On Culture

Here are listed a few quick notes, reminders and personal opinions about “culture” in its widest definition in evolutionary terms:

1. Culture is the most “human” factor:
Every group of folks who gather around something (a figure, an object or a set of values) tend to create culture. It’s the most definitive single element that separate us from other animals. True that we are language-speaking animals, thinking mammals or tool-making apes, but you can view all of these as stemming from our cultural abilities.

2. Culture evolves randomly like anything else:
Cultural equilibrium is shaped when cultural memes are transmitted long enough, among the members of a rather closed population, through social interaction and cooperation. Much of these memes are either random “mutations” at origin, or randomly fluctuate while being faultily copied by other individuals.

3. Culture is a glue:
Culture is important to us humans because it – in any of its forms – has been the glue that helped us scale up from tribes of hundreds to populations of up to hundreds of millions today. These present-day groups of people can be identified by race or ethnicity, religion, geography, occupation or social class, political party, etc. but they are actually functional clusters that can cooperate in-group while surviving in their embedding ecology. All these “super-organisms” have their own type of cultural glue; codes and mechanisms that bound them together to cooperate with each other within the same system and sustain an equilibrium.

4. Culture has phase transitions:
According to history this equilibrium collapses eventually and gives rise to bigger and stronger networks, rather suddenly than slowly. There are leaps and usually they end up finding a way to include even bigger populations, than previously possible.

5. Culture is relative:
It’s made-up. It doesn’t matter what components have made this glue as long as it can act as a glue. And a culture gets old when the glue that could connect hundreds (a stone or a tree) fails to gather thousands efficiently; they need language and law. And a local set of rules can’t unite a population of a size of a country. They need technology. Our today’s religions, political divides and classes have played their important role to unite populations previously but have failed to scale-up to take us to the whole humanity just yet.

6. Culture has synergy:
Every culture has emergent properties beyond the mindset of its individuals and even beyond the original values that created it at the first place. People wrongfully assume their individual tendencies (inclusion, care, good intentions) is also acted out by them collectively. It is not correct. A group of nice and kind-hearted people can act as savages collectively. In fact that is what’s happening today.

7. Culture is greedy:
One of the emergent properties of culture is greed. Every culture seeks for dominance. It is inevitable as memes and genes – information in general – tend to copy and only those who manage to propagate and adapt the best will survive the process.

8. We need a global culture:
Would have been an ideal if a moon-size stone or a super massive tree could unite all ten billion in 2050, but a system of global governance approved by all humans is needed, something that can operate on our still physiologically tribal brains and yet makes the next big scale-up to a planetary-level. And this global culture needs to be minimally recognized by all humanity, and thus pragmatically needs to have empathy for all of us.

9. “Culture is not your friend”:
It’s just a glue! At the end of the day, being embedded in a tribe, country, a global monetary economy, or a trillion size AI society around a Dyson Sphere, we are individuals. We are as different as we are similar. I doubt if we will eventually be organized with enough freedom from our cultures but it is more pleasant and satisfying to be groups of one that operates safely within a bigger community.

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