December 29, 1995

Cultural Evolution

We are each of us --without exception-- born into a culture. The culture has a set of values and a prescribed code of behavior. There are many different cultures, and a person from one culture may seem very abnormal to a member of another culture.

How did cultures come to be? That question is the same as asking how did we come to be? The answer is that, just as physical life evolved, so did cultures. A person who is born into a culture may not see it that way. He may think that things are as they are because that is the way that they have always been, and they can't be any other way. But that isn't so.

Just as there have been many many species in the past, so have there been a myriad of cultures. All of them have either been modified or extinguished. Some cultures absorbed members of other cultures and almost all are influenced by other cultures that they come in contact with.

The cultures that have survived over a long period of time might be called "successful." By successful, I mean that they have managed to secure the physical survival of their members, and may also have attracted others to it. The number of members in successful cultures have either remained stable or have increased in number over time.

Before the industrial age, physical survival depended on the members of a culture being able to feed, clothe and shelter its members. This was particularly important for the female during her very vulnerable pregnancy and when she was raising her child. Every culture that has survived to the present time has, as a basic principle, the protection of the female and her offspring.

I suspect that the creation and transmission of the culture was largely done by the female. Boys are indoctrinated to protect and take care of women. The slogan that guided access to lifeboats on sinking ships, "women and children first," pretty well sums up the values that most cultures have. The preservation of the family is of paramount importance and women and children represent the future of the culture.

We read about a lack of regard for females in the Chinese culture. Yet, women must have been highly valued for the culture to have survived and for the growth of the Chinese population. The Jewish culture has been seen as "patriarchal;" yet, it is the women who really run the show, with the men getting the credit for it. There is an old saying: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. It is as true now as it has ever been.

I believe that the militant, macho, aggressive, warrior male has been created by the female for her, and her children's protection. Sometimes it doesn't work that way and the man's aggression turns on the woman. More often it works to her advantage.

The newly liberated woman may want to go to war like the men did, but the woman who goes to war is not going to bear many of the children that will constitute the next generation; at least not at the same time. In our modern world, homemaking is no longer the full-time job it used to be. However, child rearing is. In Britain, upper class children were reared, not by their mothers, but by their nannies. Hence the paradox of upper class men having middle class values, acquired from the middle class women who reared them.

Some cultural values make a culture an automatic evolutionary dead end. There was a sect that took the biblical admonition "if thine eye offend thee, cut it out." They believed sex to be evil and castrated their men and sewed up the vaginas of their women. They had no descendents to carry on the culture.

A few cultures do not reproduce, and depend on recruitment from the outside to furnish its members. These cultures, as with species that do not reproduce adequately, are evolutionary dead ends; the culture dies with its members.

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