17 March 2007

Social Evolution and the Big Yawn

Natural evolution has become a big deal. We have lots of data to support the theory. As a topic it still sells books and magazines. It is still debated. The insights from it have helped to spawn at least one industry (bio tech). It is used to explain everything from disease to psychology. But within your lifetime, humanity is unlikely to evolve. Natural evolution is a big deal, but it is unlikely to change your life in the next few decades.

By contrast, social evolution is obscure. We have lots of data to support the theory that societies evolve over time, memes doing for social life what genes do for biological life. As a topic, though, it is all but ignored. But within your lifetime, society has already evolved. Some in fairly innocuous ways, as disco gives way to hip-hop or stock analysts give way to algorithms; and some in fairly significantly ways, such as the exintinction of communism and capitalism. Social evolution is a big deal in terms of impact, but it gets little coverage.


Life Hiker said...

Maybe "social evolution" gets little or no coverage under that specific name, but it seems to me that it gets huge coverage under many names.

Take "global warming", which is a physical phenomenon that has only begun to be understood by scientists. Despite the youth of the science, millions of people have begun to integrate the potential impacts of global warming into their personal planning and their outlooks for their children and grandchildren. Society is evolving in response to this threat, and few observant people fail to notice this trend.

"Global Terrorism" is another, rather recent phenomenon, one of human origin. It's been made possible by the many inventions of the late 20th century - communications (both mass and personal), transportation, miniturization, and so on. The art of warfare is evolving in a dramatic way - so maybe the art of peace will need to evolve as well. That could be really good!

You would probably agree that, in general, the things that satisfy, or motivate, or anger individuals have not changed much over the centuries. Your "social evolution" seems to me to be about how subsets of humanity continue to find new and creative means to deal with problems they perceive are hindering them from achieving important objectives.

It's these objectives, which are often conflicting, and the means used to achieve them, that get all the attention. But the outcomes are social evolution.

Ron Davison said...

That's an interesting point. Natural evolution gets labeled as such; social evolution, by contrast, encompasses so many isues that it is rarely lableled as such.

I guess I still think that the topic deserves more recognition as such.

ThomasLB said...

Have you read any of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series? They're based on the premise that while you can't predict an individual's behavior, you can predict group behavior.

Ron Davison said...

I don't think so. I hesitate only because I read a fair bit of Asimov when I was in my mid-teens and I've forgotten most of it (and whatever I read would have been a fraction of what he wrote in any case).

I agree with the premise. Individuals have to find their way in the system but the society and its leaders have to change the system.