2.a.7 – The spreading speed of culture affects its relation with survival?

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January 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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The spreading speed of culture affects its relation with survival? 

 When the culture is not passed along the line of family descent, but freely spreads in the community, the natural selection of culture will encourage the proliferation of single cultural descendants, which is independent from the genetics descendants; also, depending on the speed of culture dissemination, the bond with physical survival of the cultural descendants would be dissolved.
We already know that, from a genetic point of view, natural selection requires that the individual specimen lives enough to generate a good number of descendants; living longer may be useful to have more children and similarly, to spread a complex cultural tradition that involves long learning, such as martial arts; the lengthening of life of the teacher increases the number of cultural descendants. In this situation, natural selection will facilitate all those cultural variations that foster the life of teacher in order to expand the cultural descendants. If one considers a simple and trivial innovation, easy to imitate such as the use of a new type of perfume, then the news will spread to the whole group in a short time and a long life will be useless to increase the followers of the new fashion.
In case of cultural components having a rapid expansion, natural selection will have no reason to favor those components that foster life of an individual; in some cases may even help those that lead to death of individuals to ensure the spread of a given cultural component that, being disconnected from the purpose of genetic survival and reproduction of the same, tends to pursue by every mean its survival and dissemination. Let’s consider the case of smoking: man smokes for mental and physical dependence, but he starts smoking because of a cultural component that identifies with cigarette the concept of passage to adulthood, of belonging to a group, of rebellion to the imposed prohibitions etc.. ; the aim of the culture of cigarette is to survive and spread without worrying about statistics on deaths from smoking. Here it is an example in which culture is not subjected and at the service of our survival, but is our life which is predicated and at the service of spreading a particular culture.
Fast spreading fashions have a bond with our lives similar to that of illnesses: they need that ill people are alive but only for the time needed to infect other people. For an antelope, a virus of influenza can cause death in a few days because it make the animal more vulnerable to an attack of predators; this does not prevent anyway the virus to spread, considering the fastness of its contagious; the dreadful virus of AIDS instead needs much longer times to infect the same number of individuals and this explains its period of incubation of more than ten years: it cannot afford to kill us any faster or it would immediately extinguish as a straw fire: it wouldn’t have the time to spread.
In the human society, culture can expand like an epidemic, its success does not depend on the success of its reproductive genes: it does not play in their same team. Actually everything proceeds as if these habits had a life of their own but the analogy with virus and epidemics, although very fit to explain the spreading mechanism, shouldn’t make us think that this phenomenon is always negative. The fast spreading of a particular culture can be noxious to human survival but another type of culture can be innocuous or also beneficial; everybody knows that the habit of using drugs can lead to a premature death, that a change in the dressing style is a fundamentally innocuous cultural fashion and that a daily hygiene of the teeth is an healthy habit but in all cases these cultural components have spread with success and above all very quickly, independently from their impact on the survival of the individual or of the species, to prove the complete autonomy with the biological purposes.

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