Humanity is now confronted with new challenges unlike anything we have experienced before. Our evolved history as a species has not prepared us for what is happening now. It is time to start seeing culture as a complex system that evolves according to Darwinian principles.
What do international terrorism, human-caused climate change, and the rise of speculative bubbles in finance have in common? At their heart, each is fundamentally a cultural phenomenon that is often confused with its more superficial elements associated with religion, politics, technology, or economics. There are hidden “governing dynamics” that arise as ideologies and worldviews, diverse modes of social organization with associated norms and practices, and the foundational ontologies and epistemologies that define what is real and knowable for a given society.
Humanity has gone from subsistence living where our daily survival was a struggle to weave healthy relationships with the natural ecosystems around us to one of living within social niches of our own creation. Long ago, it was rocks carved into spear tips that determined our ability to acquire food. Now it is the use of fossil fuels extracted by large machines, which are then sent to refineries for modification and redistribution, eventually finding their way into chemical fertilizers used to extract nutrients from the soil.
All of this arose through the processes of cultural evolution.
Every major challenge in the world today is deeply and profoundly cultural — and cultural systems are always complex. They are comprised of many interacting parts with critical interdependencies that are not reducible to usefully meaningful modular parts. There are threshold effects, phase transitions, chaotic attractors, various kinds of self-organization, and all are deeply dynamic and emergent as evolutionary processes at the intersection of culture and the environment.
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