Changing culture and history with one “tap” on a button…

Our last blog article (https://culturalcrossroadskc.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/where-are-we-going-how-will-we-know-when-were-there/) ended with this thought:

As mentioned above, when a critical mass of change is reached, society and culture itself changes. Such change should not be undertaken lightly or without notice.   Next time, we will consider the effect of these many incremental individual changes on the culture itself.

Those “incremental changes” are the sum of many individual minds, thinking, assessing, weighing, considering – the actions of the human brain, the very essence of being human..  The sum of all those individual minds results in changes of a culture (sometimes slowly over time; sometimes, within a generation or even a few years).  This idea has come to be termed “cultural evolution” or “sociocultural evolution.”   Both terms encompass the idea of how societies and cultures change over time.

It has been said that “Human learning is essentially communal learning” and we see evidence of that learning all around us.  “Members of our own species are able to survive and reproduce in part because of habits, know-how and technology that are not only maintained by learning from others, they are initially generated as part of a cumulative project that builds on discoveries made by others.”  Cultural Evolution, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (published 2007, revised 2013)

We can look back through history and see how individual attitudes have changed about certain ideas.  In a growing trend, those individual ideas of change eventually affect more and more individuals in a society until the attitudes of a majority of the population change; then, a change in the laws and social mores follow.   Students of history will remember that there was a time in the Western world (not so distant in time) when the definition of “citizen” was dependent upon race, sex and social status, or when women were considered unable to make independent financial decisions.  Today, we laugh when a Facebook meme reminds us about those social mores of just a century or so ago and we think how “quaint” or even “appalling”  those ideas seem today.  Perhaps, in a not-so-distant future, ideas that are the subject of intense debate today will be “resolved” by a new majority view.  Whether that “resolution” is for the better or for the worse will, of course, depend upon your individual interpretation.

We do have the responsibility, however, to realize that “cultural evolution” does occur and our voices and actions today regarding an issue will have consequences for tomorrow.  We have a responsibility is to be conscious of cultural evolution and to be discerning in our search for “the truth” of an issue.  We must be aware that, in today’s social media world, the loudest voices are often the ones believed the most, regardless of veracity.   Before we join that loud chorus, we should be certain that what we are speaking, writing and repeating (or Sharing), is what we really believe to be true.  (Remember some of our old tired-and-true adages from different times and different situations: “little pitchers have big ears” or “loose lips sink ships” – these old sayings generally reminded us to be cognizant of the power of our words.)

Consider the seduction of today’s quick and easy emoji – an instant Like or Share and an idea is spread into the world.  Today’s technological revolution, particularly in social media, has decreased the time to stop and think about an idea.  It’s easy to hit Like, Comment, and Share without a great deal of forethought; however, we should subject comments on social media to the same criteria we would use with print articles in newspapers or books; we should not lose sight of logic and discernment just because we are online and it’s easy to Comment and Share.   We also have the responsibility to do these actions knowingly, by not Commenting or Sharing without reading the article first.  (It’s easier to do that than it is to have to retract a comment after someone mentions that the title did not reflect the article…less embarrassing, also.)

These days, the issue is that people tend to believe what is repeated over and over; an untrue statement, if repeated often enough, will begin to wear the appearance of truth.   While it may amusing to read and Share satirical political or social articles, we should be aware that repetition lends credulity and a satirical quotation without its source may be interpreted as a “true” statement.   This is a problematic situation.  There is one small action we can all take – admittedly, we all enjoy Sharing an amusing meme or cartoon on social media and that’s not something that we are likely to stop doing…but, when Sharing such ideas, it would be helpful if we would note that it is satire.

Much has been  written about “selective perception” (including on this blog – see our previous post: https://culturalcrossroadskc.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/real-news-or-fake-news-the-effect-of-selective-perception/) but most articles focus on selective perception in the political and organizational arenas.  Because selective perception is such a common human trait, we should also examine its effect on sociocultural evolution.

Does a heightened degree of political selective perception, exhibited by a majority of a population, “skew” an otherwise normally-evolving ethos of a society?  Any idea can spread and take hold – before we engage in spreading an idea, we might  stop and consider whether it is an idea that would be beneficial, should that idea be accepted by the majority – is it an idea worthy of cultural evolution?

We know that cultures and society evolve and change.  Perhaps we would benefit from mindful cultural evolution…from an awareness that our words have power.

What are your thoughts?

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