Philosophistry Wiki
Culture and Change

Cultural Determinism

When social scientists reflexively retort, "It's not genetic! It's cultural!", they create a straw man in the form of cold-hearted genetic-determinists. It's as if they're still waging war against the eugenicists who measured skull sizes in the early-1900s. This war may still be a fair one, but by shooting down genetic determinism, it leaves us what, cultural free will? Cultural determinants of behavior may be as binding, if not more, than genetic ones.

Making Change

Executive leaders

Culture is protocol, and once two nodes are communicating via an existing protocol, switching costs already become high. For example, two friends decide on a text messaging app. As long as it works, both parties will be reluctant to unilaterally push for a new one.

In order for an individual to change culture, they must have executive power. For example, a parent could tell their family to switch to a new text messaging app, and it's done. Likewise, a CEO can force everybody to adopt Casual Fridays or remote work.

It follows, then, that in order to bring cultural progress, one must have a leader with executive power who also has interest in changing culture. So, instead of having the best and brightest teach across America, have them become principals. As soon as they get there, they then say, "Well, this is not how we do things here," and that's that.


Colonization can change a culture. When you conquer, you force new language, new laws, and new rules. By threat of violence, people must assimilate or die. But because violence is expensive, it's more likely that the "assimilate or die phenomena" happens through the marketplace. You must adapt to the conqueror's commerce or die.

Culture's resilience

When you conquer or decimate a population, you force the majority to assimilate, but the rest turn into a subculture. The remaining Inuits and Native Americans who have preserved their norms are evidence of cultural resistance. They're small, but they've preserved their system. If you enter their enclaves, you must obey their rules. And the rules are self-re-enforcing. By obeying the rules, you then perpetuate them to newcomers. Outside of an external force, cultures drift in hundred-year scales. Or they branch off through geographic isolation, like the Americans, or the North and South Koreas, and then their isolated subcultures flourish, like on the Galapagos Islands. The timescales themselves in a way bolster Dawkins theory of memes, in that memes are at least relatively as resilient to the comings and goings of their hosts as genes.

Albion's Seed

Albion's Seed is fascinating because of how resilient the four founding cultures of the United States are. The four include the Quakers and Puritans of the North and Borderers and Cavaliers of the South. The Quakers are the intelligentsia expats from London. The Puritans are the pilgrims escaping religious persecution. The Borderers come from the warring Scots-Irish borders. The Cavaliers are the aristocrats of England. The traits of each of those subcultures are starkly present today, in Red vs. Blue states, in Appalachian vs. Pacific Northwest, in Democrat vs. Republican.

People are webs, not buildings

After a major natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake, or after a major attack, such as a bombing, our natural impression is that of unrecoverable catastrophe. We imagine those cities as the buildings themselves, and so the destruction of a building is like the destruction of the individual bricks of a building. Once you remove the foundation, the whole thing collapses. But history reveals otherwise. Consider New Orleans after Katrina, New York after 9/11, and Hiroshima after the first atom bomb; Those cities are thriving.

Removal of power structures

After World War II, a U.S. general was once asked something along the lines of, "What do you say about how you're just driving the Nazis underground?" He then supposedly replied, "Yes, we're driving them underground. Six feet underground." The Nazi affiliation network was dismantled and destroyed, but the German people and their culture were not.

See also