2.a.6 – Culture always favors survival?

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January 12, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


Culture always favors survival?

We have said that culture was born as integration of genetic heritage and that it is subject to natural selection too; considering that, for natural selection, survival of the individual, of descendants and of the species have minor importance compared to that of genes: it would be the same for cultural genes.
The above leads us to reverse the normal concept of culture as an instrument for our lives and yet, even in this case, the important thing is to know that not always culture, as selected by nature, works for our good because in that way we could adequately defend ourselves.
Let’s see now how culture evolves in human society considering a borderline case: in some religious traditions, priests make a vow of chastity that prevent them from reproducing and yet they do not cease to exist. For millennia special schools form new generations of priests who are not the genetic descendants of earlier, but that are their cultural descendants; the new priests are born as such thanks to the teachings received by their professors, who play a role similar to that of the queen bee, i.e. that of organ for the reproduction, in this case cultural, giving rise to a new generation of priests; the latter in turn will not reproduce, just like workers bees, but some of them will cover the role of new teachers who will ensure the future of the category.
This phenomenon is not restricted to priests only: today it is extended to almost all categories of complex human society, so that every year schools and universities form new generations of professionals. For example, doctors often are not children of other doctors and at the same time, not making a vow of chastity, have children who in turn will choose the trade they will prefer. The same can be said of accountants, policemen and any other professional category.
Turning from the animal world to that of human society, we are therefore obliged to distinguish between genetics descendants and cultural descendants as they often do not coincide.
In the animal world, the two forms of offspring almost always coincide and therefore genes and culture complement each other: natural selection rewards genetic reproductive success and this success allows to hand down the family culture, such as various techniques of hunting; culture handed down in turn facilitates a new breeding and so on in perfect harmony.
It is then possible to conclude that in the animal world the cultural components play the same game and in the same team of genetic components: they produce the same offspring that will be accordingly selected to perfectly integrate. Since both components have always the same aim, together they will always support in a consistent manner survival of both the individual and the species.
In the case of man, when the genetic offspring is different from the cultural descendants, synergy can fail: for example, an increase in fertility of Engineers could not support technological progress and in turn an increase in technology might not encourages the fertility of engineers. These banalities, while undoubtedly laughable, must make us reflect on how, in human society, the cultural components may break the original ties with the genetic ones and have other purposes; one can even come to a stark contrast between the two reproductive needs, as in the case of priests whose cultural tradition requires the blocking of genetic reproduction.



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