A message I just sent to the Narrative List, commenting an editorial of today's New York Times Online, on the influence of culture in the evolution of the human species:
"We are used to the idea that species evolve because of changes in their natural environment. But part of the natural environment of humans is culture itself, and it is striking to think that genetic adaptation in humans has been driven, at least in part, by how humans have chosen to live. The dynamism of human culture has always seemed to move faster than evolution itself, but this discovery suggests otherwise. To understand this about ourselves is to realize how little we know about the long-term effects of the ways we choose to live."
Thus the editorial. And my commentary:
PS. The discussion continues. Brian McHale considers terms such as Lamarckian etc. are metaphorical when applied to culture. Tony Jackson agrees:
i think i have to agree with Brian. though it's plenty intriguing to think the analogy between bio and cultural evolution, you have to leave a lot out to get it to work.
And I rejoin:
Actually I agree that "Lamarckian" or "Darwinian" as applied to cultural phenomena only yield (at best) useful metaphors. One should not renounce the heuristic value of those analogies, though. Evolutionary doctrine proved pretty fruitful as a source of ideas for Brunetière (who came before the Russian Formalists and before Eliot, who also drew on him in this respect I think). There is no reason why some of these notions, in their present-day versions, might not spur similarly fruitful ideas now. Think for instance of Gould's emphasis on catastrophism, massive extinction, and randomness as an evolutionary "engine": the wiping out of a culture, literally or in the cultural colonialist sense of wiping out, certainly has likewise some visible effects on the memetics of that culture's productions and their contribution to the globalized melting pot.
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José Ángel García Landa
(Biescas y Zaragoza)
"Algo hay en el formato mismo de los blogs que estimula un desarrollo casi canceroso de nuestro ego" (John Hiler)