Cultural Recombinance

Builds Upon: Innovation As Exception To The Rules

We predictably see more languages, world views, art styles coming from heterogeneous peoples in the Caucasus divided by mountainous geography than we do from a river valley in China with a population many times greater.

A smaller population split into a hundred separate slivers generates a greater variety of ideas than a single population under one unified culture and language.

Yet forcing modern people to live in mountain valleys without internet access is a crude, inefficient, literal-minded method of achieving the overall principle: The promotion of cultural recombinance.

One of the major problems of mass culture is its potential to kill off heterogeneous elements of society.
In the 21st century many of the events around us can be explained as a struggle between emerging recombinant systems and established, fixed systems.

Thus far, social variation has been dependent on geographical accident and technological limitations in the spread of information.
If one were to visit even a culturally unified land such as Korea a couple centuries ago, one would surely not have found any two villages with the exact same customs, dialect, or kimchi recipe.

With the emergence of nationalism, central governments all over the world tried to spread the dialect and customs of the capital city to every corner of the nation. First through systems of mass education and later through mass media.
Today French and Italian people cling to their local culinary traditions in no small part because their other local distinctions were stamped out in the age of nationalism.

There is an obvious problem with a culturally fragmented population for the nationalist: it presents a huge obstacle to the mass unity necessary for the nation-state to defend itself from other nations and to engage in sustained conquest.
Yet forcing mass unity kills the domestic wellsprings of culture.

The symmetrical internet has been a huge step in the right direction.
Most previous forms of mass communication have been largely asymmetrical, tools that have allowed elites to control and hand down culture to the masses from above as never before.
While the internet gives rise to a mass culture with memes known to millions of users, one also sees the proliferation of countless subcultures.
In the internet community we have a glimpse of what a loosely united yet creative society might look like.

Open source is also an important step that challenges the inherent asymmetry of capitalistic production.
No matter how many corporations are competing to fulfill our desires, the variations they hand down to us pale in comparison to that which can arise from millions of individual users customizing tools to their needs.
Worse, companies must cater to the needs of a majority in a sort of democratic process. A frustrated minority can end up losing when they go shopping for mass produced goods.
The market as we know it succeeds in mapping out the general shape of coastlines, but it is incapable of accounting for the fractal intricacies.

For example, an ice cream parlor might double or triple the number of flavors it offers but any such increase in variation is puny next to the output of a recombinant system.
As soon as the ice cream parlor allows customers to combine flavors any way they like, an exponentially greater potential for variation emerges.
If the parlor offers 31 flavors we have 961 possible permutations for just two scoops and 29,791 permutations for three scoops.
If we further extend the principle and create a wiki ice cream parlor that has no flavors when it first opens and relies on its customers to choose what they’d like or even create their own flavors. Favorites would get upvoted.
One would see a different combination of flavors at every single location. The number of possible permutations would become astronomical.

Despite its advantages, a society that promotes cultural recombinance faces a major obstacle.
Such a society must be able to outcompete repressive but united neighbors who can bring the might of millions to bear in collective action. This is exactly why fixed, conformist social models have been dominant throughout history.

If a recombinant civilization realizes even a fraction of its power it has a commanding edge over its rivals.
Wherever in history a small state happens upon a formula that allows for a higher rate of recombinance it effortlessly produces new ideas and technologies that elude the best minds in neighboring empires.
For instance, both gunpowder and removable type had been known in East Asia for centuries but other civilizations were able to take the same ideas and keep recombining them and extending them to new applications.
It seems obvious to us in retrospect to make a wheel or written language.
Most number systems before the elegant Arabic numerals now seem clumsy and archaic. It seems moronic to us now that you’d have any more than 10 numbers for a decimal system.
A small example from our own time:
The real time strategy game has been essentially unchanged since its origins about 20 years ago. I recently downloaded the genre’s famous progenitor, Dune 2 from abandonia and found that aside from refinements such as multiple unit selection, rallying, and queuing, little has changed.
Without critical examination, a system sooner settles into a stable
orthodoxy which allows a single model to be refined but which actively blocks experimentation with new models.

In any case, Darwinian evolution on the level of individuals or of societies is driven by the selection of favorable mutations.
Thus a system that has exponentially greater rates of variation also has a much higher rate of mutations.
As the probability of favorable mutations rises, so do the chances of simultaneous mutations with the potential for synergistic interaction. Perhaps a critical mass of mutations is necessary for certain game-changing leaps to take place.
Ultimately, an exponentially recombinant system is the natural foundation of a post-Darwinian social order in which social structures are no longer left to accident of nature.

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4 responses to “Cultural Recombinance

  1. “The true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Overpopulation followed by die-off cycles frequently occur in the most successful of species – it’s a sign that they are being blocked by their environment. A victim of their own success. Mass extinction doesn’t usually occur however, it’s just an emphasis for adaption to cross the barriers. And humans possess much more potential for variation than any animal.

    Complexity is almost like a disease that eats systems, as more of it accumulates it withers away reaction time to the point of senility. At the same time, we have to employ a large number of systems to have a decent quality of life and impact on the world.

    The “Ultimate Resource” and the EHRLICH-SIMON bet:
    http://darkage.mobianlegends.com/2003-04.htm

    Operations Research Mentality:
    http://brainsturbator.tumblr.com/post/303834813/mcluhan-operations-research-mentality

    • It’s certainly occurred to me that lots of mutations could also have carcinogenic effects on the social body.

      But a fractally intelligent recombinant collective might also contain the cure.

      Let’s consider the original atari gaming system.

      It failed precisely because it was open source.
      Anyone could make games for it so quality control went to hell until no one wanted video games any more.

      Nintendo had to pay toy retailers extra to carry the NES and made sure to jealously guard their licenses. (The reason why Zelda CDI or Hotel Mario seems like such a joke.)

      What if atari had done the exact same thing during the internet age? Crap games would have been downvoted by internet users into oblivion, good titles no matter their source would have been embraced by users.

      Actually don’t we see something like this occurring with apps for some of the smartphone OSes?

      • For sure, quality counts more than quantity. Sometimes you don’t need more engineers, you just need better ones. You can’t make a baby in 1 month with 9 women.

  2. Pingback: Father Knows Best: On Guard For Thee Edition « Patriactionary

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