Agner Fog: Cultural selection © 1999
The genetic r/K-theory defines an r-strategy as the strategy of an animal or human that spawns many young, but spends few resources on caring for its young. The definition of a K-strategy, on the other hand, is that the individual produces few offspring but invests many resources in caring for each descendant (see chapt. 4.3). These strategies are duplicated in the cultural r/k-theory. Humans in a regal society produce many children. These children are early set to work, and they marry and become independent at an early age. Not so in the kalyptic society where the birthrate is low and parents spend a lot of resources on the upbringing and education of their few children. The children go through a long education before they become able to support themselves and have children of their own.
It is difficult to determine how the regulation of population size works - when it works. The regulation mechanisms may be very complicated and difficult to investigate (Samuels 1982). The most important factor influencing the growth rate is, as already mentioned, the cultural r/k-level. The birthrate is high in a regal society, and raising a large family is often regarded as a duty. The regal society needs a high level of human reproduction in order to do well in war or to be able to expand and conquer new territory. In this situation, the population size is only checked by war, famine, and disease. The process is self-perpetuating because regality creates growth, growth causes war, and war leads to regality. In the kalyptic society, on the other hand, the population must be limited in order to avoid famine. This limitation of the population is achieved voluntarily by means of contraception, abortion, infanticide, emigration, and suicide.
Another important regulation mechanism is what sociologist Mary Douglas calls prestige. Douglas has studied what is important in the decision of each couple on the number of children they have. She found that the limited availability of food and other vital resources was not the controlling factor in the parents' wish to have children. The factors she found were important were luxury resources giving status and prestige. The parents want their children to have high status and prestige, and therefore they do not want to divide prestige-giving resources between a large number of children (Douglas, M 1982). In other words, it seems that many societies have developed social prestige systems which have the hidden function of controlling population growth. If the prestige system breaks down then the regulation also breaks down. This is seen in cases of external cultural interference or if significant parts of the population are so impoverished that any form of prestige and status is unattainable to them. Nothing prevents people from breeding large families in this situation.
These observations make sense in relation to the genetic r/K-theory. A K-strategy will be advantageous if the parents have plenty of economic and cultural resources because these resources can be invested in the nurturing of the children and guarantee them a favorable social position and a safe future. Extremely poor parents, on the other hand, have few resources to invest in their children. Their only resource is the working capacity of these children. An r-strategy is therefore the best possibility for these people to reproduce their genes. The parents are probably not aware of this mechanism. Asking poor parents why they have so many children that they can hardly provide food for them, you usually get an emotional answer that they love children. I find it therefore reasonable to suggest that there is a vicarious psychological mechanism regulating the number of children a couple desires.
Anthropologist Alan Rogers has calculated the optimal reproductive strategy as a function of economic wealth with a simplified model where wealth is inherited. The model shows that under certain circumstances the optimal number of children is lower for rich parents than for poor. Rogers does not consider, however, that the pattern of inheritance of wealth has been stable long enough for humans to evolve an optimal strategy in this respect (Rogers, A.R. 1990).
Suicide can be divided into four categories according to the influential social theory of Emile Durkheim:
- Altruistic suicide, where a person sacrifices his life for the society, e.g. in war.
- Fatalistic suicide, for example among prisoners and slaves.
- Egoistic suicide, where a person has nobody to show consideration for except himself.
- Anomic suicide, where a person cannot adapt to social changes.
The first two categories are found in societies with a high degree of social integration and regulation. The last two categories occur in societies with little integration and regulation (Durkheim 1897, Lester 1989).
By a re-evaluation of existing statistics (Evans & Farberow 1988, Lester 1989) I have found that the suicide rate in general is higher in kalyptic countries than in regal. This observation fits Durkheim's theories of egoistic and anomic suicides because social integration is lowest in kalyptic societies. The individual has nobody but himself to consider in the kalyptic society and is a complete master over his own life. This liberty of action includes the possibility of ending one's own life if the quality of life is unsatisfactory. Not so in the regal society where the prevailing ideology says that the individual lives not for his own sake, but for the sake of the community and his family. Here the individual has no right to take his own life no matter how painful that life may be. This theory is in accordance with observations that suicide is relatively seldom seen in ethnocentric societies (Rosenblatt 1964), but is apparently contradicted by an investigation showing that the suicide rate increases in times of crisis (McCann & Stewin 1990). The latter investigation, however, does not distinguish between crises to the individual and crises to society, and there is no doubt that a crisis to the individual can lead to suicide.
Although suicide is most frequent in kalyptic societies, it also occurs in regal societies, especially in the category that Durkheim calls altruistic suicide. An individual may sacrifice himself for his group or the society in cases of conflict or war, as for example kamikaze pilots, martyrs in jihad, or terrorists making suicide bombs. Altruistic suicides may also occur in times of peace as a reaction to dishonor (e.g. hara-kiri).