Saturday, March 2, 2013

Propaganda & Evolution

In my last post, we looked at memes and their evolution, which I suggested generate the social narratives that define every social group from the Family to the Nation--not just our histories, but our cultures.

Compared to biological evolution which takes place a little at a time over millions and millions of years, cultural evolution may seem to place in the blink of an eye – or, these days, in the swipe of a finger on your touch pad -- but it  still takes time -- millenniums.

Wait, you say.  Up until, you've been talking about culture and society evolving over just the last two centuries, as with   memes such as "the public", "the "child", "democracy" and the like -- in response to changes in technology just a few hundred years ago. 

Now, you are saying, these changes are not substantive?

Yes ... and no.

Yes, because microevolution drives evolution as a whole.  

Obviously, modern American society is quite different from New England society in the 18th Century.  But micro evolution is just that -- micro -- not macro -- small changes -- most of which do not endure.  What if the huge changes we see with industrialization and the like are more appearance than substance in the grand scheme of things? 

Consider ---while Homo Sapiens has also undergone genetic transformations over millenia -- it remains the same species.

Europeans once lived in Africa. To survive in northern climes they needed less pigmentation so their skins could generate more Vitamin D.    There were other changes, too, in the neolithic, as a response to the development of agriculture.  So Europeans look different from Africans who look different from American Indians who look different from Asians.  There are some functional differences too, such as lactose tolerance or intolerance, sensitivity to gluten and so on.

But a man is a man for all that.  And so, too are dogs.

Genetic variation and diversity make for differences -- but not substantive ones.  Your poodles and great danes look different -- but they are still just dogs.Wolves and dogs behave differently just as hunters behave differently from computer engineers.  But species similarities are greater than the differences.

Cultures are like people (and dogs).

Cultural microevolution, in response to technology, environmental changes and cultural mixing, means that new memes pop up-- like the genes for green or blue eyes and red or blonde hair or short legs on a dachshund, but they don't necessarily change anything fundamentally.     Cultures can be be bigger or smaller, simpler or more complex just like people and pets but underneath they obey the laws of human nature. 

There is no evidence that the human brain has changed that much over centuries, other than getting slightly smaller (which may shows you that TV advertising does have an effect!)

We are still have stone age brains and stone age minds.  And our cultures are stone age too. Which is not to say that macro evolution is not occurring -- just not as fast as we might like.

To repeat:  memes, like genes mutate all the time.  But only a tiny, tiny number will survive the test of time and the environment. It's trial and error.

Mostly error.  The fact is that most "civilizations" are unsuccessful experiments that commit ecocide and die.

Read Jarad Diamond

Modern American society looks a lot different from that Ugluk the Hunter's -- but it is still inherently tribal. And seems doomed to go the way of Easter Island's.  The technological and social sophistication o any "advanced society" just makes it harder to sustain.      

While industrial societies evolve to respond to  new ways of doing things and new challenges, and provide us with all sorts of shiny new tools and shiny new ideas,  is this really progress? (As  John Gray says.)   Dickens wrote with a pen.  Hemingway wrote with a typewriter.  And I am writing with an advanced computer.  My advanced computer does not make me a great writer. 

Conservatives who fear primal instincts and seek refuge in tradition and authority will probably agree with me. See:  Old Stuff is better!  To disappoint them, I must that add that there was never a Golden Age.  Fathers are just as wrong as their children, if not more so, through a surfeit of fixed ideas and a lack of flexibility.

Also,  sex is really, really fun. But I digress...

Sex is also biology.  And biology--the “design” and function of our brains – is the ultimate determinant --just as hardware on a computer decides what you can and cannot do with the software -- it is both the  limiting and enabling factor -- not just for individuals but for the Group mind, which is just a bunch of separate brains trying to coordinate.


Yup -- “genes ‘r us”.

What does all this have to do with propaganda and PR?

A lot....because.... these notions generally presuppose a top-down control of people's minds that is simply impossible.  It aint that simple.

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