What is not a social evolutionary approach?
If there have been numerous areas of confusion about biological evolution even though the theory of biological evolution has been more forcefully established, it should not come as a surprise that many more areas of confusion have bedeviled our understanding of social evolution. After all, social evolution is different from and vastly more complex than biological evolution. Indeed, even some of the biggest names in social sciences (Spencer, Veblen, Marx, Schumpeter, and Hayek, to name just a few) at one time or another have all erred in their understanding of social evolution. To make SEP a valid paradigm in social sciences, we must rectify these mistakes. Critically building upon the proceeding discussion and earlier discussions by other authors (e.g., Durham 1990, 192-194; Aldrich et al. 2008; Hodgson and
Knudsen 2010), this section identifies the most common misconceptions of the social evolutionary approach. As further discussed in Chapter 5, several common misunderstandings about biological and social evolution underpin many of the misapplications of the evolutionary approach to the understanding of the human society.
SEP is not mechanistic application of biological evolution to human society
Because social evolution is fundamentally different from biological evolution, SEP is not a mechanistic application of biological evolution to social evolution. Unfortunately, the application of evolutionism to human society has been bedeviled by several forms of mechanistic application of biological evolutionism.
Veblen (1898, 1899 ); Alchian (1950); Hodgson (2002, especially 266— 268), and Hodgson and Knudsen (2006), by insisting that natural selection, rather than artificial selection, is the major driving force of social evolution, represent one form of mechanistic application of biological evolution to social evolution. Sociobiology and EP, by insisting on natural selection as the only driving force in shaping human psychology and behavior, goes even further down this road. Both stances miss the critical fact that although it builds upon biological evolution, artificial SVI/VSI is the more critical force in driving social evolution than natural selection (see Chapter 3).
More recently, Hodgson and Knudsen (2010), by insisting on a Darwinian approach toward social evolution, represent another form of mechanistic application of biological evolution to social evolution. They miss the critical point that social evolution, despite building upon biological evolution, is a fundamentally new phenomenon (for a more detailed critique, see Chapter 5). Most critically, social evolution is not purely (Neo-)Darwinian or even largely Darwinian, but Darwinian nested within Super-Lamarckian (see Chapter 3).
Still another form of mechanistic application of biological evolution to social evolution has been the stance that genes in social evolution must be the exact equivalent of genes in biological evolution; otherwise, social changes cannot be understood with an evolutionary approach (e.g., Penrose 1952; Pierson 2000;Witt 2001,2004,2008).16 As noted in Chapter 3, however, genes and phenotypes in the ideational dimension of social evolution are fundamentally different from the two entities in biological evolution. As such, the ideational dimension in social evolution demands a new understanding about gene and phenotype.
SEP is not biological evolution-determinism or reductionist
Both sociobiology and EP insist that natural selection is the major force, if not the only force, in shaping human behavior (e.g., Wilson 1978; Alexander 1979;Tooby and Cosmides 1992; Buss 1995). In contrast, SEP unequivocally rejects the notion that natural selection is the major force in shaping human behavior. SEP insists that human society has been a product of social evolution, rather than biological evolution alone. SEP insists that human behaviors have been shaped by social evolution:
Social evolution subsumes the biological evolution of human beings as a species, and the former is much more than the latter (see Chapters 2 and 3). As such, SEP firmly rejects biological determinism or reductionism (including genetic reduc-tionism) in any form.
SEP is not metaphorical nor does it analogize biological evolution to social evolution
SEP insists that evolutionary theorizing of human society cannot be merely metaphorical (e.g., Modelski 1990). Similarly, SEP insists that evolutionary theorizing of human society does not analogize biological evolution to social evolution, such as by finding the exact counterpart of genes, for example, in social evolution (Aldrich et al. 2008, 578-585). Rather, SEP is a generalization of the evolutionary approach toward a complex population system from the biotic system to human society, with the central mechanism of evolution, SVI/VSI, as the cardinal principle being firmly irreplaceable (ibid, 584; Nelson 2007a, 85-91). However, SEP is not “Generalized Darwinism,” contrary to the proponents of such an idea (e.g., Aldrich et al. 2008; for a more detailed critique, see Chapter 5).