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Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: Wired for Culture by Mark Pagel



Wired for Culture by Mark Pagel moves deeply into the undiscovered nature of human biology and how this influences societal development. Rooted in our biology is the deep desire for all human beings to work within social groups. This biology manifests itself into altruistic actions that further the survival needs of that group. Without the use of social mirroring and individuals showing their societal worth through altruistic actions society would eventually dissipate into chaos. 

To him culture is a domestication tool that helps individuals find a place that furthers their self-attainment and the overall development of society. Through this specialization of effort the entire economic chain is developed that contributes to each other by providing specific products and services that benefits the group of most. This benefit comes to individuals in the form of wages and financial security. It keeps the chain bound together.

Religion is seen as a cultural enhancer that helps to foster togetherness among certain ethnic groups. Such beliefs are pushed in order to ensure that members adhere to societal standards defined by that group. Those who violate religious norms are often chastised as though they have violated a group norm. This reason exists because for many people religion is a definition of oneself and their identity that moves across multiple planes of understanding the world. 

Language is also biological in nature, but the type of language people use is part of group identity and culture. It enhances this societal definition with certain groups using certain types of language and phrases more than others phrases. Where there is difference in language use there is also the potential for group differences based upon perceptions of both group identity and world perception the language defines.

The book further discusses the concept of human social structure revolving around the natural order of creatures in nature. “That large groups of humans can be led by a small number of elite for the same reasons as termites, ants, bees and wasps. “ Those on top of the social structure are seen as more important genetically as well as more worthy to lead a group of people. Yet this is only a perception and is defined by group values that may or may not represent the reality.

The book sheds light on the structure of society and how the biological nature of humans have come to form people, nations, and societal order. Most people are not aware they are in a network of other people and fit within this societal order in some defined way. They follow the rules because to step outside of those rules means to incur the wrath of those who find their value in that particular order.  This is one of the reasons why change can be so stressful to a society as it adjusts the patterns and beliefs to create new understandings of the world.

I found the book to be thought provoking in the sense that it helps to come to the conclusion that those things that define us as a nation are really based within our cultural perceptions. There are some who will view themselves as part of a different group based upon ethnicity even within the larger societal structure as defined by a nation. People must change the way they view others within society in order to fully incorporate them into the societal network. The change of the mind can take many years to complete as people slowly adjust the perception of self and others into a more cohesive framework.

Pagel, M. (2012). Wired for Culture: The origins of the Human Social Mind. NY; W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 978-0-393-34420-2
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