Re: Evolving Evolutionary Thoughts

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Fri, 15 Sep 1995 23:34:08 -0400

Isn't Sapir's article"Culture, Genuine and Spurious" (is that the exact
title?) the one where he compares the life of a switchboard operator,
who sits indoors for 8 hours at a time, performing the same operations over
and over again, with
that of a gatherer, who goes out in leisurely way with her peers and some of
the older
children, stops when tired, swims when they find a pond, climbs a tree to
get honey,somestimes kills a small animal with her digging stick and when
they get home with the
goodies, shares them with nearest and dearest, which often includes friends.
Ruby Rohrlich.
On Fri, 15 Sep 1995, William M. Loker wrote:

> 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