How is cultural change analogous to biological evolution, and what important limitations are there to this analogy?

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Cultural change and biological evolution are both ongoing, continuous processes. Neither ever really stops, because human beings, in both biology and culture, are always changing and adapting. Adaptation, in a general anthropological sense that can refer to both biology and culture, refers to a change in response to some stimuli.

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Cultural change and biological evolution are both ongoing, continuous processes. Neither ever really stops, because human beings, in both biology and culture, are always changing and adapting. Adaptation, in a general anthropological sense that can refer to both biology and culture, refers to a change in response to some stimuli.

For example, one popular theory is that human ancestors adapted to be bipedal (walk on two legs) because the environment they lived in was changing, and it was no longer beneficial for them to live in trees. The stimuli was the need to be mobile on the ground, rather than in trees, and the response was to change their locomotion tactic.

Culturally, we have seen a shift in North America recently toward increased rights and recognition for LGBTQ2S+ individuals. It could be effectively argued that this cultural change was stimulated by protests and demands for visibility by these people.

The limits in the comparison of cultural change to biological evolution, however, happen when people mistakenly refer to this cultural change as "evolution," suggesting that culture inevitably will end up in a certain "better" place. This idea may be used to bolster Eurocentrism and racism, suggesting that European "civilizations" are the highest form of cultural evolution and that the rest of the world is destined to catch up to them. Also, this notion of cultural evolution gets one key thing wrong about biological evolution: species are not on a march to the perfect version of themselves. They simply adapt to their environments.

Also, while biological evolution is something that happens in order to make a species better suited to its environment, cultural change does not necessarily make human beings better suited to their environments. It often happens as the result of mechanisms like targeted social movements and, increasingly, through the influence of things like social media.

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Cultural change and biological evolution are analogous in that they share an important primary cause: the necessity of adaptation. Just as the finches Darwin observed on the Galapagos Islands had developed beaks of various sizes in order to accommodate their ability to eat certain foods for survival, societies will shift their norms and expectations in order to stay powerful and relevant, or even to avoid extinction. The concepts are also analogous in that they can occur on both large and small scales (microevolution vs. macroevolution). Both are documentable and qualifiable.

A key difference between cultural change and evolution is intent; biological evolution occurs without deliberation, while cultural change is usually given some amount of thought, even if it is a subconscious consideration. Another difference between the two is the mechanism by which they occur; while biological evolution is a product of certain shifts in genetic makeup, cultural change has more to do with psychological and sociological conditions.

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Cultural change allows society to adapt to its new needs. New technology and other advancements bring about related changes in customs and expectations. We also advance to more sophisticated ideas. Racial equality and gender equality are examples.
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At look at the history of countries that were colonized by other cultures, specifically the European empires, reveals that the permanency of any alteration in the native culture is not significant.  For once these countries became independent of European rule, and the cultural rule was no longer present, the evidences of such influences diminished rather rapidly. 

With regard to biological changes, they can not be forced and effectively as rapidly as cultural changes; however, once effected, the biological changes are more lasting, and sometimes even permanent.

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Given that I am not a biologist, I may be slightly off, but in my mind, both are very similar except in terms of a time frame necessary for change.  Both evolutionary change and cultural generally are in response to changes in environment or simply to improve a certain type of interaction or existence in standard conditions.  People change to fit their surroundings and to gain maximum benefit from the opportunities around them so too do animals and other organisms.

The difference, I think, lies in the time frame necessary for evolutionary change being longer than that necessary for cultural changes.

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Cultural and biological change are similar enough that we have the idea of Social Darwinism.  They are similar because different societies have different cultural values.  These societies compete with one another economically and militarily and culturally.  One side generally "wins."  So it becomes possible to imagine that the cultural values of the "winning" society are better than those of the "losing" society.  In such a view, the better cultures win and so culture will improve over time as the better ones win.

There are many problems with this.  Just to take one obvious one, why did the United States defeat Japan in WWII?  Was it because the US had a better culture?  Or was it because they had more resources to use to create and deploy weapons against the Japanese?  If we just say that culture is what causes one society to win and another to lose, we miss out on these other factors that can impact the outcome of these competitions.

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