Tuesday 1 July 2014

Where does culture come from?


How does yoghurt differ from Los Angeles? Yoghurt has more culture.

HBD Chick asks me Where does culture come from? How does it arise? Where are its roots?

Two human abilities are required for human culture: imitation and memory.

Imitation requires close observation, as one human (who could do something else) finds a reason to notice what another human does, and that some benefit probably results to that human from his action that can also be obtained by the observer who imitates him. Brain is required, even for plagiarism.

Memory is needed, particularly to remember the individual steps that must be taken, and to work out the contexts in which the imitated behaviour can be utilised again. If the crucial steps can be remembered in rhyme or better still, written down, one can pass on the tricks to the next generation.

So, culture is the cultivation of the mind (the soul, Cicero thought: cultura animi) which makes it more productive than it would have been in its wild state. It transforms milk into yoghurt, land into crops, rocks into bronze. Culture provides the petri dish were useful things thrive.

One of our greatest cultural achievements in terms of consistent product was the Olduvai Tool Set, a collection of stone implements our ancestors made, with minimal variation, for 600,000 years.  In that era we were very conservative or not very bright, most probably both.  If only Microsoft could quit playing around with their software, and accept that an operating system has to be rock solid before all else. Quit messing around with the commands I have learned over the years. They are part of my cultural heritage: don’t trash them. Every keystroke is a Buddhist temple to me, and I don’t want corporate Taleban terrorists dynamiting my skills.

Of course, a cultural tradition can outlive its usefulness. Restrictions on eating pork make less sense once a cultural has ubiquitous refrigeration. Culture can keep the wrong things going: stoning people to death; cutting of bits off reproductive organs; sticking to stupid ideas. Petri dishes sometimes help mould to flourish.


  1. Great answer, but I don't quite think that's what HBD Chick was getting at. :)

    For one, it's notably incomplete...

    1. JayMan: I was being brief, because the longer essay is book length. Consider it a start to the question "How does culture arise?"

  2. A different question, the one that jumped to my mind when reading HBD Chick .. If there were no genes would culture exist? But leaving that aside, along with nuances about necessary and sufficient conditions.. 'social learning' is a topic in animal behavior. Humans are freakishly good at it compared to other animals. (Search: social learning in animals.) (There's even a Wikipedia entry for it.)

  3. If there were no genes.... we would not exist. Yes, humans are social animals, and very attuned to it from birth. (Assume that at this juncture I append an appealing facial-expression-rich smiley face).

  4. "Culture can keep the wrong things going: stoning people to death; cutting of bits off reproductive organs; sticking to stupid ideas."

    What about hacking off reproductive organs, at government expense, in the name of "transgender rights"? The demise of Christianity's influence is leaving a vacuum to be filled by some strange ideas.

    1. Actually the whole history of the GID/gender dysphoria disorder was pseudoscience from the outset at Johns Hopkins, and because its so poorly defined and those diagnosed are a heterogeneous group of subjects so it can't have construct validity.

      There is no other psychiatric diagnosis requires a ridiculous real life test. The argument that the patient turns up self-diagnosed is daft, someone reporting depression or hearing voices turns up voluntarily but there is no test for several months to prove they have depression or schizophrenia. Its 100% outside of real psychiatry.

      Truth is the people at Johns Hopkins came up with this silly idea to operationalize GID, and allow sex changes, in the absence of a construct of GID. (Get your head round that for a minute.) Given that both critics of sex reassignments and transgender activists have called bullshit on the diagnosis, it makes you wonder what agenda might cause it to persist.

      Often the same people control two sides of a debate.

      GICs rarely if ever refuse anyone if they have children and normal male life histories, and therefore are no different to the demands of the tranny activists. Only providing the pseudoscientific diagnosis allows it with medical sanction, which gives it social legitimacy especially on legal documents.

      Regardless of the bioethics, and evidence does show a minority of gender dysphorics present a disorder of sex development, the NHS GICs ought to be considered as like acupuncture on the NHS.

      Look at the wording and criteria of the American DSM 5. Six months duration is sufficient to get a diagnosis and mention is repeatedly made to 'some alternative gender'. In a psychiatric manual. I shit you not. Is this really psychiatry?

  5. I suppose the more meaningful question, and the context in which it is usually comes up, is where do cultural differences come from?

  6. Culture is just the evolutionary strategy of the group, on this I find Marvin Harris more useful than standard evil psych narratives. And more attuned to biocultural co-evolution. Human interaction with the environment depends upon the foundations of culture, the modes of reproduction and production. And that is the basis of culture which is man's niche, producing or removing selection pressures.