Abundant nature's long-term openness to humane biocultural designs

Zygon 44 (2):355-388 (2009)
Abstract
Not by Genes Alone excellently explains Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd's important ideas about human gene-culture co-evolution to a broader audience but remains short of a larger vision of civilization. Several decades ago Ralph Burhoe had seen that fertile possibility in Richerson and Boyd's work. I suggest getting past present reductionistic customs to a scientific perspective having an integral place for virtue. Subsystem agency is part of this view, as is the driving role of abundance, whose ultimate origins are in the mysterious, quintessentially energetic Big Bang. The free-rider problem may not impede higher social organization as inexorably as Richerson and Boyd believe; "the tragedy" of enervating leakage from "the commons" may often be less influential than an invigorating flow of externalities to the commons. Eukaryotic origins mark the origin of inevitable wider sharing as higher living systems evolve. I use a metaphor of flesh and spirit in drawing a parallel between that turning point and the wide sharing that occurs in civilization. This helps solve the enigma of the demographic transition. Why do so many productive participants in first-world societies severely restrict their selfish-gene reproduction to below replacement birth rate? It is not because culture is maladaptive but because civilization's brain and womb have become partially differentiated in distinct populations. Considerations of social boundaries, myths of sacrifice, and human creativity help in understanding how human social evolution taps potentials present in reality. Human beings' diverse vigorous activities—the organized ones and the inadvertent ones, the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad, the carefully thoughtful and the merely playful—provide the ground of being, or primordial soup, for cultural entities that transcend our intentions. If we have it right for the most part and are fortunate, we will continue to emerge at higher levels.
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