4.2.5 Culture and its Evolution

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/425.htm)

Public morality evolves with experience.  People develop customs and expectations for each other’s behaviour; these form part of their cultural identity, which is affected by their shared experiences and changes in circumstances:

  • Societies evolve through shared experience of events; wars, revolutions, famines and plagues are just a few examples.
  • They are also influenced by ideas: by esteemed thinkers and leaders, by the emergence of religious groups and by what is happening elsewhere in the world.
  • People develop in their economic prosperity and social stability, which has the effect of gradually moving the focus of their concerns and their moral attitudes. This was described by Abraham Maslow, in his concept of the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.[1] He described how mankind’s first requirements are “physiological”: the need for food and drink.  Putting one’s children to work may seem not only reasonable but necessary if the alternative is starvation.  “Safety” needs come next.  And people have to feel well-fed, secure and respected by others before they can freely strive for “self-actualisation”.  Societies reflect the people in them, so they follow a similar trajectory in their concerns.
  • Immigrants introduce new customs and traditions, which add to a society’s existing diversity.

These changes alter a society’s culture and its shared identity.  People’s perspectives alter.  Without any conscious negotiation, their expectations for each other’s behaviour gradually evolve.  And each time they consciously negotiate, their starting points will have altered.  The moral values of any society are validated by its degree of contentment.

If cultural change is very rapid in a particular area, though, a political response might be required to help allay people’s fears and avoid creating opportunities for troublemakers to stir up divisions between cultural groups (6.7.8).

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014


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[1] Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ was described in a paper published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.  It subsequently appeared in his book Motivation and Personality.  The paper was available in March 2018 at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm and an Internet search revealed numerous summaries, including Wikipedia.