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A Theory of Modern Cultural Shifts and Meltdowns

Michael E. Hochberg
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 271, Supplement 5 (Aug. 7, 2004), pp. S313-S316
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4142837
Page Count: 4
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A Theory of Modern Cultural Shifts and Meltdowns
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Abstract

Many cultural attributes such as adornment, language slang, mannerisms and rituals are thought to have little or no influence on individual survival and reproduction, functioning rather as markers of cultural identity that promote group cohesion. Here, I show that if cultural markers are under weak selection and subject to loss or substitution, then the breakdown of cultural cohesiveness may proceed without stabilizing reactions until many or most of a culture's identifiers are forever lost. This may culminate in a 'cultural meltdown', whereby the culture is caught in a vortex of ever-decreasing membership and insufficient selection against the accumulation of unfamiliar markers. In progressively altering the topology of communication from diffusion to broadcasting, globalization may be both accelerating the erosion of cultural identities and amplifying dominance behaviours above their normal adaptive levels.

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