What makes a good culture?

by toonalfrink2 min read5th Feb 20197 comments


Social & Cultural DynamicsWorld Optimization

I've been thinking about the question: what is culture? And what makes a good culture?

Some definitions of culture:

- the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

- the social behavior and norms found in human societies.

- the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies.

These all point at something, but they're too vague for my CS mind. There must be a clearer definition at the heart of all this, but what is it?

I have some original thoughts on it, but don't take this as a full answer.

- Culture is a set of behavioral roles that are available to members of a group of people. I picture it as a set of interwoven lines, or tunnels of various sizes and shapes, or a machine with various parts.

- This set of roles has to be stable: if you throw a bunch of humans at it that follow their incentive, it has to stay relatively intact. A culture that people are quick to renegotiate, isn't interesting.

- Stability is distinct from but related to quality, which is the extent to which humans can get their needs met given the palette of roles they can choose from. *The best culture is one in which everyone has a role to play which gives them everything they want*, the worst (stable) culture is a Molochian hellscape.

- Culture has the shape of a fractal. On the lowest level everyone interacts with everyone given some very basic rules, but there are tribal lines that divide the machine up into subregions that are more integrated than the whole, possibly incompatible with each other, and these subdivisions go all the way down from tribes to subcultures to communities to small groups to relationships to individuals (to subagents to subroutines to neurons...)

Many questions. What makes a good culture? Why/how do these subdivisions exist? How can this be programmed? Wouldn't it be hubristic to try? How do you make Pareto improvements?

Let's plug in some Jung. He said that we all share a "collective unconscious" which consists of "archetypes" that are "relatively independent patterns of behavior that we all share". This sounds a lot like subagents to me, and it adds a lot of information value: that we all share some subagents with roughly the same characteristics, namely X, Y and Z.

Another piece of information: the idea that subagents cannot be entirely deleted, only repressed. While sure as hell we do try to delete some subagents (like those that get angry), that doesn't actually happen: instead the subagent turns into our "shadow", which is a part of our psychology that we're unaware of and that is getting it's way subversively.

So what makes a good culture? Well perhaps to start with, it should allow everyone to express their subagents (including the dangerous ones), and of course it should allow this without the release of this energy being detrimental to the needs of others.

While Jung doesn't go further than psychology, can we try to extend this to the whole of the cultural fractal? Not only should our subagents be allowed freedom of (safe) expression, so should people, partners, groups, communities, subcultures and tribes (and subroutines and neurons, whatever that means).

I think sports, gaming, drinking, dancing etc are all examples of this kind of relatively harmless expression of dangerous subagents. I guess it's called "letting off steam".

Of course, we can't just open the floodgates of decency and watch the world burn in anarchism. All of these fences are there for a reason, and kicking them all down will lead to a lot of problems.

But what we should do, perhaps, is think very hard about where to place our fences so that any kind of need, opinion or lifestyle can be expressed without either becoming subversive because of too much repression or harmful because of too little channeling.

This post was written with the support of the EA Hotel.