irrelevant.

> I find
>evidence that my ontogeny, and yours, include some of these features
>as genetic components. E.g., Freud's "The Infantile Recurrence of

As I've discussed earlier, the mere use of animal and plant terms to
associate aspects of meaningful human behavior is not disputed. What's
disputed is the classification of these propensities as "totemic."


>This does not really respond to the curiosity I mentioned.

Try reading Levi-Strauss' _Totemism_, or any of Richard Gould's books, or
perhaps the work of Elkin for details of the custom and ritual.

>>Haven't quite convinced myself I understand this one entirely. "Primordial
>>relatedness" - does that refer to the "maternal and paternal kinship of the
>>nuclear family?" If so, are you saying that Classificatory kinship systems
>>take the place of "maternal and paternal kinship of the nuclear family" in
>>order to avoid the adverse effect of "lower coefficients of relatedness" and
>>reduce competition between "nuclear families?"

>I am not prepared to press this one. What I do want to press:
>biological relatedness (and infertility) is evolution's device for
>generating sociality.

I see no such evolutionary "device."

> "Fictive" relatedness is Homo sapiens' device
>for generating sociality.

Since all human groups are social and all human groups have Classificatory
kinship structures, we cannot posit that one is causally prior to the other
from these facts alone.

> Sociality (cooperation) is going to be
>selected for, whether or not the kinship is real, if it generates a
>differential reproductive success which is real.

Problematic. The Ik are a good counter example.

>Totemism and fictive
>kinship terminology are such devices. (The supplementary point I was
>making: identification via a common totem provides an equality of
>relatedness which the real thing--biological kinship--cannot match,
>and thus a level of cooperative behavior the real thing cannot match,
>because it avoids the competition generated by unequal coefficients of
>relatedness. A fictive terminology can do the same.)

Maybe you can demonstrate this in a particular circumstance, but as I've shown
previously with the aboriginal data, identification with a totem does not
necessarily provide this universal function, and neither does "fictive"
terminology or Classificatory kinship structures. By definition, to be
situated in the Classificatory kinship structure means to be situated in a set
of social relations that include potential spouses. To subvert the entire
social network to the need to regulate biological coefficients of relatedness
ignores the very fabric and nature of the cultural system. Trivially,
coefficients of relatedness are highest within kin groups, and lowest between
non-kin groups. Competition, even over mates, may still occur within kin
groups. Cooperation, perhaps even spouse exchanges, may occur between kin
groups. I don't see how "terminology" serves to account for all these


>As you say, it is only a theory. But I do not think non-human primate
>evidence weighs in against it.

In as much as your theory posits a "primordial relationship," they, without
Classificatory kinship structures, should still display it.

>Wilson makes the point a number of
>times that mammalian sociality is for the most part weak, and not
>highly differentiated, until the human.

I recall his work was on insect societies. I don't remember much of an impact
of this work on mammalian sociality.

>Then too, sexual receptivity
>of the female is sharply limited in other species, perhaps reducing
>the value of competitive behavior, and enhancing its alternative.

If you are referring to the difference between human sexual receptivity versus
non-human primates there is a sharp difference that I would associate with the
co-development of other aspects of human culture and sociality. However, this
does not, a priori, discount the social propensities of precursor groups or
surviving non-human primates, or suggest this property is a cause for
sociality in human culture.

> I
>think a case can be made that, unlike the insects, the genetic
>constitution of mammals, and especially humans, makes a highly
>differentiated sociality beyond a nuclear family impossible, until the
>very special devices we have been discussing succeeded in defeating
>the mandates of this genetic constitution.

It is not the case that all, or even the majority, of social mammals are
characterized by nuclear family structures.

>>By this do you propose that "denial of selection on the individual level"
>>produce novel (random, mutant) cultural characters just like "denial of
>>prehistoric culture?" This still begs the question: what denies individual
>>selection in culture (ie., what is your social-psychological metaphor that
>>replaces natural selection as a potent force in culture change), and what is
>>different about this process in prehistoric and modern cultures?

>See above. It seems to me the one word which applies to the evidently
>enormous diversity of prehistoric culture is 'collectivist'--sexually
>restrictive and economically redistributionist.

The first, "sexually restrictive," essentially describes all cultures and thus
has no value in setting prehistoric cultures apart from any other culture.
Secondly, "economic redistribution" is only characteristic of certain complex
cultural forms usually associated with the appearance of chiefdoms. Sharing
food, resources, shelter, etc. appears to be a primary and universal function
of all primary social units, even among non-human primates. Thus, I fail to
see these two dimensions as significant in segregating classes of culture, let
alone levels or stages in the development of Culture in general.

>On the other hand,
>modern cultures talk about, as innovations, freedom, the individual,
>self-interest, the free market, privacy, rights, etc., etc. A denial
>of the pre-historic, but not a very clean one: a novelty unto itself.

I think you're implying that modern culture is somehow different from
prehistoric culture along these dimensions. Some, like free market system,
or ideological concepts of "freedom" and "privacy", etc., may indeed be
inventions of highly integrated cultural systems that can't be implemented
any where else. But some like innovation, self-interest, and rights are
clearly not novel to one cultural type or another. I don't dispute that there
are differences in cultural development and that these differences create
systems in which unique forms and processes can emerge, while also prohibiting
or restricting other possible choices. I just don't see how the dichotomy of
denial fits into what we currently know of the empirical cultural record.