Two sub-cultures are of particular importance in human affairs, most notably, in politics. These are the progressive and conservative sub-cultures. They are typically thought of as sub-cultures of a national culture but can also be part of any organisation from a small club to the whole of humanity. They can be organized or not. No society or organisation is entirely egalitarian, and there will be differences in the ability of people to satisfy their needs. Those whose needs are largely satisfied have a vested interest in a culture and will therefore resist change. This can include suppressing new knowledge or organisations that are perceived to be a threat to the status quo. Such people form a conservative sub-culture. However, those whose needs are not satisfied will seek change. They will be progressive. Examples of progressive sub-cultures are ethnic, womens’, or LGBT rights. Progressives usually have less power in a society and in some cases must operate underground. They can also be divided, ideologically, into different camps seeking different changes. So, their impact on a culture can be slow and difficult to achieve.
So long as the benefits of society are unequally distributed there will always be tensions between conservatives and progressives. Sub-cultures have a significant part to play in cultural evolution. If all benefit equally from a culture, then a progressive sub-culture is unlikely to arise and the main culture may therefore stagnate.
Humanity in general is almost certainly progressive. It is fundamental to human nature that we will embrace potential satisfiers and avoid contra-satisfiers. Some will co-operate with others to achieve this, others will engage in positive competition, and yet others in negative competition. Natural catastrophes aside, the direction that a society takes will depend on whether the effect of those who engage in co-operation or positive competition outweighs the effect of those who engage in negative competition. If so, then societies advance towards an ideal state in which the needs of all, including existence, relatedness, and growth, are satisfied and all social contra-satisfiers are eliminated. Unfortunately, however, progress to date has been erratic for the following reasons.
Firstly, there exist those who engage in negative competition for personal gain at the expense of others.
Secondly, the ideals that some progressives aim for may not be as ideal as they imagine. There is a tendency for people to suffer an optimism bias in which the positive consequences of a decision are emphasised, and the negative consequences downplayed or neglected. This is particularly the case when a proposal is being touted to others. In practice, a balance between conservatism and progressivism highlights the positives and negatives of each.
Thirdly however, the interests of progressive and conservative sub-cultures are often so opposed that they engage in negative competition.
Fourthly, cultural, ideological, and economic conformity can result in a society not knowing when an optimum has been reached, thus, resulting in an overshoot. For example, fear of missing out can create financial bubbles and “gold rushes” which ultimately collapse.
Fifthly, once progressives gain power and make their changes, they become the conservatives. New progressives are then needed, and the process of change begins once more.
Finally, unanticipated environmental contra-satisfiers, such as earthquakes, often have an impact.
Conservative and progressive sub-cultures will be explored in more detail when I discuss politics.