Re: Social Evolution

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Sun, 15 May 1994 07:28:31 +0800

On Sat, 14 May 1994, Tracy Brown wrote:

> First, if history has been comprised of a series, or wave,
> of formation and disintegration of states, how can it be argued that there has
> been social evolution?
Why not?

> Can't the current state of affairs simply be one
> more "wave" in history?

> I seriously doubt that the size of political
> entities that people live in can be taken as a criteria of social
> evolution.

Agreed. And to go further, there are no 'critera' 'of' or 'for' social
(or any other kind of) evolution. There is only evolutionary change. Is
it not a reasonable task to attempt to understand HOW and WHY cultures
changed in the ways they did (rather than changing in some kind of
hypothetically "different kind of way"). Why do we have the patterns (by
which I mean events, not regular cycles) we have in history? Why does
Group X have size Y at time Z? And why does Group A have size B at time
Z? And why does Group X decrease in size while Group A increases in size
as we move from Z to Z+1? These are the kinds of empirical questions that
some of us seek to answer, no? I believe we should all be in agreement on
the meaningfulness of such questions, even if we happen to choose to study
other ones.

> At any rate, I find the whole idea of social evolution questionable at
> best, especially if by evolution we mean progress.

But evolution has NOTHING (nada, zip, zero) to do with "progress" (honest!
would I lie about that??). Furthermore, finding a concept "questionable"
tells us little about its factuality. There is absolutely no progress in
biological evolution. There isn't even an increase in complexity (save for
the artifactual appearance of such increases in complexity which arises
from the trivial observation that if you start of with something composed
of a few elements, and if the number of elements increase (in some
cases!), then the result may be *described* as 'more complex.').

Does the fact that there is no progress or direction in biological
evoltuion mean that the theory of biological evolution is questionable?
It fact it *would* be a good argument against biological evolution -- IF
and ONLY IF biologists actually *claimed* that biological evolution is
progress and increase in complexity. But they don't. The same is true
with CONTEMPORARY cultural evolutionary theorists -- nobody is making the
kinds of claims being rejected here (and if they are, they shouldn't be!
:{) ).

> I doubt
> that I have to review here the sorts of critiques that have been made by
> anthropologists and others of this idea.

Is there ANYBODY on this list who actually SUPPORTS a Spencerian,
progressivist, directional, and telelogical 'evolution'? I would rather
doubt it (but I may be wrong).

What in the world does a perfectly reasonable rejection of an outdated
model (late 19th Century Spencerian evolutionist theory) have to do with a
reasoned evaluation of modern approaches to the subject (late 20th Century
cultural selectionism)? Would we condemn modern astronomy because the
earth is NOT the centre of the Universe? Would we claim that modern
astronomers are talking nonsense because we have NO evidence that the
planets move in neat circular orbits around the earth? And then (in a
*not very nice* next step), would we wonder about their *motivations* in
adopting such a clearly outdated and disproven theory....
> Why is it that people want to
> argue for social evolution -- especially Western academics and
> politicians?
That final step bothers me <wimper wimper pout pout pout>

Do you honestly believe that scholars working in the modern cultural
selectionist school actually are arguing "for" "social evolution" (in the
sense of progress, etc.)? Again, none of the ones I read do this. As
I've noted before, it seems we spent a LOT of time arguing AGAINST just
such notions! To little avail, it sometimes appears.

> This, for me at least, is the most important question to ask, not whether
> or not biological evolution is a good metaphor for social evolution.

Biological evolution is NOT a metaphore of any kind for cultural
evolution. It is not an analogy either. The kinds of PROCESSES
underlying cultural and biological evolution are homologous, similar in
nature, but not in kind. But that is a topic for a different time....

who closes with a little question for your amusement:
Imagine going back in time, observing humans. Keep going back and back
and back, generation after generation, millenuim after millenium. Sooner
or later (I assume we ALL agree!) you get to a point where humans aren't
"human' anymore, matter of fact, they're a funny kind of ape bopping
around on the savannas of africa. Now repeat the process. This time
don't look at the physical traits, but consider the behavioural ones.
What happened?

Dave Rindos
20 Herdsmans Parade Wembley WA 6014 AUSTRALIA
Ph:+61 9 387 6281 (GMT+8) FAX:+61 9 386 2760 (USEST+13)
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>I'm in need of something clever or cute to put here<