magic starSummarize by Aili

Beware Cultural Drift

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the role and influence of macro cultures, particularly how they have evolved over time and the potential risks of cultural drift. It examines how macro cultures, like nations, have become larger and more powerful, leading to increased within-culture innovation but potentially less between-culture selection and innovation. The article argues that macro cultures, like corporate cultures, may be prone to drifting into dysfunction over time due to weak selection pressures, and provides examples to illustrate this point. It also explores two main narratives used to frame cultural changes as improvements rather than dysfunction, and ultimately concludes that the clearest proof of maladaptive cultural drift is the worldwide decline in fertility rates. The article suggests potential "fixes" to address this issue, but notes the difficulty in implementing them.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.

1. What is the key point made in this opening quote from Herodotus?

  • The quote suggests that people inherently believe their own cultural and religious traditions are the best, without exception.
  • This reflects the strong tendency for people to trust and favor their own cultural norms and beliefs over those of other cultures.

2. How does this quote set up the main theme of the article?

  • The quote introduces the article's focus on examining how people's deep trust and attachment to their own cultures can lead to potential issues, even as cultures have evolved to become larger and more powerful.
  • It suggests the article will explore the risks of this cultural bias and the potential for cultures to drift away from what may be truly adaptive.

[02] Macro Cultures and Cultural Drift

1. What are the key features of macro cultures described in the article?

  • Macro cultures are parts of larger social systems, like nations, that are hard to see, understand or control.
  • They include stable, shared elements like status markers and behavior norms that are difficult to vary within the larger unit.
  • Variations in macro culture likely account for most of the variation in the success of the larger unit, similar to how corporate culture impacts a firm's value.

2. How does the article describe the process of cultural drift in macro cultures?

  • The article argues that just as corporate cultures tend to drift into dysfunction over time, macro cultures may also be prone to drifting away from what is truly adaptive.
  • This is because macro culture leaders have much weaker incentives and powers to control culture compared to corporate leaders.
  • The article suggests macro cultures may suffer from the same issues of accumulated dysfunction that afflict corporate cultures.

3. What are the two main narratives used to frame cultural changes as improvements rather than dysfunction?

  • The "context-dependence" narrative claims cultural changes are reasonable adaptations to changing contexts like technology, wealth, etc. rather than changes to deep values.
  • The "learning" narrative claims changes reflect updates to our understanding of how to best achieve our constant deep values, rather than value drift.
  • The article argues these narratives do not fully explain many observed cultural changes.

[03] Fertility Decline as Proof of Cultural Drift

1. What is the key evidence the article provides for maladaptive cultural drift?

  • The worldwide decline in fertility rates, which has fallen below replacement levels in most places, is cited as the clearest proof of biologically maladaptive cultural drift.
  • This fertility decline is driven by cultural trends like more gender equality, intensive parenting, longer careers, less religion, etc. that seem more like non-adaptive value drifts than adaptive changes.

2. How does the article explain the potential causes of this fertility decline?

  • One possibility is that cultural habits of copying high-status behavior, combined with a selection effect where having fewer kids increases individual status, led to this maladaptive drift.
  • The article also notes that insular, high-fertility cultures like the Amish and Haredim may end up replacing the current liberal civilization in the long run.

3. What are the three "fixes" the article suggests for addressing maladaptive cultural drift?

  • The conservative fix: Revert culture back to a point when selection was stronger and stop it from changing further.
  • The totalitarian fix: Culture leaders take strong control to stop maladaptive change, though the article notes this is difficult.
  • The multicultural fix: Maintain peaceful trade and tech exchange between cultures with deeply divergent norms and values, though the article sees this as unlikely to be widely adopted.
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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