"human nature"

zhao

there are no accidents
i've said countless times that there is no such thing. and that any case for it, one way or another, can only be attributed to agendas following ideology or dogma to which the person making the case subscribes. Marxists say humans are good for one set of reasons, and christians say humans are bad for another set of reasons. while i truly believe, without a single doubt in my mind, that humans are not inherently anything -- that we are adaptable to any condition, malleable under any circumstance, and each one of us are indeed capable of behaving in a million ways, from saintly compassion to horrirfying cruelty.

a friend (Muslim) said that humans are inherently selfish, because if there was one piece of bread left and 4 people are starving to death, they would all want it for themselves.

this seems like an invalid argument because self preservation / survival is surely different from selfishness? if we take this definition of selfishness, then it follows that ants are selfish and giraffes are selfish and all forms of life are selfish (when trees grow taller to get more sunlight), and the term itself becomes entirely meaningless.

what do you think?
 
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Guybrush

Dittohead
Well, I would disagree with your Muslim friend. Or, at least, I would like to upend his reasoning. Why does he believe the condition of starving to expose the inherent characteristics of a person? One could, equally rightly, argue that these conditions make them act inhumanly, or maybe that should be un-humanly.

I agree with your thoughts on the immense malleability of human behaviour. I remember having this discussion with Gek-Opel and Nomadologist on the Borat thread; neither of them liked my idea that civilisation has tamed and ‘civilised’ (in an objective sense, roughly defined by ourselves) humans. Now it seems Steven Pinker is on my side ;), for he recently argued something similar at this lecture:

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.
 
Well, I would disagree with your Muslim friend. Or, at least, I would like to upend his reasoning. Why does he believe the condition of starving to expose the inherent characteristics of a person? One could, equally rightly, argue that these conditions make them act inhumanly, or maybe that should be un-humanly.

Of course, Zhao's friend is engaging in a redundant and reductivist circular argument. Place humans in a situation where they will likely act psychotically and they will then act psychotically. Therefore all humans are psychotic etc.



I agree with your thoughts on the immense malleability of human behaviour. I remember having this discussion with Gek-Opel and Nomadologist on the Borat thread; neither of them liked my idea that civilisation has tamed and ‘civilised’ (in an objective sense, roughly defined by ourselves) humans. Now it seems Steven Pinker is on my side , for he recently argued something similar at this lecture:


But "civilisation" - culture - coincides with the human; culture made the human possible; it is what it is to be human, its foundational definition. Humans, the human, did not exist "prior" to civilisation.

Unfortunately, Stephen Pinker is a neo-liberal romantic fantasist, willfully in radical denial about what's happening in today's world [ie ALL of the obscenities he lists as "exclusively" historical and conveniently OTHER are currently being actively practiced by his beloved, pompous, and hubristic West, where barbarism is now the very peak of "civilised behaviour"]. Pinker should maybe stick to, confine his analyses to, the neurons ... Every time I've heard Pinker speak there's always this disconcerting and disquieting sense that I'm listening to a neuroscientific version of Tony Blair ...

Mmmm, the Noble Psychopath [I hear they even get Nobel Peace prizes these days].
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
i've said countless times that there is no such thing. and that any case for it, one way or another, can only be atributed to agendas following ideology or dogma to which the person making the case subscribes....

I'd have to disagree with that almost entirely. Look at human cultures all around the world - yes, there are huge differences, obviously - but there are also constants, 'memes' if you will that have appeared spontaneously and independently. People are both competitive and cooperative to some degree; they tend to live (at least some of the time) in small communities based on blood relation (anything from the nuclear family to larger tribal units), they display friendliness towards people they know and hostility and politeness, in some ratio or other, to those they don't; concepts like marriage, religion, authority and some idea of law and punishment seem to be universal.

The idea that human beings are somehow blank slates onto which cultural values and norms are passively inscribed is ludicrous. After all, if that were the case, how would those cultures have arisen in the first place? They're all, to some degree or another, codifications or elaborations of instinctual behaviour: militaristic nationalism or the patriotism of football fans at an internation match have evolved or mutated from notions of tribal loyalty; the justice and prison systems stem largely from the desire to see retribution exacted on wrong-doers; churches and temples are the institutionalised custodians of the awe primitive man saw in the stars and oceans which gradually crystallised into organised religion. Bear in mind we were wandering around butt naked hunting animals with stone tools a blink-of-an-eye ago, in evolutionary terms - and that in the parts of the world where people still live like that, they nonetheless mourn their dead, tell stories and laugh at jokes just like we do.

No-one would deny that there's something inherently 'doggy' about a dog's behaviour, regardless of its breed and individual history: why should humans be any different?
 
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vimothy

yurp
Unfortunately, Stephen Pinker is a neo-liberal romantic fantasist, willfully in radical denial about what's happening in today's world [ie ALL of the obscenities he lists as "exclusively" historical and conveniently OTHER are currently being actively practiced by his beloved, pompous, and hubristic West, where barbarism is now the very peak of "civilised behaviour"]. Pinker should maybe stick to, confine his analyses to, the neurons ... Every time I've heard Pinker speak there's always this disconcerting and disquieting sense that I'm listening to a neuroscientific version of Tony Blair ...

What a load of toss! In what sense is barabarism the "very peak" of civilised behaviour? The only "barbarism" I see is testosterone driven beer drinkers locking horns on Friday night and resentful hooded teenagers asking for cigarettes or whatever when I'm out shopping in town. It's annoying but still, its got to be better than putting people in the stocks and public executions of criminals and the like. And it certainly doesn't seem to be regarded as civilised by most poeple I talk to. I mean, where do you live mate?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I wouldn't bother if I were you, Vim - you won't get anywhere with someone who's convinced modern Western civilisation is the greatest catastrophe ever to befall the planet; you're too OTHER to be worth listening to. :)
 

John Doe

Well-known member
I'd have to disagree with that almost entirely. Look at human cultures all around the world - yes, there are huge differences, obviously - but there are also constants, 'memes' if you will that have appeared spontaneously and independently. People are both competitive and cooperative to some degree; they tend to live (at least some of the time) in small communities based on blood relation (anything from the nuclear family to larger tribal units), they display friendliness towards people they know and hostility and politeness, in some ratio or other, to those they don't; concepts like marriage, religion, authority and some idea of law and punishment seem to be universal.

The idea that human beings are somehow blank slates onto which cultural values and norms are passively inscribed is ludicrous. After all, if that were the case, how would those cultures have arisen in the first place? They're all, to some degree or another, codifications or elaborations of instinctual behaviour: militaristic nationalism or the patriotism of football fans at an internation match have evolved or mutated from notions of tribal loyalty; the justice and prison systems stem largely from the desire to see retribution exacted on wrong-doers; churches and temples are the institutionalised custodians of the awe primitive man saw in the stars and oceans which gradually crystallised into organised religion. Bear in mind we were wandering around buck naked hunting animals with stone tools a blink-of-an-eye ago, in evolutionary terms - and that in the parts of the world where people still live like that, they nonetheless mourn their dead, tell stories and laugh at jokes just like we do.

No-one would deny that there's something inherently 'doggy' about a dog's behaviour, regardless of its breed and individual history: why should humans be any different?


Since reading The Language Instinct several years ago I've suspected Steven Pinker to be something of a charlatan. Charlatan or not, the quote reproduced above by Guybrush illustrates that he's the worst sort of complacent, unimaginative intellectual fraud. There's so much wrong about his flatulent assertions that I don't know where to begin.

However, to pick up a couple of points in the above post detailing the supposed 'universality' of given 'memes' (how I've grown to loathe that inadquate, misleading term):
marriage: yes, but what sort of marriage? Monogomous? Polygamous? Does that include the institution of mistresses/the hareem etc? Or what of the institutionalised practise of what today would be termed homosexual paedophilia in ancient Greek societies, for instance? 'Marriage' has proved to be an elastic and multi-faceted concept, not the narrow post-19th century western practice you seem to be referencing.

Religion: yes, but again such a vast and elastic term that to say 'religion is universal to all human cultures throughout history' is meaningless.

Authority: again, authority has evidenced itself in a such a multi-faceted manner that you simply can't generalise in such a sweeping manner because your statement is meaningless. Authority amongst who? To what aims? The 'authority' in, say, a kin group of Australian aboriginals is so entirely different to that in, say, a totalitarian police state that the two cannot be considered to be in any way similar. It's the same with law and punishment.

The idea that civilisation and/or culture must be a projection of an innate 'humaness' is untenable: if it were, then all civilisations at all times would be identitical. After all, one pack of dogs (to use your example) behaves very like another pack of dogs doesn't it? Yet this is not the case with human societies. Humans have language, dogs do not. Language is construct of relations and relationships, as are human societies. Thus a dynamic is involved, a shifting construct in which individuals articulate and are articulated. There's nothing 'innate' in the process at all.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
not the narrow post-19th century western practice you seem to be referencing.
I don't know where you got this from, I made no reference to the exclusive (and supposedly) monogamous form of marriage (which nonetheless has come to be the dominant form of the concept around the world) - of course I'm well aware of polygamy, harems etc., I was referring to the concept of marriage: a public declaration, usually accompanied by a ceremony of some sort, in which people make a pledge to each other. As far as I am aware, something like this is known in just about every human culture.
Also, your mention of homosexuality in Ancient Greece just goes to prove my point: homosexual behaviour is found in all human cultures, it's just the level of tolerance for it and the corresponding openness (or otherwise) of homosexual behaviour that varies. It's a natural feature of animal behaviour and humans, being animals, are no exception.
Religion: yes, but again such a vast and elastic term that to say 'religion is universal to all human cultures throughout history' is meaningless.
How is it meaningless? Basically you want to disagree with me but can't think of a way to refute my argument so you call it 'meaningless'.
Authority: again, authority has evidenced itself in a such a multi-faceted manner that you simply can't generalise in such a sweeping manner because your statement is meaningless. Authority amongst who? To what aims? The 'authority' in, say, a kin group of Australian aboriginals is so entirely different to that in, say, a totalitarian police state that the two cannot be considered to be in any way similar. It's the same with law and punishment.
I disagree. Whereas the actual form one of these concepts, memes or whatever finally takes, it's the instinct or tendency leading to it that I'm interested in, and nothing in what you've said denies the universality of this. The differences you point out are controlled by all sort of other factors, too: a police state, for example, is
pretty impossible without fairly advanced technology, which is not available in traditional Aboriginal society.

What I'm getting at is that there is no culture which has no form of authority - be it tribal elders, a king or a government - and (again, AFAIC) no culture with no form of law and punishment.
What there is, is many different responses to the same underlying tendencies.
The idea that civilisation and/or culture must be a projection of an innate 'humaness' is untenable: if it were, then all civilisations at all times would be identitical. After all, one pack of dogs (to use your example) behaves very like another pack of dogs doesn't it? Yet this is not the case with human societies. Humans have language, dogs do not. Language is construct of relations and relationships, as are human societies. Thus a dynamic is involved, a shifting construct in which individuals articulate and are articulated. There's nothing 'innate' in the process at all.
Again, you misunderstand my argument. Any two packs of dogs may act very differently, depending on whether they've been bred to keep out intruders, aid hunters, for racing or simply as pets. Human societies act very differently because they have reached different levels of technological achievement, have evolved in different environment and happen to have had different philosophies and world-views dominant at key stages in their evolution. Of course there's a huge difference between a horse-drawn cart and a car, but they're both solutions to the age-old problem of "I'm over here and I want to get over there and it's too far to walk". OK, so that's an almost trivially simple example, but you get what I'm saying - that the huge diversity of cultures has arisen from the mutation and interplay of cultural elements that have arisen because of the same urges, problems and desires that have arisen naturally over and over again?

I think this post-modern concept that "nothing is natural, everything is a construct" seems to place human beings on some kind of pedestal of perfect mental uniqueness untainted by the evolutionary pressures that act on 'lower' animals, whereas I think that as we learn more and more about ourselves and other animals the exact opposite appears to be true.

Edit: and what's wrong with memes? I think it's a fascinating and useful idea. Could it have something to do with the fact they were postulated by Dawkins, prime anathema to the lovers of Baudrillard et al?
 
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John Doe

Well-known member
I don't know where you got this from, I made no reference to the exclusive (and supposedly) monogamous form of marriage (which nonetheless has come to be the dominant form of the concept around the world) - of course I'm well aware of polygamy, harems etc., I was referring to the concept of marriage: a public declaration, usually accompanied by a ceremony of some sort, in which people make a pledge to each other. As far as I am aware, something like this is known in just about every human culture.
Also, your mention of homosexuality in Ancient Greece just goes to prove my point: homosexual behaviour is found in all human cultures, it's just the level of tolerance for it and the corresponding openness (or otherwise) of homosexual behaviour that varies. It's a natural feature of animal behaviour and humans, being animals, are no exception.
How is it meaningless? Basically you want to disagree with me but can't think of a way to refute my argument so you call it 'meaningless'.

I disagree. Whereas the actual form one of these concepts, memes or whatever finally takes, it's the instinct or tendency leading to it that I'm interested in, and nothing in what you've said denies the universality of this. The differences you point out are controlled by all sort of other factors, too: a police state, for example, is
pretty impossible without fairly advanced technology, which is not available in traditional Aboriginal society.

What I'm getting at is that there is no culture which has no form of authority - be it tribal elders, a king or a government - and (again, AFAIC) no culture with no form of law and punishment.
What there is, is many different responses to the same underlying tendencies.

Again, you misunderstand my argument. Any two packs of dogs may act very differently, depending on whether they've been bred to keep out intruders, aid hunters, for racing or simply as pets. Human societies act very differently because they have reached different levels of technological achievement, have evolved in different environment and happen to have had different philosophies and world-views dominant at key stages in their evolution. Of course there's a huge difference between a horse-drawn cart and a car, but they're both solutions to the age-old problem of "I'm over here and I want to get over there and it's too far to walk". OK, so that's an almost trivially simple example, but you get what I'm saying - that the huge diversity of cultures has arisen from the mutation and interplay of cultural elements that have arisen because of the same urges, problems and desires that have arisen naturally over and over again?

I think this post-modern concept that "nothing is natural, everything is a construct" seems to place human beings on some kind of pedestal of perfect mental uniqueness untainted by the evolutionary pressures that act on 'lower' animals, whereas I think that as we learn more and more about ourselves and other animals the exact opposite appears to be true.

Edit: and what's wrong with memes? I think it's a fascinating and useful idea. Could it have something to do with the fact they were postulated by Dawkins, prime anathema to the lovers of Baudrillard et al?

Your last point first: I find the concepet of 'meme' irritating for a number of reasons, not least that its thrown around lazily and unhelpfully and tends to obscure debate rather than clarify it. Its meaning is vague enough for it be deployed to describe all sorts of diverse phenomena with the result that such phenomena are stripped of their difference and lumped together in some ill-defined universalism. The end effect of such lazily coined terminology is tautology: ie the very act of its deployment tends to 'prove' the point its usage suppposedly illustrates. In short it both realizes and demonstrates circularity - the circularity that underlies the ethno-biologist argument.

This links in with another gaping flaw in your argument: your use of terminology. You use terms like 'religion' 'marriage', 'authority' etc as if they were universal constants when they are nothing of the sort. Monogomy and polygamy, for example, are not one and the same and thus to use the term marriage to cover all facets of pair-bonding (or multi-pair bonding in this case) is entirely misleading: it equates two very different acts, reduces them to the same when they are not. This is true, too, for your use of the term 'authority': the 'authority' possessed and weilded by an aboriiginal tribal elder, say, is so utterly different to that of a king or of a totalitarian dictator that, again, to use such a blanket term is mistaken and misleading. Yet it is essential to your argument and to the operation of your argument which goes thus: be ruthlessly and misleadingly reductive; deny, repress and ignore all difference. This will reduce entirely diverse phenomena to the catagory of the same: you then use these reduced catagories of sameness to 'demonstrate' your point about the existence and persistence of given human universals - when such universals are not present, a-priori, but merely conjured by your own flawed analysis. Circularity of the most glaring sort, but bafflingly invisible to the propents of the point of view you share. Such arguments inevitiably put me in mind of the character of Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch: you search in vain for the 'key to all mythologies', entirely missing the lessons of your research as you do so. It is a project that was echoed in the novel by the actuality of Casaubon himself - ie sterile, impotent and doomed to failure. I think modern day ethno-biologists have simply inherited his mantle.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Look, let me put it this way. Would you, or would you not, consider the following tendencies to be more or less universal:

- a tendency to show preference to people related to you over those who are not;
- the desire to hurt, or see hurt inflicted on, someone who has hurt you;
- a belief that societies work better when wise people are put in charge than when everyone just goes around
doing their own thing;
- an appreciation for 'art' of some sort or another: man-made things that look or sound pretty or interesting;
- connected with the above, a tendency to adorn one's body in some way: decorative clothes, make-up, jewellery, body modification etc. etc.
- a liking for hearing (or reading, or watching) stories?

Because I certainly would. I mean, come on - has any culture ever existed, from the most primitive tribe to the most recent Internet-enabled subculture, that hasn't had some concept of music, fashion, literature?

As for your point about my terminology beng 'vague', I think this nothing more than an artifact of 1) the fact that English is not a neutral, purely descriptive language but is derived from various cultures, some of them thousands of years old, so words like 'marriage' of course refer to particular concepts native to English-speaking culture and not found in some other cultures, and 2) brevity, in the sense that by 'marriage' I obviously mean *huge breath* 'some sort of public contract made between a man and a woman, or in some cases a man and several women or even a woman and several men, for the purposes of legitimising a relationship usually, but not exclusively, involving cohabitation, sexual relations and the raising of offspring, which may be seen as analogous to the concept of 'marriage' in contemporary English-speaking cultures'. *huge breath*


I like memes. I think this is mainly because I'm a physicist with interests in biology and anthropology and so I like to see evolution in the strictly biological, Darwinian sense as the continuation of a process of increasing complexity that has been going on by chemical and originally physical means since the Big Bang, so why not view the evolution of human culture and even technology as part of the same continuum?
Note that there's a huge body of mathematical literature on the emergence of complexity from simple 'laws of nature' and that the idea I've outlined above is by no means teleological or in any way connected with *spits* 'Intelligent Design'.
 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Alternatively, consider a simpler, much shorter argument. Is there a single culture anywhere that does not have some kind of social rules, etiquette or system of 'manners' or 'proper behaviour'? In other words, show me a culture where people aren't offended when you're rude to them, and I'll concede there's no such thing as human nature. Of course, what's considered rude is going to vary enormously: there are cultures where adults go around naked (or nearly so) as a matter of course, whereas in our society this is severely taboo except under certain special cirumstances; on the other hand, there are cultures where showing someone the sole of your foot or shoe is tantamount to an invitation to a fist-fight, but is not in the least bit taboo to me. What is universal is the idea of a set of rules concerning proper behaviour, with contravention of these rules considered taboo or 'rude', or in extreme cases criminal or even blasphemous. A group of people with no rules at all concerning behaviour would live in savagery in the most literal sense, which is to say, no culture or society whatsoever.
 

John Doe

Well-known member
A couple of points:

I think you make the fundamental mistake of abstracting from diverse phenomena an underlying urge, drive or, as your man Pinker puts it, an 'instinct'. You say, for instance, all societies have a form of marriage - ergo the 'marriage instinct' is universal. You do not argue that some socieities practice polygamy, ergo there is a 'polygamy instinct' for polygamy, for example, is not a universal marriage practise. In truth, there is no universal marriage practise, only difference from which you insist on abstracting a norm or universal. This is my point about reductive analysis and/or the employment of a vague terminology. This is not, to widen the debate, to say I think that individuals are somehow empty vessels that are then the product of their given society (like robots or automata). Humans are driven by desire, and as I argued on another thread, one of the problems with the argument you espouse is that it entirely lacks an account of desire in societies and cultures. Desires are only realized/articulated within the context of a given culture. It follows then that cultures precede desire - and that the avatars of desire, the realization of desires, concretely within their given context, can only be achieved within the forms created and understood by that culture.

A second point: you say that you like to view the 'evolution' of human cuture in a Darwinian sense. Fair emough, but I remember that on the Baudrillard thread you were amongst the posters that objected to Baudrillard's appropriation of technical, scientific concepts and terms for his speculative cultural analysis. Would I be right in that? But Darwin's concept of evolution is a theory about a biological process. It has nothing to do with culture. You then have appropriated it and applied it, speculatively, to the workings of culture in a way that Darwin never intended (and in fact, even in his lifetime objected, I think, to the first manifestations of social Darwinism). In other words, you are acting rather as did Baudrillard in his writing and critique. How can you object to such a strategy in Baudrillard and yet practice it yourself?

If, as I think you are saying, human culture evolves in a 'continuum of increasing complexity' that would position what we designate 'western society' at the top of the 'evolutionary tree', cultuarally speaking, then would it? It being the most technologically complex? Hmmm, leaving aside the fact that this denies the very real sophistication and complexity that is apparent in all human cultures, irrerspective of their technological level, I think you're putting yourself on very dubious ground, ideologically speaking. So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...
 

vimothy

yurp
So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...

Don't know why you need to reduce Mr Tea's and Pinker's argument to this.
 

vimothy

yurp
I was pointing out that such a conclusion seems to be the logical outcome of such an argument.

Am I wrong?

Race certainly has nothing to do with it, I think. What about: modern, western (and elements of non-western) civilisation is the current apogee of human-social evolution?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
This is not, to widen the debate, to say I think that individuals are somehow empty vessels that are then the product of their given society (like robots or automata).
Fair enough - but that seems quite close to what zhao said when he started this thread.
A second point: you say that you like to view the 'evolution' of human cuture in a Darwinian sense. Fair emough, but I remember that on the Baudrillard thread you were amongst the posters that objected to Baudrillard's appropriation of technical, scientific concepts and terms for his speculative cultural analysis. Would I be right in that? But Darwin's concept of evolution is a theory about a biological process. It has nothing to do with culture. You then have appropriated it and applied it, speculatively, to the workings of culture in a way that Darwin never intended (and in fact, even in his lifetime objected, I think, to the first manifestations of social Darwinism). In other words, you are acting rather as did Baudrillard in his writing and critique. How can you object to such a strategy in Baudrillard and yet practice it yourself?
What I mean is, I like the way the meme idea extends the (purely biological) evolution of species and their constituent genes - competing for limited resources, mutating and interbreeding - to wider fields of things like ideas, languages, inventions and so on. So that a gene becomes, in a sense, a molecular instance of a meme. And I'm certainly not defending social Darwinism or racism or anything like that, because the one thing that really sets humans apart from animals is the ability to transcend biological destiny.
My objection to Baudrillard's use of scientific (specifically, physics- and maths-derived) terminology came from what I saw as his mis-appropriation of those terms - at least, as far as I could see from the quotes and links people were posting. Darwin's ideas were formulated to describe the evolution of populations of interacting organisms: this can describe equally well different animal species or subspecies competing in some environment, or groups of humans, can it not?
If, as I think you are saying, human culture evolves in a 'continuum of increasing complexity' that would position what we designate 'western society' at the top of the 'evolutionary tree', cultuarally speaking, then would it? It being the most technologically complex? Hmmm, leaving aside the fact that this denies the very real sophistication and complexity that is apparent in all human cultures, irrerspective of their technological level, I think you're putting yourself on very dubious ground, ideologically speaking. So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...
I think you're reading far, far too much into what I'm saying here! For one thing, I vehemently disagree with the idea that technological sophistication is the be-all and end-all of cultural sophistication - there are many, many ways in which a culture can be complex. For example, Old English, as it was spoken long ago by a very 'primitive' people, has lost a huge amount of complexity in its evolution into Modern English - but at the same time, it has become the dominant world language (due to all sorts of historical 'accidents', as it were), so complexity certainly doesn't (necessarily) equal success. Yet it is a fact that technological complexity is, on the whole, increasing, as new inventions and discoveries are made and old ones become obsolete.

Secondly, we have a technologically sophisticated culture, but that doesn't mean everyone in it is technologically sophisticated. How many of us really know how a TV, car or computer works? A Westerner who drives a car but doesn't know how to fix it is less technologically sophisticated than a 'primitve' person who knows how to make and mend fishing nets, process poisonous plants to make them edible and do all sorts of other complicated things you or I wouldn't have a clue how to do. Chances are such a person has a far greater store of inherited stories, legends, myths, folk songs and so on than I do, or at least knows someone who does.

I don't think anything I've said could be interpreted (by someone without an agenda or severe prejudice) into an argument that Western technological culture is the 'best' one. It's certainly produced a whole set of new problems (overpopulation, large-scale pollution and ecosystem degradation, mechanised warfare) at the same time as it's solved others. My position is that the interplay of competing technological solutions to a given problem (for instance) can, in some ways, be likened to the competition between different organisms for the same ecological niche - hence my statement about memes and so on.

Oh, and one last thing:
Am I wrong?
Yes, you are. It's an utter fallacy - whether used by proponents of social Darwinism, or opponents of it to create a straw man - to assume that because something is more successful, it deserves to be or should be more successful. These are moral terms that are not appropriate in a biological context but are extremely appropriate - and vital - in social and political contexts. It's hard to argue, from a purely self-interested point of view, that European civilisation isn't vastly more successful than that of the native Australians. If human beings behaved like (many) animals - or the 'self-interested automata' from the Adam Curtis thread - they'd have been wiped out by now. The fact they live in such an awful condition now just shows how strongly these selfish, animal-like tendencies have been in history, and continue to be in many places. But as I said above, humans can transcend selfish behaviour and exhibit altruism on national scales, which certainly flies in the face of social Darwinism.
 
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Guybrush

Dittohead
Most of the violence-reducing merits of modern-day civilisation, brought forth by Pinker, are not exclusive to the West, even though all four of them happen to apply to it. In short, these four seem to be:

1. The State has a monopoly on the exertion of violence.
2. Death is not an everyday thing, so life is considered more precious.
3. Coöperation, rather than competition, is encouraged.
4. Enlightenment makes people more empathic towards those outside their immediate family/tribe/village.

I would say all but one (number 2) of those are applicable to Iran.
 

gek-opel

entered apprentice
Surely what Hundred... was on about is the way that "civilization" merely serves to obscure the barbarity behind an acceptable veneer, inside the homes of wife beaters, into the sweatshops of the third world, far from our gaze, into the minds of the mentally ill created by such societies. It neutralizes it into the invisible hand of capitalism, dematerializes it and abstracts it into the modern financial system of hyper-capital and meta-futures, melts it away in the white heat of computer game techno-conflict. The violence, exploitation and inhumanity continue, indeed on a far greater scale, but at an acceptable remove. This is in itself civilization, perhaps... it has tamed violence into a denatured, economic/administrative function...
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
One interesting aspect is if violent movies and computer games harmlessly enervate the impetus for violent behaviour, or if they should be considered present-day outlets for violence. If the latter, one could argue that the yearning, or whatever you would like to call it, for violence has not really decreased, but merely has been canalised. No doubt an encouraging development, but hardly an eradication of violence in a profound sense.
 
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