Re: More Evolutionary Thoughts

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Sun, 10 Sep 1995 18:55:52 +0100

You're right in what you're saying, but perhaps it would be valuable to
remember (going, as it happens, back to the start of the thread and
accessible science writers) SJ Goulds fixation with the contingency element
to biological evolution. "Success"is only in the moment, in suitability for
the environment to which the organism adapts. Change that, and it's very
much down to luck how well prepared it will be for the new environmment.
Also, life on Earth having been pockmarked by unforseeable (evolutionarily
speaking) disasters that seemingly picked off taxa at random (sort of..)
the term "success" is of limited use in the longer view of biological
evolution. At the very least we can afford to drop it as a value judgement,
and use it only in the scientific sense of reproductive success that concerns
you. Perhaps people wouldn't be so likely to get pissed off then.
Still, I'd be loathe to call western culture a success (as I guess would most
of us, self effacing wonders)
Adieu, jeremy

Richard Spear wrote:
> Two questions come to mind: First, to what do cultures adapt? In
> biology, the adaptation is to environmental conditions. Second, how
> is cultural "success" measured? In biology success means
> reproductive success. Are cultures that survive and reproduce
> "successful" cultures? American "culture" (a bourgouis phenomenon)
> survives (so far) and "reproduces" itself ... is it successful? What
> has it adapted to? The Yanomamo culture is under considerable
> external pressure and on the brink of extinction ... is it a
> "failure"? Those few Yanomamo individuals who "adapt" by
> acculturizing to Western cultural specifics will survive and
> reproduce while their culture is engulfed by another culture ... is
> the engulfing culture "better"?
> There's no moral content to the observation that Nature is " of
> tooth and claw ..." ... there's moral content to the observation that
> the Yanomamo culture is a "failure" and that American culture is a
> "success". Humans are capable of praxis - considered and planned
> action. We use it to create and to destroy - and the *choice* is
> ours. Few other creatures are capable of this. We also "violate" the
> principles of survival every time we put ourselves at risk to help a
> stranger (yeah, I'm aware of the sociobiological arguments - just
> unconvinced).
> Sorry to ramble on ... Richard