Re: Cult. Evol & Symbols

Vance Geiger (geiger@PEGASUS.CC.UCF.EDU)
Thu, 29 Jun 1995 15:40:36 -0400

Subject: Re: Cult. Evol & Symbols

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 another?

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

I would choose a term like "change" over development (development
does, however, capture the evolutionist sentiment), however...

The problem from a materialist view must be that:

1. For material necessity to be determining (even
probablistically) then the inference is that humans must be able
to, and must, make materially rational decisions.

2. The imbalance must result from a failure to persist in making
materially rational decisions. Does this failure then result
from a different way of thinking? And if so, why?

3. If the failre does not represent a different way of thinking,
then there must be something about the way humans think that is
limited in terms of accounting for all the information necessary
to make materially rational decisions. Is this culture? I
assume that materialists would say no because culture is
determined by material conditions. Is this then cultural

4. If this is so, what is it that prompts the change? Are there
boundary conditions to efficacious materially rational decision
making? What are these conditions? What are the consequences of
materially inefficacious decisions?

All of this is largely tautological. The only way that any form
of cultural evolution could be tested is through falsifying the
predictions that are made, i.e. by implying that cultural de-
evolution could take place. The point I considered is that if
cultural materialism makes certain predictions based on the
determining biases of the theory that are falsified by what
people actually do in the future the implication is that by the
definition of "evolution" proposed, de-evolution would have to
take place. According to the determining processes assumed in
cultural materialism, cultural determinism (the collective
behavior of populations that are not materially rational) must be

Thus the question: Are successful entities like Disney a sign of
de-evolution? Disney produces nothing but symbols. In addition;
to the degree that the symbols Disney produces which are consumed
and which seriously distort the relationship between the material
base or infrastructure, is the consumption of such symbolism
perpetuating the de-evolution?