If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out through writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.

Anais Nin

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fear and Follow: A Narrative History of Cultural Evolution


     The dividing line partitioning protestant congregations which sponsor "Hell House" and similar activities from textbook classification as Cult organizations  is narrow and drawn with a palsy: missing, or at least not present as a rule, is the charismatic personality at it's helm, and further as an icon. A retrospective of tragic sectarian delusion will surely include more grizzled and eerie personal portraits than stately edifice or messianic totem. Despite this distinction, Fundamental Christianity achieves the same metastatic influence by directing laud and obedience to a wax-work authority whom they totally control--pay no attention to the man behind the tabernacle.
     Obey, and fear. On your own life you have no rights, and your only emancipation from slavery to tangible mortality lies will come through indenturing yourself to an immortal fabrication.


     On the whole, humans start establishing control over their offspring’s behavior by imposing fear as soon as, in some ways before, their progeny can comprehend. There is a reaction to fear that could be summed up as reflex (call it “Fight or Flight”).   


    Somewhat more compellingly, there is, lurking as if in physiological remission, the oft-called vestigial limbic system, which appears to churn out mists of affect that condense and swamp our countenance. Our brain still bristles with the residual panic of terror-stricken nights, just down from the trees, now huddled together at a cave’s mouth in coiled apprehension; iridescent flickers of green threaten in pairs to emerge from the arboreal scrim and impale flesh on cutlass incisor.

We seem to have retained a neural adaptation of the early Pleistocene (late Pliocene), a phonographic time capsule that still scratchily warbles the low staccato rumble preceding the saber-tooth’s jagged roar.
The selective value of both can easily be inferred. Though an academic assessment would demand far more complex explication of labyrinthine dynamics, the survival advantages to reflex aversion to harm and a tendency toward hyper-vigilance when aware of environmental threat are self-evident.

    A clear fitness plus can also be seen in a proclivity to accept warnings of harm and danger without the requirement of experimentation. Adaptive strategies with high success would naturally be imitated by a creature that seeks to quantify his universe with symbols. Imitation through mimicking of observed behavior can be very imperfect. Trained ballerinas are often able to shadow a full movement after one or two careful studies in action; but survival behaviors are much more complex than the repetition of motor functions-in any case, information tranferred clearly by abstract means eliminates much of the fitness cost of apeing our way through novel activities.

      A predisposed bias to implicitly trust his-or-her parents is understandable without trouble through Dawkins description of kin selection. Mothers have a fifty percent stake in their offspring’s survival, in terms of common alleles between genomes.

    Kin selection factors loosely through a few tiers of consanguinity, but genic selection doesn't account for sociality within the larger community or between ethnically distinct cultures. 
     Just as there is an advantage for a modern businessman to have a means to communicate and investigate ideas and information transnationally, early man would have enjoyed a similar leg-up through exchanging knowledge and technology between tribes-a reciprocal sociality of informational commerce.
      The caveat: why would it not be a dangerous strategy to place confidence in the survival advice of your competition for survival?
     As mentioned, the genetic fitness of close familial relationships is attributible to mean selection on largely a shared gene pool (i.e., gene frequency and phenotype between immediate family members will bear many commonalities). Fitness for the individual selectionist is a quality to describe the recurrence of alleles, understood and referred to as genes, relative to the synergy of selective influences in the environment (something to consider in our embarkment finally, I think, on a clinically therapeutic navigation of the genome, a restating of a Dawkinsian pathetic fallacy):

     We do not have genes to provide for our survival and prosperity. Genes, through the emergence of "design from chaos without the aid of design" (Dennett) coalesce into the panacaea of organisms as on earth because such a posture best befit the imperatives of their formative circumstance.

Next: "The Rise of Culture"


  1. So very sad to see parents passing on a legacy of needless fear to younger generations.

  2. A broad secular education can undermine dogmatic religious faith. Knowing this many conservative Christians choose to isolate their children intellectually through homeschooling or enrolling them in religious private schools and Christian colleges. Such children can reach adulthood without ever being challenged to think critically about their religious or political beliefs. In some cases they are recruited directly from Christian colleges into republican politics for that very reason.