Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology

Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology

Cultural Software offers a new theory about how ideologies and beliefs grow, spread, and develop– a theory of cultural evolution, which explains both shared understandings and disagreement and diversity within cultures.

Cultural evolution occurs through transmission and spread of cultural information and know-how– or “cultural software “– in human minds. Individuals embody cultural software: they are literally information made flesh. They spread it to others through communication and social learning. Human minds and institutions provide the ecology in which cultural software grows, thrives, and develops. Human cultural software is created out of the diverse elements of cultural transmission, also known as “memes.”

Ideology is not a special or deviant pathology of thinking but arises from the ordinary mechanisms of human thought. Because cultural understanding is the product of evolution, it is always a patchwork quilt of older imperfect tools of understanding continually readapted to solve new problems. As a result human understanding is always partly adequate and partly inadequate to understanding and to the pursuit of justice. Cultural Software offers examples drawn from many different disciplines showing how ideological effects arise and how they contribute to injustice.

The book also tackles the problem of mutual understanding between different world views. It shows how both ideological analysis of others and ideological self-criticism are possible and argues that cultural understanding presupposes transcendent ideals. These arguments should be especially relevant to current debates over multiculturalism, and to philosophers and political theorists who worry that different cultures have incommensurable normative conceptions.

Cultural Software draws upon many different areas of study, including anthropology, evolutionary theory, linguistics, sociology, political theory, philosophy, social psychology and law. The book’s explanation of how shared understandings arise, how cultures grow and spread, and how people of different cultures can understand and critique each other’s views should be relevant to work in many different areas of the human sciences.