Friday, December 20, 2002

What about culture and society?

It's often assumed that it was the civilising influence of society and culture that turned humans from evolution's caveman savages into the art-loving sophisticates of the 21st Century: culture is the thing that separates us from the beasts, so isn't it therefore culture that separates us from evolution?

It's a tempting answer. It seems to let us off the evolutionary hook. If most of our modern behaviour is a product of our unique culture then we’ve reassumed control: humans created their own culture, therefore we created ourselves, and hence the majority of our behaviour today.

But there’s a problem: who were the humans that created this civilising culture in the first place… other than the ‘barbarian’ creations of evolution? We have to accept that the humans that created culture didn’t have the civilising influence of culture to teach them to become cultured - which means that whatever urges made them ‘cultured’ could only have been the urges programmed into them by millions of years of natural selection.

- Natural selection created the humans that created culture.

And therefore

Culture must be just another evolutionary tool...

Precisely in the same way that our arms and legs help us to spread our genes, the culture and society that our ancestors created must have helped our ancestors spread their genes. Evolution must be responsible for creating the civilised, art-loving, generous, charitable people that we are today.

And why not?

Since we've had culture we've become the most successful genetic-spreading devices the planet has ever seen. In the last few thousand years we’ve spread our genes to every corner of the globe.

Indeed, human culture may indeed be evolution's most powerful weapon. The very things that we assume make us ‘more than the beasts’ were the very things that gave us the ultimate dominance. Our ability to learn and teach and our desire to 'save lives and help each other' gave us the medicines and vaccines to defeat the diseases that were our biggest killers. The desire to create a better life for our children gave us the farming methods that allow us to feed the billions of new mouths.

And just because we can't see what reality TV has go to do with survival of the fittest, doesn't mean that it doesn't.

Because it has to. It's the only possible answer.

Next: href="">But most of the things I do have nothing to do with evolution!

1 comment:

dan from said...

Of course, with the first meme mutations, genes were no longer in control of how culture evolved. Today, genes only set the general parameters.