Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heroes: Part II

Sexual reproduction is a curious evolutionary adaptation. It reshuffles the genes of the current generation, guaranteeing that the next generation is similar to, but distinct from, its parents. Why do this? If a particular set of genes has been successful, why not reuse them as they are, rather than risking passing on a worse combination?

The answer is flexibility. The environment (and, indeed, the competitive environment) is not static, so a static genetic mix will not serve for long. The ideal system is one that passes nearly all of the most successful traits to the next generation, with a very small percentage of novelty thrown in. The novel genes are an insurance policy against change.

Societies use this strategy as well.

Conventionalists are society's standard gene load out - the tried and the true. Even Romantic Conventionalists, who oppose the prevailing the culture, are part of the standard genetic material. Because they pull directly against the tide of the society they prevent accelerating groupthink. They anchor the society against drift.

Fundamentalists are the novel genetic material. Their commitment to their ideas, rather than to society itself, means that they are forever moving in a completely independent direction. Sometimes they can be a cancer, like the thinkers who produced eugenics. Sometimes they can provide the adaptation that takes the society in a new evolutionary direction, as did the men who dreamed of a purer democracy, without royalty. Most often they are interesting, but harmless, with no strong effect on anyone but themselves (let me again refer you to Eric Falkenstein's brilliant post on how unusual ideas are one of the penalties of being intelligent).


  1. I am new to these terms Conventionalist and Fundamentalist, but after reading about them on Wikipedia, I am intrigued. So if I understand it correctly, Conventionalists are committed to society and think all morals and norms are purely societal constructs. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are committed to ideas and absolutes and for that reason often see reason to go against society. Is that close?

    Romantic Conventionalists are what? People who see morals and norms as societal constructs but who oppose them anyway?

  2. Justin,

    As far as I know I was just making the terms up. I guess I'll have to go see what you read on Wikipedia.

    By 'Romantic' I mean in the literary sense. Romantics reject the restrictions of the prevailing culture, seek adventure, etc. Contrast 'Romantic' with 'Epic'. The Epic hero in literature typifies the values of his society, doesn't seek adventure but is drawn into it by necessity. All that kind of thing.

    So, Conventionalists come in two flavors, one that embraces the values of the culture, and one that rejects those values. But both define themselves primarily in relation to the culture.