Re: Evolving Evolutionary Thoughts

William M. Loker (wloker@RA.MSSTATE.EDU)
Fri, 15 Sep 1995 12:43:32 -0500

For those thinking about the relationship between evolution and culture,
I suggest reading William Durham's book, COEVOLUTION, (Stanford U Press,
1991. Durham claims that evolution has selected humans to be fairly
effective in discerning whether cultural traits (memes) are adaptive
and that therefore most cultural traits will tend to be adaptive.
An important caveat, however, is that when society is characterized
by gross assymetries of power, more powerful groups can IMPOSE
maladaptive behavior on the less powerful. As a consequence,
maladaptive cultural traits can persist. This, t me represents an
extremely important addition to our understanding of "culture and the
evolutionary process" that advances our understanding beyond Boyd and
Richerson's dual inheritance theory. By introducing the element of
power, several seemingly puzzling aspects of human cultural adaptation
can be explained, within an evolutionary framework.

Regarding the argument on "survival of the fittest" culture, see the old
book by Sahlins and Service (which I am sure Sahlins has disowned by now)
on the distinction between general and specific evolution. We might
alsowant to re-acquaint ourselves with Sapir's *1916* article on
"Culture: genuine and spurious" (I don't have the exact reference at hand,
but it was reprinted in "Culture, language and Personality," edited by
David mandlebaum, 1956, U Calif Press, Berkeley).

I personally feel very, uhm, uncomfortable, discussing which culture is
"More fit" ... It *is* a "nazi-like topic" -- not to call *any* of the
participants in the discussion Nazis!!!

as Danny Yee and others have
pointed out, we know so
little about how to measure fitness in biological organisms (simple
reproductive success is not adequate, and certainly less than appropriate
in the current discussion .. I suppose) and fitness is
such a time sensitive, (environmentally) contingent quality, that we should
all pause before pasing judgement on particular peoples. Still it is not a
question we can ignore, cause if we don't deal with this issue, the
racists and social Darwinists will. We need to have good counter-arguments, at
least. Sapir's article (as I recall) asks the question, "how is culture
related to human well-being?" How could we measure such a thing?

(I'm going to rush off and re-read Sapir right now! I'll report back any
gems i uncover)

William M. Loker It were not best that
Anthropology we should all think alike;
Mississippi State University it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.
(601) 325-1663 Mark Twain, 1894