Re: Cult. Evol & Symbols

Mon, 26 Jun 1995 09:26:48 -0400

Additions to Vance Geiger's comments follow below:

> Reply:
> Harris is not to good on ideology. I was sort of wondering if,
> accepting the infrastructure as determining, the superstructure
> begins to drift away from the infrastructure in terms of being
> able to discern links, as when people's behavior begins to appear
> less rational in terms of assesing costs and benefits in material
> terms (after all Harris uses the term "probabilistic") that a
> culture begins to decline. In essence, when behavior becomes
> more symbolically oriented and less materially rational (at least
> when trying to apply an extended time frame) is there the
> potential for a kind of disintegration. I tend to see ideology
> as attempts to suspend contingency and construct deterministic
> linear causes for behavior to ensure that such a drift does not
> occur. But if it does, then what?

Remaining within Harris's framework:

1. Accepting, for the moment, that human development is driven
primarily (remaining within the infrastructure aspect of
Harris's model) by imbalances between human populations and
environmental resources at a reigning technology - what causes the
'imbalance' to arise?

2. If culture is supposed to reflect material necessities and thereby
maintain the relationship between populations and their environment,
then culture has been doing a very bad job indeed. The
mechanism which transfers material necessity to symbolic
reflection: is it some kind of natural selection of cultural traits
that is operative here? If so, this too could not have been
functioning all that well. The human-environment relationship of most
societies nowadays seems 'unbalanced'.

3. Even the HG and simple farming societies so often used in the
debate *must have intensified their use of the environment at some or
other stage to arrive at the 'level of techno-social development' and
the supposed balance they are exhibiting now*. But what caused them
to lack 'balance' at one stage, and then acquire 'balance' at

4. Could one not, therefore, argue that it is exactly *because*
culture does *not* reflect material necessity (at least not
perfectly) that we have the phenomenon called 'human development'.

More below....

> > For example, how do you measure the productivity of a service
> industry job? You cannot use stuff produced. You cannot use
> quality of stuff produced. Time spent serving the customer?
> Customer satisfaction? Employer satisfaction?
> A standing army in peacetime is a good example. How do you
> evaluate the efficacy of an army with no one around to fight?
> When the relationship between behaviors and the material
> consequences become difficult to identify where do people turn
> for guidance in what to do? Ideology, symbols?
> From Jun 23 18:28:11
> If we think of this from a global-cultural perspective, though,
> the productive declines of the "advanced" economies may play an
> important part in the economic--and ultimately the political--
> integration of the world as a single society. --Bob Graber

This argument almost puts one in the same position as the old
teleological problem with evolutionary theory. 'The heart developed
in order that blood may be pumped...'. What is the feedback mechanism
that would cause the (presumably) positive effect of world
integration to influence the way we produce (declining as we go
assumed) now?

> Hmmmmm. Will the "advanced" economies make up for this decline
> in production but not decline in standard of living with
> appropriation as a result of a heavy emphasis on the "advanced"
> being in military technology? Or will people in advanced
> countries accept a declining standard of living as measured
> materially along with the decline in production?
> vance geiger

Conrad Steenkamp
Department of Social Anthropology
Wits University