Monday, October 10, 2005

That culture is functional

Looking upon culture as a structured imprint in the minds of every individual in a cultural social formation, rather than as simply a collection of practices and artifacts, makes it less likely that we'd view it as any sort of social "epiphenomenon", more likely that we'd see it as functional. But functional in what sense? In the sense, I think, that it directly supports the maintenance and adaptation of the cultural group* (*leaving to another post the task of saying what exactly constitutes the "cultural group"). That is, the ideas, concepts, values, etc. (among a great many other things) that make up a cultural imprint have a direct effect on the behavior of the individuals making up the group -- this effect generating what might be called a cultural "phenotype". And just as the genetic phenotype exposes the underlying genotype to Darwinian selection pressures, so this cultural phenotype (the actual, summed behavior of the individuals in the group) exposes the underlying "memotype" to the same kind of selection pressures. Thus, cultural social formations adapt to changing circumstances and evolve just as do biological species -- but, because the memotype is much more changeable or dynamic than the genotype, cultural evolution typically proceeds at a much faster pace. It's worth noting that, at times at least, this can put culture in conflict with biology, with the latter losing its claim upon the "natural". (At the same time, it's also worth noting that, for a variety of reasons, and as Marx said of history, we do not make our culture "just as we please".)

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