Agner Fog: Cultural selection © 1999
5. Cultural selection throughout the times
When humans began to cultivate the soil and raise cattle, they started a new evolution which has since influenced every aspect of human life. Previously, humans had lived as hunters and gatherers, but now different ways of living were invented. As explained on page 60, this invention was probably not selected for until an increased population density made it necessary to produce food in a more intensive manner than just gathering the fruits of nature. Another possibility is that agriculture was first introduced on the demand of a powerful chief who wanted to create a basis for increasing the population of his chiefdom for strategic reasons.
The theory of regal selection plays an important role here. A war between two tribes may lead to the result that the strongest group conquers the weaker tribe and incorporates the latter under its command, so that the two tribes become united into one bigger society under a common leadership. The biggest groups - and those which are ruled by the most despotic chiefs - will be the strongest and thus have the potential for growing even bigger. Through this self perpetuating process, tribes and independent villages have been united into chiefdoms, chiefdoms have become states, states have become kingdoms, and finally, through an endless series of war and cruelty, enormous empires (Carneiro 1991, Spencer, C.S. 1998). Agriculture has played an important role in this regal development because it has made possible an increased population density and hence a significant military superiority.
It is difficult to tell what initially set off this self-amplifying process of political integration. Is it agriculture which has given rise to a steep population growth, or is it overpopulation and famine that has necessitated the introduction of agriculture? Is it whimsical hostilities between chiefs of different tribes that has started a series of ever bigger wars and retaliations, or is it failing hunting luck that has forced a hungry population into war? Anthropologist Robert Carneiro thinks that the evolution towards ever bigger political units has started in places where small, very fertile, areas were surrounded by less attractive areas. The population has been concentrated on the most favorable areas, which made contests over the attractive territories very likely (Carneiro 1970).
The population density in infertile areas must necessarily be low, and the big distances makes war difficult or impossible. A kalyptic equilibrium may therefore be sustained in such sparsely populated regions for millennia, whereas there are ample possibilities for regal development in densely populated fertile areas. The border areas of a fertile territory particularly invite to conflict. Outside the fertile area live hunters or nomads who are attracted by the allure of the conspicuous prosperity of the agriculturalists. The peasants, in turn, are tempted by the immense, almost unused areas outside. The two groups may attempt to conquer each other's land, only to find that the captured land is unsuited for their way of life.
The concentration of the population in towns has made possible an increased specialization and division of labor, and hence the development of trade, crafts, technology, and finally industry. This development has introduced new parameters of competition in the cultural selection: food production technology, arms technology, and communication technology. Improved food production methods have enabled a more intensive utilization of natural resources and consequently a still higher population density. Improved weapons have led to military superiority. And improved means of transport and communication have made it possible to unite bigger areas under a common government.
This continued integration and regalization has taken place in Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa with few intermissions since the end of the stone age. But there is a limit to everything. In antiquity and the middle ages there was a limit to how big empires could be, and the limits were, first and foremost, set by the means of communication. It was difficult to control a war that took place many days' journey from the palace of the emperor, and it was difficult to motivate people to sacrifice big resources on a war that took place so far away that it seemed totally irrelevant.
When an empire has reached the limits to its growth, then regalization stops and kalyptization commences. Only a despotic government is able to keep together such a huge empire and maintain the necessary discipline and military strength. The population can hardly see the necessity of a highly tyrannical rule, so they start to rebel. When the emperor reluctantly begins to loosen his iron hand, then the internal conflicts start to flare up. The population suddenly appears to be far less homogeneous than previously believed. All those sub-groups which, one by one, had been incorporated into the empire, have preserved some of their religious or ethnic identity, and this identity is reinforced by their urge for independence and their rebellion against the despotism of the ruler. The population becomes divided and different sub-groups fight for independence. The empire starts to disintegrate and the monarch has a hard time trying to suppress the rebellious groups and keep his empire together. In the meantime, perhaps, a new kingdom nearby has started to grow. The old empire, which has now begun to disintegrate and kalypticize, is an easy victim to the expansive efforts of the new growing kingdom. The citizens do not wholeheartedly defend their country when attacked by the army of this new empire. They cannot imagine that the new ruler could possibly be more despotic and cruel than the old one, and many capitulate to the new emperor whom they regard as their liberator. In this way a new empire grows. Part of the old empire is incorporated into the new one, and the rest is split up into smaller states15.
History shows many examples of the rise and fall of mighty empires. For example, many historians have pondered over the fall of Rome, but seen in the light of the cultural r/k-theory, it is easy to explain. When an empire has reached the limits of its growth then kalyptization sets in and the empire is weakened. After a period of beginning kalyptization the realm is either conquered by a new empire or simply splits up into smaller states . The recent breakdown of the Soviet empire is a proof that this history still repeats itself.
Cultural selection has been dominated by regalization since the stone age, reaching its zenith around the end of the nineteenth century. By then all the continents had been colonized and further expansion possibilities were virtually exhausted. Now, lacking other possibilities, the great powers have begun to compete in conquering the outer space, but, since outer space is not habitable, this battle has only symbolic significance.
Cultural evolution is clearly much faster than genetic evolution. This has given humans an enormous lead over other animals in the ability to adapt to changing living conditions. The unsurpassed capacity for culture in the human race has resulted in an enormous increase in adaptability. This capacity should be regarded as a metaadaptation because it enables new adaptations.
The first condition for cultural evolution to arise in early times has been the existence of an effective reproduction mechanism. What was needed was an information carrier that could transmit an arbitrary instruction from generation to generation and thus be an effective substitute for the gene. This is where religion comes in. Religion is indeed such a mechanism that makes possible the continuation of arbitrary rules, instructions, and prohibitions. I will therefore claim that religion - or rather the propensity to have a religion - has arisen by gene/culture coevolution as part of our capacity for culture because of its high value as metaadaptation. Having explained the emergence of a cultural reproduction mechanism, we have no problems explaining the two other factors necessary for cultural evolution to be possible: innovation and selection. The conclusion of this argument is that early man has evolved the ability and propensity for having a religion because this is the basis of a metaadaptation that has since had an enormous influence on the evolution of the human race.
When foreign religions seem strange and foolish, seen with contemporary scientific eyes, it is worth remembering that they have an important function:
"This cultural inheritance can, on evolutionary grounds, be regarded as adaptive, and treated with respect. Note that when an evolutionary biologist encounters some ludicrous and puzzling form of animal life he approaches it with a kind of awe, certain that behind the bizarre form lies a functional wisdom that he has yet to understand. I believe the case for sociocultural evolution is strong enough so that psychologists and other social scientists, when considering an apparently bizarre, incomprehensible feature of their own social tradition, or that of another culture, should approach it with a similar awe, expecting that when eventually understood, when our theories have caught up with it, that seemingly bizarre superstition will turn out to make an adaptive sense. I find such an attitude totally missing in psychology and psychiatry today." (Campbell 1975).
For the same reason I find it unwise to characterize the religion or ideology of a people as false consciousness. The consciousness of a population is an important part of the social structure, and if you change the consciousness you also change the social structure. Thus regarding social consciousness as functional, it makes no sense to discuss whether one set of cognitions is more true than another (Foucault 1980:118).
"The most barbarous and the most fantastic rites and the strangest myths translate some human need, some aspect of life, either individual or social. The reasons with which the faithful justify them may be, and generally are, erroneous; but the true reasons do not cease to exist, and it is the duty of science to discover them. In reality, then, there are no religions which are false. All are true in their own fashion; all answer, though in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence." (Durkheim 1915:2).
A good example of a consciousness which can be neither true nor false is identity. Identity claims are tautological. "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." (Thomas & Thomas 1938; Merton 1995). In the nineteenth century Europe people were divided into christians and pagans. Faith was an important part of people's identity. Then came Karl Marx who rejected religion and made working men conscious about their economic oppression. This so-called consciousness-raising meant that the religious identity criterion was supplanted by an economic identity criterion with the result that new alliances were formed and new conflicts arose, leading in the long run to a substantial change in the social structure. Any identity criterion is arbitrary and can therefore not be assessed on its truth value, only on its function. Any talk about true or false consciousness in this connection is pure rhetoric.
Religion is a primitive form of regulation of a society, the first step above the hierarchical system of social animals. Religious rituals showing submission to the gods have been compared with the rituals that social animals use to show submission to a superior conspecific (Morris 1967).
Religion has been an all-encompassing mechanism for regulation and control in primitive societies. All aspects of human life were integrated into religion to such an extent that it does not make sense to distinguish between religion and culture in such societies. With the cultural evolution and humans' growing knowledge, rational selection has gradually gained more and more importance over other less effective selection mechanisms, whereby society gradually has become more and more secularized. More and more of those functions which previously were integrated as part of religion have now been segregated as autonomous sectors: politics, economy, administration, judicial system, education, technology, medicine, science, social care, psychological care, etc. The religion looses more and more of its functions and is finally reduced to a curious appendix.
Like an exponential function, cultural evolution has been running faster and faster and the slow genetic evolution has had no possibility for keeping up. Our instinctive urges are still almost the same as they were in primitive man many millennia ago and this gives rise to some anachronistic phenomena in our psyche (Barkow, et.al. 1992). Certain characteristics from ancient natural religions still pop up from time to time in the modern society: in the initiation rites of certain organizations, in protest- and back-to-nature movements, in users of hallucinogenic drugs, in science-fiction movies, music videos, alternative medicine, healing, astrology, etc. Even the most convinced atheist who relies on science for explaining everything cannot help reading the horoscopes in colored magazines even though he claims not to believe in astrology. The deeply rooted tendency in man for believing in the supernatural is not easily discarded.
Our knowledge of prehistoric religions is very limited. Archaeologists may find bones, tools and pottery, but not music, dance, rituals, or myths. Most religious artifacts have been made of perishable materials (especially in kalyptic cultures) for technical and economic reasons, and possibly also because the process of production has been more important than the result (Gill 1982). Whatever religious works of art early cultures may have left over have probably been systematically destroyed by later regal cultures in their zeal to wipe out all other religions than their own. Our knowledge about the religions of primitive hunter-gatherers is therefore mainly based on small cultures which have survived in the more remote and inaccessible areas of the Earth until the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there is hardly any pristine hunter-gatherer cultures left that are not in some way influenced by western colonizers, missionaries, and businessmen. The very presence of modern people has a high influence on primitive cultures. Their religion develops into a crisis cult as a reaction to the threat from the modern westerners and their power and wealth (Gill 1982).
Primitive peoples believed in spirits rather than gods. Everything in nature and the sky had spirits. The worshipping of ancestor spirits ensured continuity and stability in the culture. Even the most everyday things like huts, tools and food were holy or loaded with religious significance. Words had magic power. The most important function of religion was to organize daily life. All actions were integrated into the belief system to such a degree that religion and culture were indistinguishable in these societies.
Religion did not only provide the worldview and the perception of time and space. It also controlled the relationship between the hunter and his prey. Animals were regarded as more intelligent than humans, and some peoples believed that the animals deliberately let themselves kill in order to feed the humans. Myths, taboos, and complicated rituals ensured that the hunters never killed more animals than they needed. Of course, this limitation had an important survival function because it prevented exploitation and exhaustion of the natural resources.
Various rites of passage marked the transitions from child to adult, marriage, death, etc., and were therefore important for the organization of social life and the allocation of roles. Both transition rites, hunting ceremonies, ceremonies for exorcising evil spirits from the sick, and other ceremonies were joined by the whole community so as to strengthen community and solidarity and take care of the life and health of all individuals.
The introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry meant a radical change in the way of life and consequently also in the religion. Whereas the relationship of a primitive hunter to his prey was as the receiver of a gift, the peasant was able to produce his own food. Humans no longer regarded themselves as inferior to the animals, but as their equals, and later as superior to the animals, and finally as their masters.
The religious significance of animals was reduced in favor of the significance of the vegetation, the soil, and the sun. Religion became interested in fertility, and hence also in femininity and sexuality. The perception of time also changed. A more precise measuring of the seasons was needed for the sake of the cultivation and the crops. The cyclic conception of time was reinforced: birth, death, reincarnation, the seasons, and the renewal of the crops.
Gradually, as humans got more and more power over their own living conditions, spirits and animal gods were replaced by, or transformed into, anthropomorphous gods. These gods became more powerful as power became an important concept in the daily life of humans. The gods had partially replaced legendary figures and mythological characters as objects for human projections. The increasing division of labor in society was also reflected in the realm of the gods: Priests, warriors, peasants, and tradesmen each got their own gods. The division of labor and increasing political integration lead to a complicated hierarchy and increasing distance between top and bottom. This hierarchy was reflected in a similar hierarchy among the gods and in particular an increased distance between gods and humans. As explained on page 76, there must be compatibility between the different spheres of a culture. In the evolution of religion there must therefore be compatibility between the realm of the gods and the realm of human life and this compatibility is indeed seen in the many similarities between the life of the gods and the life of the humans.
The polytheistic realm of gods has a number of psychological functions that resemble the functions of tales, theater, and children's role-play. The world of the gods resembles the world of the mortals of good and evil. The gods are used as objects for projection of the various roles in society and conflicts between them. By letting imaginary conflicts take place between the gods, humans have provided for themselves a projection screen that allows them to interpret, justify, and work through conflicts in society. The gods are role models for human behavior, and their behaviors have been elevated to norms by the idolizing and worshipping of these gods. The gods thereby become not only projection objects but also objects of introjection and identification. The role models represented by the gods become internalized whereby social roles become standardized. The loyalty to the gods is confirmed by frequent sacrifices.
Anthropomorphous gods are more suited than spirits and animal gods as identification models, and polytheism is therefore a more effective tool for controlling a complex society. The polytheistic societies have gradually developed a realm of authoritarian and bellicose gods as a tool in the regalization described in the beginning of this chapter.
Polytheism is, however, far from the most regal form of religion. Compared to monotheism and pantheism, polytheism is fairly kalyptic. The polytheistic world of gods can certainly be used to justify a hierarchical and militant society, but it does not motivate ethnocentrism. Every town or every tribe may have its own local god. There is no theoretical limit to the number of gods. When polytheists meet a foreign people, they will regard the gods of the foreigners as either identical to their own or as local gods - but not as false. Polytheism can therefore no more than animism justify the suppression of other religions.
Another trait that limits the regality of polytheistic societies is the conflict between the gods. The gods may fight with one another, and there is no natural law deciding who is to win. Similarly, internal conflicts in a human society may be solved by fights. Nothing prevents slaves or other oppressed people from attempting to revolt. Even though a king can justify his power by claiming to stand nearer the gods than anybody else, he is not immune to attack. It is always possible to overthrow a king and install somebody else. In other words: polytheism cannot prevent the internal selection in a society, and therefore cannot prevent kalyptization.
We know far more about the polytheist religions than about primitive animism. Polytheistic empires have left many marks in our cultural heritage. Polytheism had its prosperity in antiquity when political units became bigger and bigger. This concentration of power in connection with a strong hierarchy made it possible for religious and political men of power to create cultural artifacts of a greatness never seen before. The big hierarchical differences were reflected in the architecture: barrows, megaliths, pyramids, temples and palaces. The increased wealth and division of labor has also given priests, philosophers, poets and sculptors the time and resources necessary to produce works of art of impressive proportions.
Monotheism is the most regal of all known forms of religion. The single god has created the earth and the humans. He is almighty and demands unconditional obedience from all humans. If we acknowledge the realm of the supernatural as a model for human life, as explained in the above discussion of polytheism, then there can be no doubt that the almighty God is the archetype of an absolute monarch. The relationship between God and the mortals is a model for the relationship between the king and his subjects. The king has been chosen and blessed by God, and the demand for obedience to God will, in practice, mean obedience to God's representatives on Earth, i.e. the king, the clergy, and the religious commandments. Monotheism is therefore the best suited form of religion for justifying and stabilizing an absolute monarchy or a strong concentration of power. Monotheism is also a patriarchal religion because God is male and there are no goddesses.
Another important trait that makes monotheism regal is the unique intolerance towards other religions. Polytheists regard the gods of other peoples as no less real than their own, and pantheists accept that divinity may appear or be portrayed in any shape, including any figure that other religions may attribute to their gods. Monotheists, on the other hand, deny the existence of all other gods than their own and regard it as a mortal sin to worship these non-existing gods. As a consequence of this, monotheists seem quite disinclined to listen to the religious messages of foreign people. It is obvious that this unsurpassed fanaticism has a regal function in that it reduces the probability that a monotheist will convert to another religion, and increases his motivation to attempt to convert others to his own faith.
The separation between God and mortals is total in monotheism. Time is conceived as linear, beginning at the creation and ending at the day of judgment. Monotheists seldom believe in reincarnation because this would be inconsistent with the linear conception of time.
The three big monotheistic religions, judaism, christianity, and islam, all have their origin in Asia around year 600 B. C. when there was incessant conflict between nomads and agriculturalists.
The god Yahweh was a local god for the tribe of Abraham. Abraham made an agreement of exclusivity with Yahweh according to which Yahweh would protect Abraham and his descendants on the condition that they never worshipped any other gods than him. The existence of other gods was not denied, they were only not to be worshipped. When the yahvists entered the land of Canaan they met the cult of the god El, and Yahweh became identical to El. This combined god got a cosmic dimension, which he could not possibly have had when he was only the god of a family or clan. Gradually, the existence of other gods was denied, and the first monotheistic religion, judaism, was born (Eliade 1976).
At this time there was an iranian religion, founded by Zarathustra, which was not strictly monotheistic, but which had a high god, Mazda, who was almighty. Judaism has copied the conception of Paradise, Hell, and judgment day from mazdaism. This conception has turned out to be a very effective tool for controlling the population (Richerson & Boyd 1989, Dawkins 1976, Lynch 1996). The belief that God is a strict judge who sees and hears everything and who punishes all humans after death means that no action escapes God's attention and no sin remains unpunished. The perfect regal means of force. No king or emperor can possibly control what everybody does day and night, but the fear of God's punishment can make people control themselves, and self-control is the most effective form of control:
"The peculiar stability of the apparatus of mental self restraint which emerges as a decisive trait built into the habits of every "civilized" human being, stands in the closest relationship to the monopolization of physical force and the growing stability of the central organs of society." (Elias, N. 1982: 235, see also cit. of Sumner & Keller chapt. 2.2)
After the crucifixion of Jesus, christianity broke away from judaism. The jews did not believe in Jesus and the christians scorned the jews for having crucified Jesus. The christians went out to the entire World and proselytized, as Jesus had commanded them to do, and gradually they won many believers.
Approximately six hundred years later, the prophet Mohammed realized that a religion which could unite the Arabs was needed. As a travelling trader he was acquainted with the religions of other peoples, and in particular he was fascinated by judaism and christianity. On the basis of these religions he founded islam, incorporating and reinterpreting several elements from other religions. Among other things, he identified the arabian high god Allah with the jewish and christian God, and the sanctuary in Mecca was made sacred to the muslims. The political proficiency of Mohammed was impressive, and over a few years he gathered a considerable host of adherents.
In the year 624 A.D. his army won a battle over a numerically much superior force, and from that time on the holy war, jihad, had become an effective means for the propagation of islam. After the death of Mohammed a dispute arose over who should be his successor, and in the year 680 a caliph killed Hussein, the grandson of the prophet. This led to a division of the muslims into two groups: the shiites who believed in the killed Hussein, and the sunnis who supported the ruling caliph. These two groups have fought against each other ever since, and this conflict has contributed to the maintenance of the regality of the muslims.
Even though the three monotheistic religions have the same origin, their strategies in the process of cultural selection are rather different. Since the jews regard themselves as God's chosen people it makes no sense for a jew to proselytize. A jew is defined as somebody who is born of a jewish mother. Few people convert to judaism, except when marrying a jew. On the other hand, many jews have converted to other religions. Consequently, the only way judaism can propagate is by the procreation of the jews. Judaism has strict sexual morals that put the jews under the obligation to raise many children. Judaism is a law-religion including precise precepts for the correct way of living.
The jewish people have lived most of their time as persecuted and exiled. They have got by with the help of a strong solidarity and an effective educational system. As a group, the jews have been too scattered to be a real political power. Not until the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 have the jews been gathered in a number sufficient to be a potential political and military power. Centuries of persecution have led to a regality which lately has been evident in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. History shows numerous examples where the regality that a group develops in a defensive situation can be easily applied offensively when the possibility arises. When an oppressed people comes to power they often become oppressors themselves, even though, from a moral point of view, you would expect them to show solidarity with other oppressed groups.
The cultural selection strategy of christianity is more regal than that of judaism. An important element in this strategy is that christianity commands its adherents to do missionary work (holy bible: Matthew 28:19). The missionary command has been a decisive factor enabling christianity, more than any other religion, to spread by means of missionary work, crusades, religious wars, conquests, colonizations, and a systematic persecution of everybody who believes differently, culminating during the inquisition. Few people have converted to christianity on their own initiative, but millions have been coaxed, enticed, or forced into conversion.
Such an immense regal expansion could of course only be possible with a strong and effective control of the community. The threat of Purgatory and Hell was truly a strong means, but it can be made even stronger by the introduction of a means of power unique to christianity, namely that of original sin. Christianity is the only religion to claim that all humans are sinners. Other religions may have rules that are hard to follow, but no other religion attaches importance to rules which are impossible to obey. The commandments tell the christians not to covet, but desire is so deeply rooted in human nature that it cannot be repressed. By making all humans sinners, christianity puts everybody into an eternal debt of gratitude to their god and to Jesus, who let himself be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the mortals. Christians can only hope for the mercy of God and must continually pray for forgiveness for their sins.
"But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more," (holy bible: Romans 5:20).
"For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (holy bible: Romans 7:22 24).
In order to control the inevitable sin, devout christians have isolated themselves in an ascetic monastic or convent life, far from all the temptations of the world. Asceticism is an effective means of self-control making the believer ready to obey the commands of the religion, no matter how much pain it may cost. Puritanism may reign, not only in convents and monasteries, but also outside where it has exactly the same function.
The ability of humans to submit to a leader is, according to ethological and psychological research, derived from the relationship between child and parent. Fear makes adult people seek protection under a strong leader just like fear makes a child seek protection by its parents. This mechanism is utilized by the christian religion: original sin and the threat of Hell create fear in the believer, and this fear creates an emotional attachment to God, who takes the role of a father (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1971, Freud 1948).
The strategy of islam is quite different from that of christianity. Original sin and asceticism is not found in islam. It is a law-religion built on simple rules that anybody can observe. Mohammed worked with impressive strategic skill on expanding his religious kingdom by wars as well as by negotiation. In this work he was repeatedly guided by revelations. It is impossible to know for sure how revelations manifest themselves to a prophet. To an outsider it may often look like religious leaders are deliberately defrauding their adherents by inventing arbitrary rules and principles and claim that they are guided by revelations, but in almost all cases they are probably rationalizing and honestly believing in their own principles. People can rationalize anything with religious arguments - even genocides. It is impossible to know whether these revelations were seen in the form of hallucinations like they have been in several other prophets in history. Neither can we know whether conscious or unconscious planning have been involved in these revelations or the interpretation thereof. But it is beyond doubt that Mohammed was an excellent strategist and that the strategy of islam was highly adapted to a military purpose.
Politics and religion are not separated in islam. The religious and political leaderships are one and the same. This makes government much more effective than in the christian countries where conflicts over authority between church and state may prevail.
A religious leader may gain the full commitment of the population to a war by declaring the war holy. Fundamentalist muslims have been seen flagellating themselves to the point of bleeding in religious processions in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeiny. Senseless as it may seem, this self torture does have an important function. It serves to accustom the young men to pain so that they can become brave soldiers in the holy war against the infidels. Altogether, religious ceremonies are one of the most important agents of islam. The strenuous praying ritual, which is repeated several times a day, functions as a kind of brain washing, keeping out any non-religious conception of the world. Fearless soldiers that can endure any pain and suffering are created by promises of Paradise and the glorification of martyrs.
The most important factor that prevents this quite regal religion from spreading more than it already has done is its conservativism. Islam is the youngest of the world religions, and hence it has not had sufficient time to adapt to the modern society. Islam is as regal and inflexible today as christianity was in the middle ages. The poor education of the muslims is certainly a protection against the atheist thoughts that modern science may stimulate, but it is also an impediment to technological development. The ban on lending money at interests (a rule that christianity has ignored since long ago) is another serious obstacle to economic development. It is almost hopeless for the islamic countries to compete on the conditions of a free market economy as long as they maintain the prohibitions against interests, unless they happen to have oil or other valuable natural resources in abundance.
The two oriental religions, buddhism and hinduism are, unlike the other world religions, pantheistic rather than monotheistic.
The fate of a person is, according to these religions, determined by his karma. The karma is a product of all the actions of a human and it follows the individual through numerous reincarnations. This world order ensures that everybody gets the fate he deserves without the need for intervention by a judging god.
The material world is regarded as an illusion. It is possible to lift away this illusion by means of yoga and spiritual exercises and get in contact with the divine, of which all are a part. Only thereby is it possible to free oneself from the eternal cycle of reincarnations and achieve moksa or nirvana, i.e. to unify with the divinity and cease to exist as an independent being.
The most important religion in India is hinduism. This religion has no founder, but has developed through the times. The hindus are divided in castes each having their role in society. People are born into a certain caste and it is forbidden to marry outside one's caste. This system preserves an ancient division of labor between priests, warriors, and producers. Even though the caste system was abolished by law in 1950 it is still effective.
Buddhism resembles hinduism in its conception of karma and reincarnation. The Universe is regarded as one huge being with buddha-nature. In the earthly world everything is suffering. This suffering can only be relieved by vanquishing the conception of being an independent individual, i.e. by total emptiness.
All the world religions are regal - otherwise they would not have become world religions. But the oriental religions are not quite as regal as the monotheistic religions, and their reproductive strategies in the cultural selection process are quite different. Most importantly, the oriental religions are tolerant towards people with differing beliefs. Even though a multiplicity of schools of thought exists within hinduism, there is seldom conflict between them. The divine is part of every human being and may assume any shape including the shapes that other religions attribute to their deities. There are therefore no idols or false prophets. There is nothing wrong with a hindu worshipping Jesus if he feels that he can best submit to the deity in this shape.
One controlling device that the oriental religions have in common with monotheism is that humans are punished for their misdeeds after death. After death monotheists end up in Purgatory, Hell, or Paradise, depending on how much they have sinned. Hindus are reincarnated into another caste, depending on their karma. Buddhists are also reincarnated, not in different castes, but in different worlds. In monotheism it is God who judges and punishes - in hinduism and buddhism it is the karma which, like a law of nature, decides the fate of every person. In monotheism no sin escapes detection by God's eye - in oriental religions no misdeed avoids setting traces in the person's karma. The end result is the same in both cases: self-control. When humans believe that every sin has consequences for themselves and that no misdeed can be hidden, then they are completely controlled by religion.
Even though all the world religions thus depend on the self-control of the individual, there are big differences between how the different religions utilize this power over humans in the service of the cultural reproduction. Unlike the monotheist worldview which functions as an archetype of centralist monarchy, the pantheist worldview implies an impetus to decentralization. The oriental religions are less bellicose. They do not initiate religious wars or crusades, and their missionary work is far less aggressive than that of christianity. Where the strategy of monotheism is to deny and fight all other religions, the strategy of pantheism is to mingle with other religions and influence them from inside like a virus. This is a more peaceful and less regal strategy because it functions by intra-societal selection.
Christianity sets up a number of commandments and rules that are difficult or even impossible to obey, but, unlike the oriental religions, it gives no effective direction for how to suppress one's sinful desires in order to obey the commandments of the religion. Hindus and buddhists, on the other hand, are taught yoga, meditation, and other psychotherapeutic techniques enabling them to renounce all pleasures and endure all the sufferings and misery of life. Where monotheism forces its adherents to resist their own desires and instincts, the oriental religions focus on a psychotherapy that directly influences and blurs the inner impulses whereby an intrapsychic conflict is avoided. The claim put forward by psychoanalyst C.G. Jung that religion is psychotherapy, is certainly confirmed by this subtle mechanism (Jung 1935, see also Freud 1948).
These religions have their highest potential for expansion in infertile areas where hard work is necessary for survival because they offer a life-long escape from reality by their repudiation of the material world. The famous words by Karl Marx that religion is the opium of the masses gets new relevance in the light of this interpretation. This reminds me of drug addiction which, even though it is not a religion, offers escape from reality to unhappy people, and which gains control by influencing people from inside.
The history of Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of the effectiveness of the non-violent strategy. In Johannesburg in South Africa he organized an insurrection against the suppression of indian guest workers by the white government. In order to prevent the introduction of identity cards he made his adherents make a holy pledge to refuse to register even if it should cost them prison or death. But they should never use violent means. The violence was left to their opponent. This policy proved so efficient that Gandhi later used it in India which, thanks to his efforts, gained independence in 1947. Gandhi's policy has served as model for many other non-violent liberation movements in the West.
None of the big religions known today were created in a single move. All the world religions contain traits from earlier religions, and syncretism is found everywhere (Eliade 1976). No founder of a religion has started from scratch. The prophet Mohammed, for example, was familiar with many different religions, and even though he founded islam on the basis of revelations, he included elements from several existing religions. Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo, both of whom have had considerable influence on hinduism, were both educated in England where they read the bible and were influenced by christian thought, which has left considerable marks in their teachings.
Even christianity, which consistently has fought against any other belief and any idolatry, is not pure monotheism though it claims to be so. The Holy Spirit is, in its essence, very much like a pantheistic deity. The trinity between God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is a polytheistic trait. Also the worshipping of prophets and archangels reminds us of polytheism, and the worshipping of saints reminds us of ancestor cults. But the best proof of polytheistic traits is the existence of the Devil. In all respects the Devil fits the polytheistic definition of a god: He is a non-earthly, immortal being who has influence on the profane world. He is even influenced by sacrifices, although, of course, it is a deadly sin to sacrifice to the Devil. An almighty God would never allow the existence of the Devil. Even the most archaic form of religion, animism, has survived in christianity. In the time of Jesus it was still believed that diseases were caused by evil spirits which should be exorcised, and the bible has many examples that Jesus and his disciples cure sick people by exorcising evil spirits.
But christianity still evolves, as do all religions, and exorcism is no longer a part of mainstream christianity. During periods of kalyptization in the christian world, many concepts have gradually faded away. For example, many christians no longer believe in Purgatory, Hell and the Devil.
Founders of religions, reformers, and prophets exist in all societies. The vast majority of them are forgotten, while only very few of them are believed and recognized and gain influence. This is an important selection process. Numerous new religions, sects, and religious movements have arisen, even in modern times, which proves that the selection process is still active. Many new religions arise in times of crisis or as reactions to radical changes in the society. In several cases, primitive peoples threatened by western civilization have developed a so-called crisis cult, the main function of which is to maintain the self-respect of the population confronted with the immensely rich and powerful westerners. Examples are the so-called cargo cults in Oceania and the ghost dance religion of the red indians (Gill 1982). The emergence of these crisis-cults is a clear example of parallel evolution in different cultures, which indicates that the law of cause and effect also applies to the evolution of religions.
New sects, which are often relatively regal, still arise in the modern society. In any society there will be some people who are easily influenced by regal devices, and these people constitute the resources that make the existence of a regal sect possible. Any sect that has found an effective means for recruiting new members, i.e. a niche, will be able to spread whatever its ideological purpose. In fact a sect need not have any other purpose than spreading. One such example is the Jehovah's witnesses. This sect makes considerable demands on its members and taxes a substantial amount of their time and money. These resources are mainly used for two purposes: recruiting new members by diligent missionary work, and holding on to the members they already have by attending to their faith with frequent biblical studies, services, etc.
As an instance of ecclesiastical self criticism, Dean Kelley has examined which religious communities in the USA are progressing, and which have a declining membership. His conclusion was that strict churches which concentrate on nurturing the faith of their members by providing worship ceremonies have progressed at the expense of those denominations which use more resources on social and humanitarian work (Kelley 1978). This confirms the effectiveness of the regal strategy. Kelley has difficulties finding a connection between the growth of strict churches and other social and historical conditions, but psychologist Stephen Sales has found just such a connection. Sales has shown that authoritarian sects progress in times of economic crisis, whereas non-authoritarian churches succeed in prosperous times (Sales 1972, see also chapt. 4.7).
This shows that there are niches for regal as well as kalyptic religious movements. The orientally inspired "therapeutic" sects which were flourishing in the 1960's and 1970's were hardly as regal as the christian sects. They were a result of a reaction against the materialist society and a symptom of a kalyptization of society in those prosperous years. As long as supernatural beliefs can resist the convincing logic of science, we will see that, in kalyptic times, traditional religions, whose principal function is to control the population, are increasingly being replaced by a multitude of new therapeutic movements which have, as their main function, making people happy, i.e. astrology, alternative medicine, healing, meditation, etc. In accordance with their relatively kalyptic nature, these movements are so decentralized and unorganized that you cannot speak of sects, even though they may be based on supernatural beliefs.
Political leaders have always used political as well as religious devices for controlling the population, but in modern times the importance of religion has been weakened as science has taken over more and more of its functions. Religious arguments have been replaced by political, ideological, or scientific arguments. With industrialization and urbanization the bourgeoisie got more power at the expense of the aristocracy. The ideology of the bourgeoisie were couched in a scientific discourse about normality and human nature, so that what previously had been bolstered with moral and religious arguments now was presented as indisputable scientific facts. This definition of reality was regarded as natural. It was an anonymous ideology which enabled the bourgeoisie to take over the cultural and moral leadership (Ehn & Löfgren 1982). The cultural class struggle between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was primarily fought at the symbolic level as a fight over titles, honor, and ideologies (Bourdieu 1979). The two classes competed on self-discipline and stilted manners. In victorian times, the social facade was very important, with the emphasis put on correctness and moderation in everything from economics to emotions. Everything bestial, vulgar, or uncontrolled was shunned (Ehn & Löfgren 1982:72).
Looking back at the late middle ages we may notice that the distance between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was bigger in Central Europe than for instance in England. For many centuries the Continent has been marked by many wars, and the military forces therefore had great importance. The middle and lower classes had come to terms with the king's strong monopoly of power and tax collection, because this was necessary to maintain a strong army. Because loyalty to the government was an important selection factor, the population developed the character of obedience to authorities for which the germans in particular are famous. The situation was different in the British Isles which, thanks to their geography, were less exposed to wars than the Continent. The military power apparatus was less popular and the middle class had more autonomy and power. The success of the bourgeoisie was based on self-control, which became an important part of the british national character (Elias, N. 1982:316ff).
In perfect agreement with the theory, this resulted in a quite regal culture in continental Europe, whilst the British Isles developed a relatively more kalyptic society. But this picture was turned totally upside down with the ascending importance of naval warfare. The german authoritarianism turned out to be a boomerang because the authority could be replaced at any time so that obedience was paid to someone else. The english self-control, on the other hand, turned out to be a very effective regal instrument when the central government had been strengthened and regalized by the naval successes. Control by self-control is, as previously mentioned, the most effective kind of government possible. The economic liberty of the middle class had provided a breeding ground for flourishing industry and trade which formed the economic and technological basis for a superior military technology. Another important factor was that the british population was much more homogenous than that of Central Europe, and this homogeneity enabled a strong nationalism. Due to all these circumstances, Great Britain has been able to change fairly rapidly from being a relatively kalyptic country compared with the Continent, into the greatest colonial power of the world. In a surprisingly short time, the british culture has spread to the major part of North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and has furthermore left big traces in Africa and Asia. The british national character based on individualism and self-control has had an immense success in the process of cultural selection.
In contrast to this, german imperialism became, as the reader will know, a fiasco. Germany has never had the same possibilities for shipping and trade, and hence colonialism, as for example Great Britain, France, and Spain. Furthermore, the many local wars and the strong aristocracy have delayed the economic and technological development on the Continent, and the authoritarianism was not sufficient to unify and keep together the inhomogeneous population. All in all, Germany was too late in the race for its imperialistic attempts to be successful.
At first sight, you may find it difficult to see any similarities between the character of the japanese and the british, but there is a certain parallel in the histories of the two countries, namely a very late regalization. Thanks to its island geography, Japan has preserved a relatively kalyptic religion and culture up to the present days. Thrift, hard work, and obedience are traditional oriental virtues, but it is worth noticing that the obedience is assigned to decentralized authorities. There is no despotic central government. The freedom and flexibility that lies in the decentralized government has given the optimal conditions for a market economy. This unusual combination of decentralism and tolerance towards new ideas with a strong self-control is the major cause of the so-called economic miracle of Japan. But the late development and the relatively kalyptic culture has prevented the country from asserting itself as a political empire.
In the twentieth century the main tendency has, for the first time in thousands of years, gone in the kalyptic direction. The ideals of freedom and human rights that arose in connection with the french revolution are now, at last, being carried out. Colonies have become independent, slavery has been abolished, democracy has spread, and human rights have become the foundation of a new ideology. The most important cause of this is, as already mentioned, that almost all possibilities for expansion have been exhausted. The regal expansion obviously had to stop when all continents had been colonized, and a kalyptic development started.
Other causes for the present kalyptization are that economic and technological progress requires individual freedom, and that the fear that nuclear weapons will wipe out the entire world has bolstered the peace movements. The altered production structure has heightened the educational level of the population and thus made differences in the class structure smaller. Modern society makes considerable demands on the education of the population, and this stimulates a K-strategy in the families. Previously, it was an advantage to have many children because they could work in the household from an early age, but now it is expensive to raise children because they require a long education and they are unable to support themselves until fairly late in their life. Most parents prefer to have few children and ensure a good education for these children, rather than having a large number of children who have to work, because education is the key to attractive positions in society. The state has taken over the responsibility for the care of senior citizens and thus eliminated the necessity of having children. The result is a stagnant population and an end to imperialistic expansions in the modern parts of the world.
Migrations lead to a blending of people with different cultures and religions, and this often gives rise to conflicts and hence to cultural selection. This selection may go in the regal or the kalyptic direction depending on the circumstances. A sparse, slow and inhomogeneous immigration into a country will usually lead to kalyptization. In this situation the immigrants are perceived as individuals, not as a group, and they are therefore not a threat to the existing culture. Immigrants that come one by one are quickly integrated into the society because they have no possibility of preserving their original language and culture. The population slowly gets more and more inhomogeneous due to the immigration, cultures and religions get mixed, people get accustomed to accept differentness, and the possibilities for nationalism are reduced. All these factors promote a kalyptic society.
But if the immigrants come at a higher rate, and in particular if they make a homogeneous group, then there is a possibility that they form ghettoes where they can maintain their original culture, language, and religion. This will unavoidably bring about a confrontation between two clearly defined groups: the natives and the foreigners. The two groups are easy to distinguish because they have each their culture, which barely get mixed. The confrontation can easily lead to conflict, which is group-external, and thus regalizing. Both groups develop a strongly heightened interest in the distinctive characteristics of their own culture and an aversion against everything that typifies the culture of the enemy, as a reaction to this conflict. The natives develop a strong nationalism and the immigrants seek protection in their ghetto and seldom seek the company of the natives. This polarizes the conflict and further reduces the possibility of integrating the two cultures. All in all a regalization of both parties.
Whether the mixing of two populations lead to cultural integration or confrontation obviously also depends on how different the two cultures are and whether they are regal or kalyptic beforehand. If the two cultures both are relatively kalyptic and not too different, then the most likely result is an integration and maintained kalypticity. But if the two cultures are regal or if they are very different, then the result will be a further regalization and possibly a violent conflict.
Looking at the immigrant problems in contemporary Europe, it is easy to see that the most despised category of immigrants is the muslims. This is due to their high number, their relative homogeneity (in the eyes of the natives) as a group, and last, but not least, that their religion is so regal that they strictly hold on to their original life-style although it does not fit the society to which they have come. The conservativism that is characteristic of regal cultures makes the adjustment to the new living conditions slow and difficult. The fanatic observation of the religious commands seems absurd and pointless to a european, and they tend to have larger families than what is regarded as suitable in a kalyptic culture. The arranged marriages with young people from their country of origin contribute further to the maintenance of their original culture.
The conflict is defined as a racial conflict by the parties involved, but the cause of the conflict is not racial differences but cultural differences. Europe has lots of immigrants of all skin colors from every part of the world, and few of them ever give rise to serious problems. The probems, or absence of problems, have nothing to do with their skin colors. Immigrants from America, Africa, China, Greenland, etc. do not constitute a sufficiently numerous homogeneous group to create noticeable ghettoes, and the cultures they come from are not so regal that they have been unable to adapt and integrate into the society they have come to. Curiously enough, the group of immigrants that deviates most in skin color, is actually one of the most popular immigrant groups in Europe, namely the blacks. Most of the blacks are descendants of slaves who have had no possibilities of preserving their original culture. Those cultural forms that europeans associate with the blacks are positively evaluated. The blacks are first and foremost famous for their music: jazz, reggae, hip-hop, etc. These are all kalyptic styles of music that the europeans love, just like the african dances. The blacks are also popular because of their talents in sport. In short, the blacks are mainly associated with kalyptic cultural values that make them popular, whereas the muslims are associated with religious fanaticism and a regal culture that frightens the europeans and makes the muslim immigrants unpopular.
The situation in the USA is very different. There are too few muslims in America to make a cultural conflict, but instead there is an old conflict between blacks and whites which primarily has socioeconomic causes as a consequence of the slavery of the past.
Population size may be stagnant in the modern society, but something else is growing, and that is the economy. Military competition has been replaced by economic competition now where the modern world has begun to become more peaceful. Thousands of manufacturers compete for the favor of the consumers, and the mechanisms of the free market decide what is produced and consumed. Any consumer requirement or need is made use of in order to sell products, and even where there is no need, advertising is used to create artificial needs. In other words, all possible niches are explored in order to sell as much as possible. In principle, the consumers might be satisfied with only a few types of shoes, but today they have hundreds of different models to choose between. The different models of shoes do not differ very much in functionality, they are all almost equally suited for their purpose. The difference lies first and foremost in the designs, and the different designs appeal to customers with different life-styles. Advertising contributes heavily to the splitting of the market into niches by associating different product variants with different life-styles. The commodities thus become carriers of culture in the consumer- and growth- society. Consumer choice has become an important factor in the cultural selection process, and of course all niches, be they regal, kalyptic, or r/k-neutral, are utilized. Fashion- and life-style advertising reflects every new cultural trend in society almost before it arises, and the frequent changes in fashion stimulate a higher consumption.
Economic competition in modern society favors big corporations. Big business enterprises have the benefits of large-scale production and distribution and reduced competition. They also have the benefit of large scale advertising: by advertising in big national and international mass media and sponsoring big sports events etc., the big concerns can outcompete small firms who hardly have the economic means for advertising in local media. Whoever is big grows even bigger. This means a concentration of economic power on fewer and fewer hands, and thereby also an increased political influence.
Economy in the western world has been dominated by growth for so long that the entire economic system - and even its theoretical basis - has been adapted to constant growth. Politicians and economic scientists alike regard a state of growth as normal and the stimulation of growth as the solution to all economic problems. Only now are a few beginning to realize that there is a limit to economic growth and that we are approaching this limit. The cessation of economic growth will create economic crisis if not a total collapse, and we will soon see the regalizing effects of this crisis.
15. E. R. Service has presented a similar theory of the rise and fall of great civilizations based on the distinction between specific and general evolution (Sahlins & Service 1960: 107).