Culture and the Evolution of Norms

Via Political Theory Daily, Paul Erlich and Simon Levin outline some first steps in developing an integrated evolution theory of norms as a first step towards understanding cultural evolution.

“There is a long-recognized need both to understand the process of human cultural evolution per se and to find ways of altering its course (an operation in which institutions as diverse as schools, prisons, and governments have long been engaged). In a world threatened by weapons of mass destruction and escalating environmental deterioration, the need to change our behavior to avoid a global collapse has become urgent. A clear understanding of how cultural changes interact with individual actions is central to informing democratically and humanely guided efforts to influence cultural evolution. While most of the effort to understand that evolution has come from the social sciences, biologists have also struggled with the issue. . . [B]iologists and social scientists need one another and must collectively direct more of their attention to understanding how social norms develop and change. Therefore, we offer this review of the challenge in order to emphasize its multidisciplinary dimensions and thereby to recruit a broader mixture of scientists into a more integrated effort to develop a theory of change in social norms—and, eventually, cultural evolution as a whole.”

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