Cultural Conservatism

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Olivier Morin Research Group Leader, Minds and Traditions Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology Jena Germany
CNRS Researcher, Département d’études cognitives, Institut Jean Nicod, ENS, EHESS, CNRS, PSL University Paris France

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Trying to preserve cultural forms as faithfully as possible is a key motivation for cultural transmission. This paper reviews two possible accounts of it. One, evolutionary conservatism, is premised on the superiority of accumulated cultural knowledge compared to individual judgement – a theme that runs strongly through both the cultural evolution literature and conservative political philosophy. I argue for a clear distinction between evolutionary conservatism, and status quo conservatism as motivated by loss- and risk-aversion. I proceed to tackle some outstanding issues regarding status quo conservatism: its association with attachment to social hierarchies; the kind of cultural practices that tend to elicit it; and the question why an attitude motivated by considerations of costs and benefits might be manifested as a rigid or absolute principle. Seeing some cultural practices as equilibria in a coordination game helps answer these questions.

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