Re: Biological = trivial?

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Thu, 25 Jul 1996 20:43:42 +0000

At 07:20 PM 7/25/96 +0000, Adrian Tanner wrote:
>At 04:36 AM 7/24/96 +0000, Robert Snower wrote:
>>At 08:40 PM 7/23/96 +0000, Adrian Tanner wrote:
>>>I would add that this sense of culture as relatively 'free' in
>>>contrast to biologically-determined behaviour can be demonstrated
>>>empirically when we observe a wide variation in behavioural forms among
>>>human groups, even to the extent (as I will argue below) that some groups
>>>are able to entirely do without a particularly common form of behaviour. I
>>>am not aware of anything like an equivalent variety of behaviour among
>>>members of a single animal species. Notice, I am not claimimg there is not
>>>*any* variariation between biological populations of the same species, only
>>>that this variety is not a great or as marked as among humans.
>>Why these arbitrary rules of the game about "members of a single species"
>>except that it is grist for your particular mill? There is plenty of
>>diversity in nature, surely.
>>A second, logical point: diversity doesn't prove freedom; choice does.
>>Freedom can go all the way down to only 'two.'
> . . Despite some genetic variation within a species, species
>members share most of their genetic material in common.

Most? No two individuals have the same, except identical twins, and the
amount of variation goes up from there. But I concur in your point that
species are a pretty good marker for purposes of analysis.

>(I will stop talking about obligatory and
>free, as I cannot make sense of some of the ways you are using the latter

What I found most interesting in your previous posts was your identification
of culture with freedom. But your argument in support seems to depend on
diversity. As I said, I don't think diversity proves freedom. Also, one
must remember that genetics is full of freedom, in the sense that novelty in
evolution is neither determined nor predictable, just as in the case of
cultural evolution. But perhaps culture is free in some other sense too.

>. . . Rather, its actual widespread empirical distribution
>(however generally or narrowly defined) among human groups is a phemonon of
>a different order from one like language, calling for the inclusion of
>different kinds of explanitory principles. This is why the class of
>widespread but less-than-universal forms of behaviour are, in my view, of
>such great theoretical significance.

No argument here. Except that religion approaches universality, too. Just
not in the sense of having a high genetic component. The closer it gets to
being universal (universal in the simple sense of prevalence) the greater
its "theoretical significance," and the further away it gets from
universality (in this sense) the less significant. After all, perhaps
religion is found in all cultures--no law against this.
Another point: diversity in culture is universal. So it is important. I
think what you are really saying is, culture is not genetics.

Best wishes. R. Snower