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Cultural Evolution

      The idea that cultures evolve and change is so obvious that few people have paid any attention to it, but in order to understand where we have been and where we are going, it is essential to be conscious of how change occurs.

      The existing literature on cultural evolution is hardly earth-shattering, but still significant. In his book, Man's Rise to Civilization, author Peter Farb provides the most comprehensive account of the way that economic and technological factors influence the development of cultures. The book was first published in 1968, way ahead of it's time.

      Author Marvin Harris also covers cultural evolution in his book, The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig, but only in relation to our food habits. Consider the diverse culinary practices around the world. Many people eat rats and cockroaches while most Americans nearly retch at the thought. Americans also disdain the thought of eating dogs, cats, or horses. Hindu people think we are basically cannibals to eat beef, and the Moslems think we sin terribly when we eat pork.

      Most of us in America may dislike the idea of eating horses, but according to Harris, horse meat has gone through many surges of popularity and unpopularity, both in America and Europe, according to economic trends. Horse meat becomes popular when other meats are more expensive, and becomes unpopular when the cost of other types of meat are more economical.

      Similarly, while the Hindu people now abhor the idea of eating cows, that has not always been the case. The Indian people regularly consumed beef up until a few centuries BC at which time the rising population created more and more need for cropland, since crops can produce more calories and protein per acre than livestock. Stock needed to be kept for plowing fields, producing milk and producing dung for fuel. Over the centuries beef consumption dropped until only the wealthy priests consumed it. The disparity between rich and poor created an opportunity for the ethic of cow protection among the peasant masses. Hinduism became the dominate religion because it reflected the economic reality of the area.

      Harris suggests that we in America think mice, rats, and cockroaches are filthy not because of their habits, but because they are not economical sources of food. We could get protein by skinning and butchering mice, or by catching cockroaches, but it is not economical expenditure of effort compared to our other choices. Therefore, argues Harris, we scorn the uneconomical choices as being bad or filthy, even while people of some countries consider the same foods as delicacies.

      Of the two books listed above, I consider Peter Farb's as the more important one, but Marvin Harris' book is an interesting read too. Both were influential to my thinking and my work on Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money.

Books related to Cultural Evolution

Man's Rise to Civilization by Peter Farb
-Out of Print- (Amazon will search for used copies.)
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Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures by Marvin Harris
Paperback. Reprinted June 1991.
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 Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches: The Riddles of Culture.

Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture by Marvin Harris
Reprinted July 1998.
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Theories of Culture by Marvin Harris
November 1998.
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 Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, and Where We Are Going.

Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches: The Riddles of Culture by Marvin Harris
Paperback Edition December 1998.
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Our Kind : Who We Are, Where We Came From, and Where We Are Going by Marvin Harris
Paperback. 560 pages. September 1990.
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