MacDonald Kevin - What Makes Western Culture Unique ?

Author : MacDonald Kevin
Title : Understanding Jewish Influence I : Background Traits for Jewish Activism
Year : 2003

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In general, cultural uniqueness could derive from either nature or nurture—the same old ageless dichotomy, but I think now we are in a better position to deal with these issues than in times past, and I will be arguing that both are important. Western cultures have experienced certain unique cultural transformations that cannot be predicted by any biological/evolutionary theory, but they also have had a unique evolutionary history. Western culture was built by people who differ genetically from those who have built the other civilizations and cultures of the world. In the following I will argue that Western cultures have a unique cultural profile compared to other traditional civilizations: 1. The Catholic Church and Christianity. 2. A tendency toward monogamy. 3. A tendency toward simple family structure based on the nuclear family. 4. A greater tendency for marriage to be companionate and based on mutual affection of the partners. 5. A de-emphasis on extended kinship relationships and its correlative, a relative lack of ethnocentrism. 6. A tendency toward individualism and all of its implications: individual rights against the state, representative government, moral universalism, and science. My background is in the field of evolutionary biology, and one of the first questions that struck me when I was exposed to the evolutionary theory of sex was "why are Western cultures monogamous?" The evolutionary theory of sex is quite simple: Females must invest greatly in reproduction - pregnancy, lactation, and often childcare require an extraordinary amount of time. As a result, the reproduction of females is highly limited. Even under the best of conditions women could have, say, 20 children. But the act of reproduction is cheap for men. As a result, males benefit from multiple mates, and it is expected that males with wealth and power should use their wealth and power to secure as many mates as possible. In short, intensive polygyny by wealthy, powerful males is an optimal male strategy i.e., it is behavior that optimizes individual male reproductive success. This theory is well supported. There are strong associations between wealth and reproductive success in traditional societies from around the world. Wealthy, powerful males are able to control very large numbers of females. The elite males of all of the traditional civilizations around the world, including those of China, India, Muslim societies, the New World civilizations, ancient Egypt and ancient Israel, often had hundreds and even thousands of concubines. In sub-Saharan Africa, women were generally able to rear children without male provisioning, and the result was low-level polygyny in which males competed to control as many women as possible. In all of these societies, the children from these relationships were legitimate. They could inherit property and were not scorned by the public. The Emperor of China had thousands of concubines, and the Sultan of Morocco is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having 888 children. To be sure, there are other societies where monogamy is the norm. It is common to distinguish ecologically imposed monogamy from socially imposed monogamy. In general, ecologically imposed monogamy is found in societies that have been forced to adapt to very harsh ecological conditions such as deserts and arctic conditions.1 Under such harsh conditions, it is impossible for males to control additional females because the investment of each male must be directed to the children of one woman. The basic idea is that under harsh conditions a woman would be unable to rear children by herself but would require provisioning from a male. If these conditions persisted for an evolutionarily significant time, one might expect to find that the population would develop a strong tendency toward monogamy. In fact, one might imagine that the tendency toward monogamy could become so strong that it would result in psychological and cultural tendencies toward monogamy even in the face of altered ecological conditions. Later I will propose that this is exactly what happened in the evolution of Europeans. Richard Alexander used the term "socially imposed monogamy" (SIM) to refer to situations where monogamy occurs even in the absence of harsh ecological conditions.2 Harsh conditions imply that men are needed to directly provision children, but in other situations we expect and generally find that males compete to have as many wives as they can command. ...

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