Social Evolution

carter pate (CPATE@UTCVM.BITNET)
Wed, 18 May 1994 08:59:17 EDT

Thanks to Bob Graber for several provocative ideas:

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The fact that human societies, and their cultures, change over time
makes it possible to study such change; and some of us are interested in
trying to generalize about such change over the relatively long term. I
think this is what identifies social, cultural, or sociocultural
evolutionists as such. The value of analogies between biological and
sociocultural evolution is another question. My own view is that such
analogies are of little value except as mind-stretchers at an
introductory level. A more interesting possibility is that social and
cultural evolution should be thought of not as analogous to, but
literally as continuations of, organic evolution in a modified form. I
have come to suspect that organic evolution favors species that use
energy well relative to the species surround them. Among K-selected for
ms, this eventually would produce species evolved to high technology,
for whom use of huge quantities of energy non-metabolically was entirely
"natural." I know that such speculations about species-level selection
are anathema to many biologists; but this one makes a great deal of
sense out of the general course of biological and cultural evolution.
--Bob Graber

Shouldn't we always steer clear of using analogies as logical proofs?
But isn't 'evolution" a useful descriptive metaphor for some gradual, accumu-
lative changes which eventually lead to sharp distinctions in the social
order? Can we really communicate some ideas effectively, without mixing
our "hard logic" based on operationalism and empirical observation, with
effective descriptive metaphors?

Not having kept up with all the discussion of "evolutionary trends" in
culture, I feel Graber has picked up an echo of Leslie White, and even
amplified and refined it admirably in the short reference to the matter of
energy use and human culture.

Need we assume teleological goals to merely note long-persisting trends w
hich might have a continuing momentum? I for one would be neither surprized
nor disappointed if the the exponential curve of expanding use of energy,
chich seems so obvious in the long-run cultural record and so accelerative
in recent centuries, soon runs into limits imposed by increasing toxicity
in its byproducts. Can we use evolutionary analogies or metaphors which to
us do not imply absolute determinism, without guarding our words against the
determinism that too many people still caught in 19th century models of think-
ing, automatically infer in any use of "evolution"?