Agner Fog, Ph.D.

Cultural Selection

Book published at Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999
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This book provides an interdisciplinary theory that challenges traditional sociology by its superior ability to explain the irrational or unplanned aspects of culture, and it reveals that our society is not as rational as we would like to believe.

The reader receives a comprehensive overview of cultural selection theory, including the history of the theory and the many different schools of thought, as well as an explanation of the nuts and bolts of cultural selection and the different selection mechanisms.

Furthermore, the author introduces the new groundbreaking cultural r/k theory - a theory which reveals causal connections between religion, politics, ethics, art, and sexual behavior; and which can explain such diverse phenomena as the fall of Rome, the advent of rock music in the late Soviet Union, and the anti-pornography movement in contemporary USA. The attraction of this theory lies in its impressive explanatory power and its usefulness for making predictions.

Unlike some elaborate mathematical treatises, this book maintains a down-to-earth theory with the main focus on the explanation of real world phenomena, including religion, politics, music, art, architecture, clothing fashion, sexual behavior, sport, and play. It thereby provides a solid foundation on which to base further research in many areas of human culture, including anthropology, archaeology, political and religious history, art, social psychology, sexology, peace research, and futurology.

Cultural selection theory is a scientific discipline that explains cultural change as the result of selection processes, much like the way biological evolution is explained by Darwinian selection.

The paradigm of cultural selection is broader than the paradigm of memetics, because the latter sees cultural evolution as a selection of information units called memes, analogous to genes, while cultural selection theory includes selection processes that can not adequately be explained in terms of information units. This includes quantitative and continuous variables, such as e.g. economic parameters.

Consider, for example, the question why big companies tend to grow even bigger. The answer is that they have an advantage in mass production, mass distribution, international marketing, synergy effects, more resources for product development, etc. This is obviously a selection process, but not one that can adequately be explained in terms of the selection of discrete information units.

On the society level, there are several important characteristics that can best be described as continuous or quantitative parameters. The book mentions flexibility versus specific adaptation, conservativism versus innovativism, size of political units, technological complexity, economic structure, etc.

One important social parameter that the book introduces is the regal - kalyptic (r/k) dimension. This new descriptive tool that is defined in the book encompasses and explains bellicosity vs. peacefulness, tyranny vs. democracy, fanaticism vs. tolerance, strict discipline vs. lenience, etc. The book identifies the selective factors that influence this cultural r/k dimension, and demonstrates how it is expressed through the art and music of the culture in question. This theory has important applications for the understanding of World peace and ecological balance. A definition of the cultural r/k dimension can also be found in my article Cultural r/k selection.

The book cultural selection gives a comprehensive overview of cultural selection theory and a description of the different selection mechanisms. It integrates theoretical contributions from many different sources and disciplines into a coherent paradigm, and provides many new and original theoretical contributions. The theory is illustrated with historical as well as contemporary examples.

A web message board is provided for discussions relating to the contents of this book.


Cultural Selection

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. The history of cultural selection theory
2.1 Evolutionism
2.2 Social darwinism
2.3 Functionalism
2.4 Neo-evolutionism
2.5 Diffusionism
2.6 Sociobiology
2.7 Interaction between genetic and cultural selection
2.8 Memetics
2.9 Sociology and anthropology
2.10 Synthesis of sociobiology and anthropology
2.11 Social psychology
2.12 Economic competition
2.13 Universal selection theory
2.14 Conclusion
3. Fundamental model for cultural selection
3.1 The genetic basis of culture
3.2 Cultural selection
3.3 Unit of selection
3.4 Innovation
3.5 Reproduction
3.6 Selection
3.7 Selection of meme complexes
3.8 Vicarious selection
3.9 Barriers in evolution
3.10 Differences between genetic and cultural selection
3.11 Cultural selection in animals
3.12 The applicability of cultural selection theory
4. Further development of the model
4.1 The concept of fitness
4.2 Genetic selection models
4.3 Genetic r- and K-selection
4.4 Cultural selection models
4.5 Cultural r- and k-selection
4.6 Mechanisms in cultural r/k-selection
4.7 Vicarious psychological mechanisms
4.8 The paradox of revolution
4.9 Typical characteristics of regal and kalyptic cultures
4.10 Limitations to the theory
4.11 Previously published related theories
4.12 Conservativism versus innovativism

5. Cultural selection throughout the times
5.1 The evolution of ever bigger political units
5.2 The evolution of religions
5.3 Animism
5.4 Polytheism
5.5 Monotheism
5.6 Oriental religions
5.7 Religions are created by cultural evolution
5.8 Secularization
5.9 Imperialism
5.10 Modern society
5.11 Migrations
5.12 Economic competition
6. Demography
7. Social organization among baboons
8. Sociology of deviance
8.1 The fight over defining reality
8.2 Defining reality in terms of science
8.3 Myth making
8.4 Witch-hunts and moral panics
8.5 The role of the mass media
8.6 The objects of witch-hunts
9. Mass media
9.1 Advertising and sponsoring
9.2 The competition for attention
10. Sexual behavior
10.1 Psychological mechanisms
10.2 Selection of discourses
10.3 Social scripts
10.4 Taboo and sacredness
11. Art
11.1 The function of art
11.2 Styles and social stratification
11.3 Visual art
11.4 Music and singing
11.5 Dance
11.6 Architecture
11.7 Clothing
11.8 Other arts
12. Play, games and sport
12.1 Play
12.2 Games
12.3 Sport
12.4 Comparison with other cultural phenomena
13. Discussion and conclusion
13.1 Cultural r/k-selection
13.2 Cultural transmission media
13.3 The pleasure principle
13.4 Are we slaves of the culture?
13.5 Testability and sources of error
13.6 Explanatory power
14. The future
14.1 Security policy
14.2 Population policy
14.3 Immigration policy
14.4 Economic policy
14.5 Media policy
14.6 Disadvantages of kalypticity
14.7 Hazards by applying the r/k-theory
15. Explanation of words
16. Literature
17. Keyword index
(Not included here)

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Agner Fog: Cultural Selection. Dordrecht: Kluwer 1999. ISBN 0-7923-5579-2.

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