Agner Fog: Cultural selection © 1999
14. The future
It seems fairly obvious that cultural selection theory and r/k-theory has potential applications not only for explaining and predicting the development of a culture, but also for guiding the development in a certain direction. The political consequences of this recognition are so far-reaching that we have to discuss them. In order to avoid compromising the scientific objectivity, I have limited the political discussion to this final chapter.
Generally speaking, we have to analyze the selective forces that shape society and decide which forces lead in a desirable direction and which forces require intervention in order to avoid dangerous developments. A few examples:
Proponents of economic liberalism argue that free competition is the best guarantee of low prices and high quality of all commodities. I agree with this statement to the degree that consumers have the necessary information for making rational choices and are not brain-washed by advertisements. Unfortunately, leaving everything to the reign of the free market forces does not guarantee welfare and human happiness. Many considerations of importance to the common good are left uncontrolled by the selective forces of a free market economy. For example pollution and the exploitation of scarce natural resources. Intervention and regulation is necessary for protecting those considerations that are not automatically controlled by the free forces.
A similar problem exists with democracy. Free elections is the best guarantee against tyranny and political instability, provided that the voters have free access to reliable information about social and political issues. This is the reason why a free press is considered so important in democratic society. Unfortunately, the press is not free. It is controlled by the merciless selective forces of a free market. As explained in chapter 9, the competition for readers and for advertisers favors entertainment and button pushing stories rather than truth, relevance, and detailed analysis of controversial issues. The failure of democracy as we know it! Some kind of intervention is certainly needed.
This chapter discusses some important areas where intervention is needed in order to guide selection in a favorable direction.
A kalyptic society has obvious advantages compared to a regal one. First of all, it gives more freedom and security to the individual. But a very kalyptic country can hardly exist if the surrounding countries are regal. Peace and freedom can only persist if all countries are developing in a kalyptic direction. It would therefore be desirable for the sake of world peace to influence all countries in the kalyptic direction. This may sound utopian, but in fact such a process is already going on. The colonial times are over. The superpowers have reached the limits for their expansion and are now in the process of kalyptization. You may fear that new regal empires will grow up, as has happened innumerable times before in history, but today we have a possibility, which has not existed before, for stopping such aggressions, and that is the effort that the United Nations and other international organizations are making for preserving peace and stoping any attempts at imperialism and aggression. The more effective this peace-keeping effort is, the smaller is the likelihood of new wars. And without the risk of war, every country will be likely to evolve in the kalyptic direction.
It is important to realize that such a peace-keeping effort will only work if it is managed by an international organization. No superpower or world government would be able to fulfill this function without detrimental selection processes jeopardizing the stability of the construction. Only an international organization can ensure peace and the stability of national borders.
Such an organization must, of necessity, have military resources contributed by the member countries at its disposal. The regality of such a 'world police' is a dilemma. If it is too kalyptic it will be ineffective, and if too regal it would provoke revolts or cause a regalization of the countries in which it intervenes. In order to avoid escalating the regality it would often be more appropriate to apply economic rather than military sanctions against an aggressor. Such economic sanctions have already proven quite effective in a number of cases.
The regality of the armed forces may also be a dilemma at the national level. In order for a kalyptic country to be able to defend itself against more regal aggressors, it must necessarily have a military defense force which is more regal than the country in general. This may give rise to various conflicts. Soldiers who have received a kalyptic upbringing may have problems accepting the regal ideology and discipline that the effectiveness of the military system necessitates. Furthermore, disharmony may arise between army and government, and in the worst case there may be the risk of a military coup.
Stabilizing the borders between nations is probably the most effective means towards global kalyptization, but there are also other possibilities for influencing a country in the kalyptic direction. Of considerable importance in this respect is the human rights movement. Human rights ideology is one of the most effective weapons of kalypticism. Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of association, artistic freedom, fair trial, etc. are principles which effectively limit the possibilities for regal regimes to control the population. Experience shows that the human rights are best secured when monitored by international organizations such as the European Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, rather than national organs. A national court will always be less objective than an international organization when the legal principles of the country itself are being criticized. History shows that national courts often are compromised for psychological reasons in cases of moral panic and witch-hunts. It is characteristic for a moral panic that those who are most involved in it are unable to see it (see chapt. 8.4).
The Earth is overpopulated, and the exponential growth of the population is the greatest threat to world peace and ecological stability. It is therefore absolutely necessary to put effort into controlling the population growth in those countries where it is highest. Compulsory birth control, as we are seeing in China, is a theoretical possibility, but in many cases it will be extremely difficult to carry out. We therefore have to consider other possibilities for limiting the birth rate.
A kalyptization will automatically lead to a decrease in the birth rate, and is therefore desirable for this reason also. As mentioned in chapter 6 there is also another mechanism which may reduce population growth, and that is what has been called prestige-giving resources. One such resource is education. If education is the road to status and prestige, then parents will be inclined to have few children and give these children a good education rather than raising many children for whom they cannot afford to provide during a long education. Furthermore, people will get children at an older age if their own education and career has higher priority. This also reduces the growth rate. A policy which makes education attractive and available to everybody will therefore limit the population growth effectively.
Economic incentives also influence the decision to have children. In societies where children are set to work at an early age it is economically attractive to have many children. It may therefore be necessary to introduce restrictions against child labor in order to reduce the birth-rate. Likewise, it is necessary for society to guarantee the social and economic security of old and sick people in order to avoid the necessity of having children to secure provision for one's old age.
Poverty may, in itself, increase population growth. People who have money may very likely limit the number of their children in order to avoid dividing their wealth (see chapt. 6). But those who have nothing, the extremely poor, have no riches to divide and may therefore be more inclined to choose an r-strategy. In other words: they will have many children even though they cannot provide for them. We already know the result: slums, famine, and high infant mortality. Even though the poor developing countries are not among the most regal in the world, we cannot ignore the risk of war caused by overpopulation. In order to avoid this we have to set in with considerable effort to create an effective population policy, social policy, and education policy in these countries.
Evidently, in cases of famine or war, people do not take long term ecological considerations into account. If we leave it to war, famine and epidemics to control the world population, then the ecological resources will be exhausted and it will be impossible to limit the pollution. A kalyptic population policy is therefore also necessary for ecological reasons.
Next to war, immigration from regal cultures is the greatest threat against the kalypticity of a society. Massive and homogenous immigration is likely to lead to ghettoization and regalization, whereas a limited and inhomogeneous immigration may lead to kalyptization (see chapt. 5.11). It may be quite difficult for a kalyptic country to refuse refugees from a regal area devastated by war. Hospitality is a natural part of the mentality of a kalyptic society, and the miserable fate of the individual refugee makes a greater psychological impression than the abstract consideration for the receiving country's culture. But, in the long run, a liberal immigration policy is likely to lead to xenophobia and regality, as we see all too clearly in Europe today.
Rather than having a liberal immigration policy, the kalyptic countries need to intervene in the conflicts that cause the refugee problems and help the refugees as close to their home country as possible.
The highly developed industrial countries can afford a more advanced military structure than the developing countries, and it is therefore necessary to be particularly aware of regalizing mechanisms in the former. Next to immigration from regal cultures, economic recession is a significant contributing factor to regalization. Several investigations have shown a connection between economic crisis and authoritarianism (see chapt. 4.7), and possibly the economic crisis in the 1930's was one of the most important factors that caused the second world war (Padgett & Jorgenson 1982, Sales 1973).
The high unemployment in times of economic recession may possibly have a regalizing effect, but if the society as such is stable, then this psychological effect can be alleviated by creating social and economic security for the unemployed. It is threats to the society rather than threats to the individual that causes authoritarianism, and it is therefore necessary to create an economic policy that makes the society resistant to fluctuations in the market conditions. The traditional reaction of politicians to economic recessions is to try to create economic growth and to prophesy that an international economic upturn will be coming soon and solve all the problems. The economy of western society has been marked by growth for so long that it has developed economic structures which depend on growth in order to function. Politicians and economists are seemingly the only ones who cannot realize that there are limits to growth. We need new economic thinking to create a system that does not depend on growth in order to be stable and to create social security.
Thousands of organizations are trying to get our attention every day. Commercial advertisers, political campaigners, religious movements, humanitarian organizations, newspapers, and TV-stations. The life and death of a soft drink company or a church depend on its ability to win our attention. Those who win in this merciless competition for attention are those who press the most powerful psychological buttons. The newspaper that is able to create a moral panic over a non-existing crime organization will win the competition over another newspaper that reports on declining crime rates. It hardly matters whether news stories are true or relevant. What matters in the competition is whether the news stories are exciting, i.e. whether they push the most sensitive buttons. More research on the societal consequences of this relentless competition for our attention is urgently needed.
The mass media have an enormous power in modern society. As the main channel of communication, the fourth estate constitutes the backbone of democracy. But unlike other branches of government and institutions of power the mass media remain virtually free of external control, and are therefore able to abuse their power (Ericson et al 1989).
As explained on page 161, the news media have a strong influence on the selection of politicians in a modern democratic society. Media skills are becoming more important than political skills in election campaigns. The news media, in turn, are selected by their struggle for survival in a process of fierce economic competition. In order to get advertisement and sponsor money they have to appeal to the largest possible number of readers or viewers. Many newspapers, magazines, and TV stations have found an effective strategy in appealing to the primitive emotions of their audience. For these media, prying into the private lives of famous people, entertainment, lotteries, sex, and horror, have become indispensable ingredients in the strategies for attracting readers and viewers, and hence advertising money.
The conclusion is that the politicians are controlled by news media, which in turn are controlled by advertisers, who may not care about political agendas. The consequence is that some of the most important selection processes in modern democratic society are completely out of control.
Crime and disaster are particularly button-pushing topics that the media use in their competition. The amount of crime reported in the media is hardly related to the actual crime rates, and the types of crime reported are not typical or representative. The population thus gets an exaggerated and distorted image of crime that generates fear and authoritarianism. Crime news are typically framed as personal stories rather than thematic discussions. The emotional statements of suffering victims are more button pushing than statistics and complex social explanations. This creates a distorted image of the causes of crime. The blame is placed on moral defects in the individual offender rather than on social and structural causes such as blocked opportunities. This again leads to ineffective or even counterproductive crime-fighting strategies (Elias, R. 1993).
The overall effect of the exaggerated media focus on crime and disaster is regalization. In fact, this effect is probably the most important regalizing factor in countries like the USA today, where media competition is fierce and there is little regulation.
Possible remedies may include alternative sources of media funding, and restrictions on advertising and sponsoring (Gaunt 1990, Bagdikian 1983, Weimann & Winn 1994). As new technologies make mass communication cheaper, alternatives to advertisement-based media become more feasible. The best example is the internet. This technology has for the first time in history made freedom of speech available at a price that ordinary people can afford. Keeping electronic media free of censorship and other irrelevant influences should have a high priority if we want democracy to succeed in the future.
By now the reader will probably have got the impression that everything which is kalyptic is good and everything which is regal is evil. But can we be sure that a kalyptic world will make people more happy? Unfortunately not. Things are not so simple. Security is not the same as happiness. How can we measure happiness and quality of life and how can we determine whether people are more happy in one society than in another?
Of course there is misery in the most regal societies: war, overpopulation, poverty, famine, epidemics, hard work, slavery, strict discipline, intolerance, injustice, and so on. No human would voluntarily prefer this life. Nevertheless, the regal society has one important psychological advantage: there is always something to fight for. Fighting to uphold your family or your country gives a meaning to life. There is always a reason to live.
Not so in the most kalyptic cultures, where some people may feel that there is nothing to live for. Everybody is self sufficient, and nobody needs your help. If you do not feel that life is worth living, then you may as well end it without having a guilty conscience towards others. This experience of meaninglessness and lack of solidarity is reflected in the high suicide rate in the kalyptic countries (see chapt. 6).
In all societies there are people who, for some reason, feel insecure or have problems controlling themselves. Such people will be attracted by regal movements or institutions which can bring ease to their mind and relieve them of the responsibility for their own life. It may be monasteries, religious sects, political organizations, youth gangs, criminal organizations, demanding and dangerous jobs, military or paramilitary organizations, etc. There will always be different organizations with different r/k-levels filling each their niche. These more or less regal organizations provide an immediate advantage to the people who are attracted by them: the discipline, solidarity and well-defined organization gives a meaning to life and gives comfort for insecure and unstable individuals. It may keep people of weak character away from drug abuse, crime, and social misery.
For this reason there may always be a need for more or less regal institutions even in a kalyptic society. The curing of drug abusers, for example, requires a higher degree of regality than the society may be ready to accept in other connections, because the drug addiction in itself can be regarded as regal in the sense that it deprives the addicts of their self-control. Another area where a certain degree of regality may be needed is, as already mentioned, the armed forces.
How tolerant a kalyptic society should be towards regal organizations depends on various considerations. The regal organization may have an idealistic and socially useful purpose and hence profit from the psychological need of certain people for regality. Other organizations, whose activities are only internal, may be neither useful nor harmful to the surrounding society. But regal organizations may also be harmful to society, for example because of aggressive recruiting of new members, economic exploitation of members, harassment of ex-members, violence against rival organizations, criminality, and influencing the surrounding society the direction of higher regality.
The cultural r/k-theory is more suited for comparing different cultures than for analyzing a single culture. Applying the theory in practice entails many sources of errors, as explained in chapter 13.5. Analyzing a single piece of art may involve considerable problems. Misinterpretation and over-interpretation of literature, myths, pictures, etc. is already a well-known problem and the risk of wrong interpretations increases as the r/k-theory increases the need for interpretations.
As long as a theory only has academic interest, there is room for discussion and differing opinions without any harm being done. But if the theory is put into practice, for which the r/k-theory is highly suited, then the consequences of theoretical errors may be quite serious. What if, for example, the theory is used in an international peacemaking effort, and there is an error in the theory? On the other hand, you may say that the risk of unfortunate decisions is much higher if you have no theory at all.
A natural question is whether the r/k-theory can be used by a despot to strengthen his political power. To this I would answer that those means which are mentioned by the theory of regal selection have already been known and applied by numerous dictators through thousands of years. The theory provides better opportunities for seeing through regal means than for inventing new ones. On the other hand, the theory provides new opportunities for those governments who want to promote peace and democracy.
It is easy to imagine that someone will try to influence the r/k-level of a society by controlling the artistic production. Subsidizing certain kinds of art and suppressing others is a well-known political means in regal countries, but is hardly effective in a kalyptic society. There are so many different communication channels, artistic as well as verbal, that any message which wants to be communicated for psychological reasons will always find a way. This is seen today in many democratic countries: the relatively regal high culture, which is supported by the state or by the upper class, does not prevent the more kalyptic pop culture from flourishing and spreading (see chapt. 11.2).