2.a.8 – What directs the rapid dissemination of cultural news?

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January 14, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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What directs the rapid dissemination of cultural news?

Since the cultural customs have a life of their own, in order to study the influence of the same on natural selection, we should examine their living environment and not ours; in the genetic evolution, the environment is what determines the success or the failure of biological mutations and similarly, in the cultural sphere, it is still the environment that determines the success of innovations in customs.
By definition, the success of a new fashion is the rating that meets in the population; in other words, if people like the new custom there will be a success in its spreading. It is interesting to note that our choices, as well as our own behavior, depend on both genetic factors, on personal experience and on cultural heritage. For example, the use of air conditioning has spread through the instinctive desire to escape the oppressive heat of hot summers; who had a bad experience in air travel will prefer the train, a Muslim, choosing food in a restaurant, would reject the pork as required by his religion. So we have identified the environment where the human customs and habits live: it is the socio-cultural context to which we belong.
It is important to note that we do not collectively make an intentional selection on culture, but we operate personal choices to meet the individual needs and, this way, we partake unaware to natural selection.
The case of artificial selection of modern farmers is quite different: they make their choices on the basis of clear final objectives and then operate the selection with consistency and continuity to achieve their purpose. The artificial selection is not the combination of random choices, perhaps made only once, of many different farmers, but exactly the opposite.
We must anyway recognize that from here to a genuine artificial selection of culture, the pace is decidedly short: it’s what the campaigns of sensitization against smoking or against the use of spirits on Saturday evening try to do; it is what has been always done by advertising in trade, that is trying to spread the use of new products. Numerous studies have been made by psychologists to make advertising more effective and there is no doubt that to launch a new product, a good technique is to leverage on primordial emotions such as sexual attraction, fear, vanity or even altruism ; it is to be noted however that these techniques can sell both products of excellent quality and those of poor quality.
The same emotional factors naturally influence the success of the new cultural variations: the use of cigarettes and spirits is based on the natural tendency towards social ritual of the human being, and the use of antibiotics on the fear of death and sorrow, the phenomenon of long distance adoptions is based on the sense of protection to children. It is interesting to recall that in past centuries, many medical practices had no effect on disease or could even make the situation worse, but they were accepted because they still helped to find comfort and hope against the fear of death, fueling the placebo effect. Even cultural variations that spread through the instinct of self preservation and the desire for prosperity can be harmful to the survival of the individual.
In many cases, however, these variants properly fulfill our aspirations; the current medical science treatment and the countless technological innovations that have elevated the quality of our lives prove it; in these cases we can truly say that culture is at the service of our lives, but we must remember that this is not a general rule and always valid.

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