Re: Social Evolution

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Tue, 17 May 1994 07:58:59 +0800

On Mon, 16 May 1994, Read, Dwight ANTHRO asked:

> Rindos writ:
> " Change is NOT the same as evolution. Social change *could* arise by
> means of a large number of processes, the vast majority of which would NOT
> properly be called processes which result in "evolution." "
> What is the definition of an "evolutionary process?"

That's pretty easy. An evolutionary process, or better said, a Darwinian
evolutionary process (in contradistinction to the bad guys' evolutionary
theories) is pretty much based upon three suppositions (or observations,
if you will):

1) Hereditability of traits

Were traits not reliably passed between generations we could not
have evolution.

This one seldom causes any real problems, even for anthropologists of the
most traditional and anti-darwinian theoretical persuasions since the
"culture concept" itself is firmly based upon the idea of hereditablity of
behavioural traits. No one will disagree with this bit, I assume.

2) Random (or better said "undirected") variation

If variation were in fact generated to "solve" problems, then
Darwinian evolution would NOT occur. It would be truly Lamarkian.

Very Important Note: Lamarkian theories are NOT properly described in
terms of "the inheritance of acquired traits" (and I don't care WHAT you
learned in High School!!). It is the *directed* nature of variability
which serves to define it. Most traditional anthropological theories of
change (and stability) are in fact Lamarckian (in the sense used here).

It is important to note that those providing the "humanistic critique" are
really talking to this point of (darwinian) evolutionary theory. However,
what they seldom seem to realise is that they are NOT seeking to DENY
evolution (no matter how often they might say so!), they are merely
arguing FOR *another* *evolutionary* *theory*. Under the lamarckian model
of directed variation, evolutionary change occurs because "adaptive" (in
one sense or another of this term) variabilty is produced IN RESPONSE to
problems created by the environment (again, in one sense or another of
this term, and clearly including the social environment if we are talking
culture -- which we are).

As might be obvious, IF variation is directed (by whatever process) to
adaptive/problem-solving ends, then evolution is QUITE a different
thingamabob than if it is undirected. Selection (see below), in its
various guises, is totally unnecessary in order to have evolutionary
change occur.

The notion of directed variation was the norm throughout history for ALL
theories of change in the biological world. Darwin accepted it until the
period just before the writing of the Origin (reference to my discussion
of this available upon request). Directed variation, of course, also
leads to, and is intimatly connected with, other putatively "evolutionary"
nonsense such as "progress" and "superiority" as well as underlaying
"Humans are Top of the Heap" kinds of silliness.

So, strangely enough (but we are quite used by this point to odd stuff
happening in this discussion), the supposedly "anti-evolutionary"
advocates of the "humanistic critique" are merely pre-darwinian
*evolutionists* still fighting the good fight against this upstart Chuckie
Darwin and his rather nasty belief that there is no "progress in history"
and no "higher and lower forms" of life.

3) Differential spread of traits over time (fitness)

This is more of a CONSEQUENCE of the first two than any special
property of Darwinism. If traits are variable, and if new traits
arise in an undirected manner (and presuming the obvious fact that
traits have some sort of influence on or in the phenotype) then
those traits leading to increased relative reproduction OR when
certain traits are more successful in being propagated by whatever
means, then the traits of the larger population will change over time.

And here is where the problems really start for most folks. Given that
most people start off believing that certain traits are "better" than
other traits, and that (now sticking to anthropology) humans will
"choose" good ones over bad ones, then it strikes them (quite reasonably)
that a "blind" process like natural selection is somehow superfulous,
or even, Not A Nice Thing. Of course, here they miss the point that the
PROXIMATE reason for a human choice is not what an evolutionist is
considering ("the road to hell . . . " and all that kinda stuff). But I
won't go off on that right now.

Even worse, and far more importantly, a Darwinian view where change is
mediated by selection leads to a very different view of organisms and the
populations into which they are arranged than is present in the Lamarckian
view of nature. Prime here is the Loss of Essence (hmmm... I was watching
Dr Strangelove last night -- how appropriate!).

Under 19th Century biological evolutionary theory (and 20th, and given the
way things are going 21st Century, anthropology) species had an essence
which changed with changing conditions. Directed variation literally
DROVE the species to a more adapted state (via a disequilibium between
Needs and Conditions Of Life). Hence, over time, the essence of the
species would change ("evolve") to better fit it to the changing
conditions of life and the new problems these changed conditions presented
(the definition and proof of progress, by the by). Given this mode of
thinking (called "typological thinking" in the biological literature), any
and all analyses of change and of the population unit of change (the
species, or the culture, as being discussed here) must concentrate on the
MODAL traits. These are "real" ("normative") while the other stuff is
just "deviance," unimportant and easily, and *properly*, ignored given
that change occurs by change OF and IN modal traits (notions of "power"
might come in here?).

Darwinism, in very strong contrast, leads to a view of populations in
which individual variation is the SOURCE of ALL future populational
change. Causation is not exogenous (via some sort of Natural Law, a force
as it were, leading to Increased Adapation, Progress, Videodisks and the
American Way). Instead causation is literally embedded IN the DIFFERENCES
in the traits of individuals existing at any point in time. Hence, the
whole nature of the analysis must shift from the modal to the individual
(although in practice it is usually the trait rather than the organism
which is used for the "book-keeping). For the Darwinist VARIATION is at
the core of analysis and observation. Here, NO population has an
"essence" which is purely and properly defined by certain traits and those
traits alone. Put in terms of a throw away line: "A 'cat' is a 'cat' ONLY
because its mommy and daddy were 'cats'."

anyhoo... I begin to ramble...


Dave Rindos
20 Herdsmans Parade Wembley WA 6014 AUSTRALIA
Ph:+61 9 387 6281 (GMT+8) FAX:+61 9 386 2760 (USEST+13)
[you may also reach me on]

>Every significant trait in evolution<
>starts off statistically insignificant<