Re: A Further Note

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 22:56:45 +0000

At 02:36 PM 7/31/96 +0000, Dwight W. Read wrote:
>Snower comments:
>>But then we must introduce an ordering principle, SUCH AS NATURAL SELECTION
>>(successfully) to eliminate this ordering principle, at the individual
>>level. BUT NOT AT THE GROUP LEVEL. It seems to me quite plausible that the
>>myriad of early societies were compelled to complete ONE against the OTHER
>>for survival, the group's destiny, and its particular BRAND of cultural
>>solution, being at stake. This conversion of the selection process from the
>>individual unit to the group unit being the whole point of the primordial
>>cultural device, thereby enabling the altruism required by a highly
>>differentiated society of animals not genetically qualified for it.
>The tricky part is to get from individual selection to group selection.
>Note that Snower's statement goes against the idea of cultural "memes."
>>A further note:
>>But this "selection" is a little different. It is truly a "natural"
>>selection, because biological life and death survival--of the group--is at
>>stake. But a biological trait is not being selected. A biological
>>structure of the group is not being selected. A cultural construction is
>>being selected. Therefore outsiders do not have to lament their biology.
>>No need to blame it on genetics. Every culture is free to change. Or any
>>individual is free to move, to emigrate from one culture to another, and to
>>adopt the new culture, as is commonly in fact done. Unless the local
>>nativist politicos keep him out. After all, culture is a hypothesis.
>>Anyone is free to make it. Unlike genetics.
>I don't so much as disagree with this comment as just wanting to note that
>the process being identified is not natural selection. There IS some kind
>of selection operating--other wise all "social/cultural" variants would be
>equally plausible, yet that does not seem to be the case as evidenced by the
>amount of patterning that seems to characterize human societies. Natural
>selection need not be thought of in terms of biological traits, but any
>trait that is subject to the process defined by natural selection. Does
>that processs, even if stripped of its biological language, apply to what is
>being discussed here? Only if a series of assumptions are made about the
>nature of a "cultural construction."
>D. Read

I hesitate to address this point by point because I lack confidence that I
know what you are saying, and wonder if the same is true of you and what I
am saying. I would like to further elucidate, wait for your response, and
go from there.

Suppose a society of which the members were strictly monogamous, and all
selection of mates was by lot. There would be no biological evolution
within this society. No differential reproductive success, regardless of
individual accomplishment, or individual success in meeting environmental
challenges. Intra-social competition, if it occurred, would be biologically

Competition is thereby automatically thrown to the group level. This
society will (perhaps) compete with other societies (which we suppose are
also free of biologically relevant intra-social competition.) Each of these
societies, cooperatively organized in virtue of their freedom from the
divisiveness of competition, have different cultures, and therefore perhaps
one's variety of culture gives it a specialization and division of labor
which has accounted for a competitive edge over the other society--perhaps
more effective weapons technology, etc. Therefore, in a contest with
survival at stake, the one culture prevails over the other. This seems to
me to be natural selection, but of a culture system, not of a biologic
trait. This process, as it was repeated over and over, would eliminate
diversity. There would finally be a common cultural pattern discernible in
all the different surviving societies. But there would still be a great
deal of diversity, just as all the individual members of one species are
biologically very diverse, yet do exhibit a common base. It seems to me to
be appropriate to call this natural selection, but admittedly of a different

Let me hear from you. R. Snower