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The Domestication of LanguageCultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal$
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Daniel Cloud

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231167925

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231167925.001.0001

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The Problem of Maladaptive Culture

The Problem of Maladaptive Culture

(p.143) 6 The Problem of Maladaptive Culture
The Domestication of Language

Daniel Cloud

Columbia University Press

The idea that cultural evolution might not always increase the Darwinian fitness of the organisms whose culture is evolving is fairly old. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus Feldman (1981) were discussing it more than two decades ago. The basic problem is that cultural behaviors are more numerous than human individuals and seem capable of reproducing more quickly than humans can. If it can compete with us at all, our culture should be able to out-evolve us in the same way an influenza virus does. Why hasn't our culture defeated us in this evolutionary arms race, if it hasn't already? This chapter examines the problem of maladaptive culture and what humans do about it. It argues that the quantity and quality of culling matter a lot, that nothing like the cumulative culture we see all around us could exist without a fairly sophisticated filtering mechanism to clean out some of the most dangerous or futile of our behaviors and practices.

Keywords:   cultural evolution, culture, evolution, cultural behaviors, maladaptive culture, filtering, cultural practices

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