h. Social Systems Theory in Practice - An Example (Part 2)

Social Systems Theory in Practice – An Example (Part2)


The example described in my previous post can be described graphically and, potentially, a mathematical or computer model can be created. A diagrammatic representation of the example is given in the figure below.

Figure 1. Causal diagram showing increasing complexity in Western society.

In this diagram, the coloured rectangles represent a society’s variable characteristics. These characteristics have numerical values that alter with time and can be related to one another mathematically. The variable characteristics interact causally as shown by the arrows, which point from cause to effect. In this diagram, all the arrows show the cause as being sufficient for the effect. If several sufficient causes impact on one effect, then their effect is cumulative. However, by joining arrows together after they have left their causes, it is possible to represent several necessary causes as, together, being sufficient for an effect.

The smaller rectangles describe the nature of the causal relationship. A small up arrow indicates an increase in the variable characteristic. A small down arrow indicates a decrease. The coloured background indicates whether the small arrow refers to the cause or to the effect. Small arrows are paired horizontally. In rectangle B, for example, an increase in the cause results in a decrease in the effect.

The diagram can be explained as follows.

A. As the number of established organisations increases, so too does the total number of inefficiencies. The reverse is also true.

B. As the number of inefficiencies decreases, the number of unattached individuals with unsatisfied needs increases. The reverse is also true.

I. The number of unattached individuals also increases as the population increases. The reverse is also true. Note that population growth is the number of people entering society due to births and immigration, less the number of people leaving it due to deaths and emigration. However, not all of the population is active.

C. As the number of inefficiencies increases, the number of trading opportunities for unattached individuals also increases. The reverse is also true.

D & E. As the number of trading opportunities and the number of unattached individuals increases, the number of goods and services that can reduce inefficiency in established organisations also increases. However, the reverse is not true. A decrease in the number of trading opportunities or a decrease in the number of unattached individuals has no effect.

F. As the number of goods and services provided increases, the number of inefficiencies decreases.

J. The number of inefficiencies also reduces because of efficiencies carried out by the organisations themselves, i.e., auto-efficiencies. The reverse is also true, and organisations can cause greater inefficiency in many ways.

G. As the number of goods and services provided increases, the satisfiers received in return also increase. The reverse is also true.

H. As the number of satisfiers received increases, the number of established organisations increases. The reverse is also true.

It can be seen from this diagram that the process is a positive feedback loop. With no constraints, the number of established organisations, and thus, the complexity of society can increase exponentially. However, the minor feedback loop BEF can have a damping effect if there is insufficient population growth.

There are many other examples that would benefit from the same approach. However, they may not be independent of this model, but rather may interact with and extend it. The more examples we consider, the more questions this will raise. If common questions arise from different examples, then this may be an indication of their significance. Answers to some of these common questions may be beneficial in all cases. However, it is also possible that they will be beneficial in some and harmful in others. This is not a bad thing, however, because it would prevent ill-considered decisions, and encourage us to seek optimal solutions.

g. Social Systems Theory in Practice - An Example (Part 1)

Social Systems Theory in Practice – An Example (Part1)


The term “Social Systems Theory” is normally used to describe the work of the German social theorist Niklas Luhmann. However, the theory described here differs from Luhmann’s in several ways. In particular, the physicalist perspective holds that everything, including information, exists physically in space-time. This implies that the knowledge of an organisation lies in the neural connections that make up the minds of its members. Thus, contrary to Luhmann’s theory, those members must also be a part of the organisation.

Intuitively, many of us sense that there are intangible “forces” that are beyond our individual control and that shape our society. In this article, I draw together the information provided in my previous articles on evolution, psychology, organisations, and systems theory, to show that these intangible “forces” are, in fact, tangible processes. These processes provide an understanding of why society is as it is. To a limited extent, the processes also provide an understanding of where society is heading unless we intervene.

The social systems theory presented here is not a general theory of society. Rather it comprises an understanding of both human and systems behaviour that can be applied in different social contexts. The explanations that it provides will differ for different cultures and in different eras. Nevertheless, the approach has substantial potential value.


To demonstrate the theory, I have chosen an example from the present-day Western world. The example provides an explanation of why the complexity of our society is increasing at an accelerating rate. Inevitably, this explanation raises many questions about where the process is heading, whether intervention is necessary, and, if so, what it should be. Some of these questions are considered at the end of this section.

Western society comprises many interacting organisations whose number increases day by day. Here the term “organisation” is generic. It includes any group of people who work together for a common purpose. It also includes any individual person. For example, an organisation’s function may be fishing, hunting, steelmaking, takeaway meals, or government. For a new organisation to form, a group of people must share a common need and perceive an opportunity to satisfy it by working together. Alternatively, they can share a common contra-need and perceive a way of avoiding it by working together.

In early simple societies, satisfiers for our needs were taken directly from the natural environment, for example, hunting, fishing, the gathering of vegetables, firewood, etc. To acquire these satisfiers, we formed groups or “organisations” under the leadership of experts. Other groups remained in camp to care for young children. As the size of the tribe increased, specialisation began, and some individuals spent most of their time on a particular activity. Thus, trading between specialist groups became necessary, for example, fish for childcare.

In present day Western society, few people can take their satisfiers directly from the environment. We all trade with others to satisfy our needs, and this is often in the form of employment by an organisation. Even farmers and miners need the goods and services provided by others to carry out their function.

This situation has arisen because of a positive feedback process which continues to this day. Because the process is cyclical and it is impossible to say what stage came first, I could begin its description at any point. So, beginning with increasing organisational efficiency, the process is as follows.

  • As the efficiency of an existing organisation increases, fewer people are required to carry out its function. The same is true of an individual, but efficiencies release the individual’s time.
  • However, these unattached individuals must still satisfy their needs and are usually unable to do so directly from the natural environment. So, they will seek opportunities to satisfy their needs by trading with established organisations. To that end, the unattached individuals will identify the needs of the established organisations. These needs may be goods or services that established organisations lack, or it may be aspects of the established organisations’ functions that could be carried out more efficiently.
  • If a group of unattached individuals share a common interest in providing goods, services, or efficiencies, then to do so more effectively they may form a new organisation and take on employees.
  • Not all new organisations are successful. The process is one of trial and error, and so, it is evolutionary.
  • The new organisation becomes established if it achieves its objective of trading with existing established organisations. This includes trading with individuals. Any efficiency that the new organisation provides results in the release of more people. Successful trading also satisfies the needs of the new organisation’s members.
  • Finally, the cycle is repeated with the new organisation as an established one.
  • Thus, the number of organisations in a society and the complexity of their interactions grows as time progresses.
  • Without any constraints, this growth would be exponential. However, constraints do exist, some of which are described below.

One constraint is the number of unattached people available to form new organisations. In a subsistence society there are none because everyone is fully engaged in satisfying their basic needs. So, the process may never begin without external intervention such as investment. In Western society, the growth of complexity initially relied on rapid population growth during the industrial revolution. This growth has now slowed to zero, and the release of people from established organisations through increased efficiency drives the process. An additional driver is immigration. However, for unattached people to be effective in forming new organisations, support and retraining is needed. Failing that, many may find themselves unable to satisfy their basic needs without turning to crime or other anti-social activities.

The constraints of natural resources and the problems they cause are well known. The latter include global warming, pollution, and the extinction of species. Although these issues are of enormous importance, I will not repeat here what has already been expressed very eloquently by others.

Our ability to understand complexity may also be a constraint. The more organisations there are, and the more diverse their function, the more complex society becomes. There are limits to the level of complexity that we can comprehend, and this has implications for government, the population, and crime. Can this increasing complexity be managed through technological advances? If not, then at what stage will national governments be incapable of governing effectively? At what stage will decentralisation become desirable? At what stage will citizens cease to be effective members of society and form a counterculture? At what stage will citizens begin to seek simple solutions, and at what stage will populist politicians begin to offer them?

As can be seen, the application of social systems theory to an issue raises many unanswered questions. However, it does begin to identify those that need to be addressed for the wellbeing of humanity and our environment.

m. The Role of Art

The Role of Art

Wiston, John A Challoner

Individual tastes in art vary enormously. This is because we find a work of art, whether it be painting, music, poetry, or literature, beautiful when it unconsciously triggers an association with something from our lives to which positive emotions are attached. For example, if holidays in the South of France have given us pleasure, then similar pleasure can be gained from art that triggers those recollections.

There are no absolute rules that determine what is “good” or “bad” art. Rather, they have a cultural basis. For example, in the West, music in a major key is generally perceived as happy and music in a minor key as sad. The conventional explanation is that the minor key contains more dissonance and is therefore inherently sad. However, as the research described in the link below shows, non-western cultures can have a greater preference for dissonance, can find the major key strange and foreign, and can attach different emotions to a piece of music than westerners.

How your culture informs the emotions you feel when listening to music (

In summary, therefore, beauty in art arises from both personal and cultural associations.

However, it is common for high status individuals to collect or sponsor art. There can, of course, be an element of personal pleasure and satisfaction in this. However, the principal reason is to gain followers and grow or maintain the hierarchy that supports their status. High status individuals must overtly appear to have something to trade in return for their followers’ support. They must also appear to have something to trade with high status peers, if alliances are to be formed. In this context, art can be a symbol of the wealth and status that is potentially available for trade.

Art can also be a symbol of belonging to a particular culture. In the case of high-status individuals, this is a symbol of belonging to the elite. If people who aspire to high status display the symbols of the culture to which they aspire, they are more likely to be selected by their seniors as potential supporters. A taste in art is one such symbol. This creates a positive feedback loop which maintains the status of the art favoured by a culture.

Art is, of course, often is a symbol of belonging to a sub-culture. In such cases, it often expresses rebellion against established social norms through its rebellion against established artistic norms.

Wealthy, high-status individuals also collect art as an investment. This creates another positive feedback loop. The highest-status individuals can establish what new developments in art are accepted by their culture. Followers aspire to that culture and, thus, display its symbols. Demand for the new development in art grows among the wealthy and, thus, prices increase.

Similar principles apply to other aspects of the elite’s culture, e.g., vehicles, clothing, homes, etc. Families who are established members of the elite pass its culture on to their children. However, the nouveau riche and those who aspire to the elite are less well “educated”. Some will, therefore, emulate wealthy and powerful role models without fully understanding how the process works. They can, therefore, seem merely brash until they gain experience. Finally, some who aspire to the elite can be duped, by advertising, into incorrectly believing that certain products signal high status and can, therefore, help them to achieve it. Watch the advertisements with this in mind.

So, if you wish to enjoy art, then enjoy art that does give you pleasure, rather art that should give you pleasure.  

l. How Sectors are Interrelated and an Overview of Emerging Sectors

How Sectors are Inter-related and an Overview of Emerging Sectors

The diagram below shows the ways in which the various sectors, each of which is pyramidical in form, are inter-related to form the United Kingdom as a nation in the 16th and 21st Centuries. In some cases, a sector has been truncated at the top because it is controlled by the members of another sector. In the 21st Century, the relative status, in the establishment, of the top stratum of each sector differs. For example, the leaders of the trade union movement, although members of the establishment, have a lower status than the monarch. However, by virtue of changes in the influence of each sector, and of trading by its upper stratum, the relative status of the upper strata of each sector constantly changes. Their status at any particular time is debatable, and so, no attempt has been made to show it.

16th Century Sectors

Present Day Sectors

Emerging Sectors

As time progresses and technology advances, some established sectors will lose influence and new ones will emerge. The future influence of these new sectors can be predicted, to a limited extent, by observing the growth of their sector, by understanding the nature of their ability to trade, and by identifying other sectors that they may be able to control. Examples of potentially emerging sectors include the following.

Data Analytics and Influencers. The power of this sector is its ability to influence the population in a similar manner to the media, but in a far more targeted way. It already has great influence over commercial marketing but, more recently, has begun exploring the potential to influence electorates. It has a growing influence over political parties, therefore.

Human Rights and Environmental Groups. Historically, the power of this sector was largely limited to its ability to protest and cause disruption. However, it is now gaining significant influence over electorates and, thus, greater influence within the establishment.

Artificial Intelligence Industry. The power of this sector is its potential to replace manual and intellectual labour in many other sectors, particularly industry and commerce. It is likely, therefore, that it will have great influence in those sectors.

Biotechnology Industry. The power of this sector is clearly its potential for extending life and improving physical wellbeing. It seems likely therefore that, if it remains in private hands, then as its technology progresses its upper strata will become very influential within the establishment.

Space Industry. The potential power of this sector is likely to be its access to mineral resources that are becoming scarce on earth, but that are necessary for established technologies. Other factors may be the advantages of off-planet manufacturing, military activity, and the control of communications. This sector is likely, therefore, to hold great influence over industry and commerce and, by virtue of their potential economic and security impact, with national governments.

k. Overview of Past and Present Sectors

Overview of Past and Present Sectors

The concept of a sector was described in the previous article. A brief overview of common past and present sectors is given below.

Government. In most nations, government is a significant sector, and members of its upper strata belong to the establishment. Consequently, other members of the establishment can influence government policy and legislation in the interest of their sector. They can also influence government, either directly or indirectly, in their personal interest.

Legal Sector. In most nations the legal sector is responsible for administering government legislation. The relationship between government and this sector tends, therefore, to be a formal one. However, the independence of the legal sector from government influence varies from nation to nation. Such independence does not preclude informal trading within the establishment which can, if necessary, be covert.

Armed Forces and Police. The armed forces and police are sectors whose role is the protection of civilians from crime and aggression. To carry out their function they are conferred substantial power, including the use of physical force. In some nations this coercive power is restrained by government and cultural institutions, but in others the sector has used it to establish military dictatorships or police states.

Agriculture and Land Ownership. In the past, landowners held considerable power through their control of the agricultural economy, and their ability to raise taxes and armies from within their agricultural hierarchies. In the West, the influence of land-owning families has declined substantially since the industrial revolution. However, agricultural corporations continue to hold some influence.

Royalty. Royal families arose at a time when there were far fewer sectors, and the principal one was land ownership and agriculture. Taxes and armies could be raised from this sector, and this gave its highest status individuals much power. Those most successful in negotiation and conflict became royalty, and many nations were formed in this way. Support for royal status was maintained by trading rights to land in return.

To this day, some nations are still ruled by absolute monarchs. In other nations, royalty has adapted to take on a constitutional role. In most, however, they have been replaced by presidential republics or dictatorships. The advantages and disadvantages of each method of governance will be discussed in future articles. However, where they continue to exist, there can be no doubt that royalty forms a very significant and influential part of the establishment.

Religion. Historically, religions have held great power, but this is now in decline in the West. The basis of their power was their ability to control populations through an unquestioning belief in the religion’s worldview. Kingdoms and empires have also relied on the support of religions for their rise. Most kings have declared themselves to rule by divine right. Others have established themselves as leader of the state religion. In extreme cases, religions have taken the reins of governmental power and have established theocracies.

Industry and Commerce. More recently, the power of agricultural landowners has been displaced by that of the leaders of industrial and commercial organisations. The basis of their power is, of course, the wealth that they generate from the resources they control. This can be offered to those with whom they are trading in the form of lucrative directorships, consultancies, or commercial support. In some cases, where policing is lax, trading can be in the form of simple bribes.

Finance.  In the present day, the financial sector controls much of a nation’s capital, industry, and commerce. In the West, it has, to a very large extent, replaced the upper strata of those sectors, and exercises great influence within the establishment.

Trade Unions. In the 20th Century, Western trade unions held significant sway over the work force, and an ability to disrupt industry and commerce. Whilst union activities were primarily in the interest of the workforce, it also gave their upper strata access to the establishment and an ability to trade within it. Government legislation and improvements in living standards have done much to reduce this influence. Nevertheless, union leaders retain a degree of influence over left wing political parties by virtue of their ability to influence parts of the electorate.

The Media. The media sector has a significant ability to influence the population. On the positive side, it exposes wrongdoing in other sectors, particularly government. However, on the negative side, there can be a strong relationship between privately owned media organisations, and political parties. This political partisanship is still overtly expressed in many media outlets. In some nations, it has brought the media sector into conflict with governments or other sectors, resulting in the coercion, intimidation, and closure of many media organisations.

I will discuss emerging sectors and the way that sectors interact in the next article.

j. Sectors


A nation and, increasingly, the global community is a complex of interacting organisations. The greater the resources that an organisation controls, the greater the power of its upper stratum. A collection of similar organisations that co-operate to acquire yet greater power and status forms what is described as a sector. Sectors are also organisations and the same principles apply to them. Sectors are of particular importance as they control or influence the institutions of a nation, and thus, its general culture. When they exist in an influential nation, they can also impact on multinational or global culture and affairs. They are therefore discussed in some detail here.

Sectors differ from nation to nation, and from era to era. The way that nations were organised in the past, are organised in the present, and, to a limited extent, how they will be organised in the future can be explained using the concept of sectors. To do so we need to understand the ways in which sectors interact. Of particular interest is their impact on government, the nation’s controlling sub-system.

All organisations are hierarchical, and all organisations are a part of yet greater ones. Thus, high status in one organisation often confers status in a parent organisation. Within the parent organisation, the high status individuals of a child organisation can negotiate with others for yet higher status. This is done by offering support in return for status. This support often takes the form of wealth and influence. The larger a person’s status base, the more resources he controls, the greater the support he can provide, the greater his trading ability, and the higher the status he is likely to achieve in the parent organisation.

This process is recursive. So, an individual with high status in a business can, by trading the support of that business with others, achieve high status in a sector, and by trading the support of that sector, achieve high status in the national establishment. The national establishment comprises high status members of many sectors including government. Thus, trading can take place between high status representatives of a sector and government. Of particular concern is the ability to influence government decisions. Unfortunately, this influence is often not in the interest of the nation but rather in the interest of the sector, the business, or even the individual representing them.

To acquire status in the establishment members must overtly appear to have something to trade. This explains the very high salaries and often ostentatious lifestyles of the leaders of many organisations. The purpose of such high salaries is not to satisfy the needs of the recipient nor, as some would argue, to attract and reward those with the necessary skills and talents. Rather it is to enable the upper strata to make overt displays to their peers in the establishment and, thus, better enable them to trade for status and influence. Unfortunately, this trade within the establishment requires ever greater displays of status, particularly wealth and power, which in turn leads to ever greater income inequality.

The interplay of sectors, through their representatives in the national establishment, plays a very large part in shaping the governance, culture, and beliefs of a nation. Each sector will carry with it a worldview suited to the needs of its members, or of its upper stratum. Through trading in the establishment, it is possible for the leaders of organisations in one sector to influence the decisions of the leaders of organisations in another. This influence includes not only decisions favouring a particular sector, but also the propagation of the latter’s worldview and the suppression of other, possibly more rational ones. In extreme cases, one sector can usurp the leadership of another, for example the takeover of the industrial commercial sector in the West by the financial sector and the imposition of a “bottom-line” ideology. A sector can also take control of government, as in the case of military dictatorships and theocracies.

f. Social Systems Theory and Practical Problem Solving

Social Systems Theory and Practical Problem Solving

This article is quite long, so I have published it in pdf format and it can be downloaded here. A summary follows.

Many Professional Civil Engineers quickly learn that the technical and economic difficulties of implementing a project are often dwarfed by the social difficulties. Successful projects must not only be technically and economically viable, but also socially acceptable. But what is “social acceptability”, especially when some favour a project and others actively oppose it? This article addresses that question. It describes the application of Social Systems Theory to practical present-day problems to determine the social acceptability of potential solutions. Social Systems Theory combines the insights of systems science, with insights from the human sciences of psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, to form a single practical discipline. This discipline can be used to better understand why problems exist, or it can be used to understand what potential solutions are socially acceptable.

The application Social Systems Theory to the latter is described in the article. The methodology is described in very general terms and is widely applicable.

i Maintaining Hierarchies and Social Status

Maintaining Hierarchies and Social Status

An organisation is a self-maintaining system. Thus, a large proportion of its inputs can be used to maintain its processes, rather than delivering outputs. This means that an organisation can satisfy not only the needs of people in its environment, but also the needs of its members. So, once an organisation is established, it will maintain and defend itself through the attitudes and actions of its members, and seek to grow.

Maintenance of the supporting hierarchy. For an individual to maintain his social status, the priority must be to maintain his supporting hierarchy. Without it there is no social status. Thus, if an organisation satisfies a member’s needs, he will adopt a conservative attitude towards it, protect it, defend it, and resist any change which might impact on its function as a personal satisfier.

Adaptation. Because an organisation is a self-maintaining system, its continued existence takes priority over its purpose. Like all self-maintaining systems organisations adapt to their environment. The purpose of the organisation can, therefore, be altered by its upper strata if changes in the environment become a threat to its existence.

Sustaining a hierarchy is more important than sustaining its purpose. A hierarchy can grow out of a shared purpose but, once it is established, sustaining the hierarchy becomes more important to its members than pursuing its purpose. Ultimately, the rewards for status become more important than the purpose that underpins it. For example, China and Russia both largely abandoned the communist ideology, but retained its hierarchy.

Falsification or exaggeration of importance. To justify and sustain an organisation’s continued existence, its higher strata can falsify or exaggerate its purpose. For example, to gain popular support, the benefits that an organisation brings to society or the environment can be exaggerated.

Peer Group appointments & nepotism. A peer group is a group of people with similar characteristics, e.g., members of the same family, gender, class, race, religion, educational background, sexual orientation, and so on. Members of the same peer group share a culture and are, therefore, more likely to understand and support one another. When selecting potential supporters in an organisation there is a tendency, therefore, for the leader to choose those from his or her own peer group. However, if taken to excess this can become self-propagating, leading to one peer group dominating an organisation, and a glass ceiling for those who are not members of it.

Norms and values of obedience. Secular organisations often maintain their hierarchy by incorporating norms and values of obedience to authority into their culture. Religious organisations do the same, but the norms and values of obedience can be much stronger. They include, for example, placing a god or gods at the top of the hierarchy, demanding unquestioning faith in his existence, and requiring unquestioning obedience to his will. Of course, the individuals who claim to know the will of this god are the true heads of the hierarchy and benefit the most from it.  In some cases, an organisation may be both secular and religious. In the past, it was common for kings to claim authority by divine right, and today there remain several nations with theocratic governments.

h. National Cultural Evolution

National Cultural Evolution


Culture comprises: values or those things that we hold good; norms or acceptable forms of behaviour; knowledge or beliefs; and symbols or things that identify us as belonging to a cultural group, such as ceremonies, forms of dress, and so on. Every organisation, no matter what its type, has a culture.

Culture evolves through a process of mutation and natural selection. The inception of a culture is largely based on geographical factors, such as climate, topography, and available resources. However, as a culture matures, social circumstances, particularly sub-cultures, begin to play a significant part. Cultural evolution is like biological evolution, but with two main differences. Firstly, cultural mutations are not necessarily random, but more commonly a consequence of prevailing circumstances. Secondly, because culture is learnt, it can change far more rapidly. Indeed, cultural evolution in humanity is thought to precede biological evolution, providing that the relevant aspects of the culture endure for enough time.

Ronald Inglehart and The World Values Survey

The World Values Survey (WVS) was begun in 1981 by its founder and first president, the American political scientist, Ronald Inglehart. The project measures the values, norms, and beliefs of the populations of 120 countries, and any changes, by carrying out extensive surveys every 5 years. The results are open access, used extensively by social and political scientists, and can be found at . Inglehart has also written an interpretation of the data in his 2018 book “Cultural Evolution”.

Nations can contain sub-cultures or counter-cultures. The values measured are, therefore, national averages and not those held by every individual or organisation. Nevertheless, these averages show very distinctive trends.

Cultural Dimensions

Inglehart and the WVS identified two independent dimensions to the values held by a culture. They are Traditional verses Secular-rational Values and Survival verses Self-expression Values. A change on one of these dimensions does not cause a change on the other, and they have different causes, therefore.

These values are explained below using quotes from Inglehart and the World Values Survey.

Traditional Values

  • Traditional values base morality on purported supernatural revelation or guidance (which is the source of religious ethics). (Inglehart)
  • “Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.” (WVS)

Secular-rational Values

  • Secular values base morality on human faculties such as logic, reason, or moral intuition. (Inglehart)
  • “Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)” (WVS)

Survival Values

  • Top priority is given to economic and physical safety. Inglehart calls this “the Authoritarian Reflex” and describes it as a deep-rooted human reaction to insecurity. Norms are linked with survival of the species or at least the in-group.
  • “Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.” (WVS)

Examples include:

  • A tendency to seek strong authoritarian leadership to bind the community together into its survival endeavour.
  • A tendency towards obedience of leaders.
  • A tendency towards strong in-group solidarity.
  • A tendency towards conformity to group norms.
  • A tendency towards rigid adherence to traditional cultural norms.
  • Intolerance of difference.
  • Xenophobia.
  • An emphasis in child upbringing on hard work.

Self-expression Values

  • These values are linked with the pursuit of individual wellbeing and tend to be democratic, secular and ones of tolerance for differences.
  • “Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.” (WVS)

Examples include:

  • An emphasis on gender equality.
  • Tolerance of LGBT people.
  • Tolerance of foreigners.
  • Tolerance of other outgroups.
  • Freedom of expression, e.g., speech.
  • Freedom of self-expression.
  • Freedom of choice on how to live one’s life.
  • Autonomy.
  • Creativity.
  • Participation in political and economic decision making.
  • Political activism.
  • The voice of the people.
  • Greater egalitarianism.
  • Equality of opportunity.
  • Openness to new ideas.
  • Openness to change.
  • Greater emphasis on environmental protection.
  • More tolerant of extramarital affairs.
  • More tolerant of suicide and euthanasia.
  • A rejection of hierarchical institutions.
  • Lack of deference to external authority.
  • Greater emphasis on the need for esteem.
  • Greater emphasis on aesthetic satisfaction.
  • An emphasis in child upbringing on imagination and tolerance.

Culture Mapping

Because the survival/self-expression and traditional/secular rational dimensions are almost entirely independent, Inglehart and the World Values Survey have been able to plot cultures as points on a graph. The most recent survey results are shown in the diagram below. Cultures with traditional and survival values are plotted in the bottom left and ones with secular-rational and self-expression values in the top right. This shows that countries cluster together to form cultural groups.

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map – World Values Survey 7 (2022). Source:

As one moves in a direction from bottom left to top right, one moves from economically poorer to richer countries. A country’s position in the graph reflects both its economic and its socio-cultural history. Values vary from individual to individual within those countries, of course. These variations are according to gender, generation, ethnicity, religious denomination, education, income and so forth. However, the standard deviation for an individual country is much smaller than the differences in position between rich and poor countries, and, in many cases, than between adjacent countries. Thus, the likelihood of a person in Sweden or the USA having the same values as a person in Nigeria or Jordan is very small. The predictive power of nationality is much stronger than that of income, education, region within the country, or gender.

If countries are mapped on this graph at different times, they show a distinct trajectory of cultural change. An animated graph can be found at

An Interpretation of the WVS’s Findings

Cultural evolution is a relatively new concept and, whilst there is extensive data from recent years, its interpretation should be treated with caution. For example, is the shift in the West from a change in values on the Traditional/Secular dimension to a change in values on the Survival/Self-expression dimension a consequence of post-industrialism or a consequence of consumerism and advertising?

The German Political Scientist, Christian Welzel, provides one interpretation in his book “Freedom Rising”. His main points can be found at They include:

  1. “Since 1981, economic development, democratization, and rising social tolerance have increased the extent to which people perceive that they have free choice, which in turn has led to higher levels of happiness around the world.”
  2. “People’s priorities shift from traditional to secular-rational values as their sense of existential security increases…” and “The largest increase in existential security occurs with the transition from agrarian to industrial societies. Consequently, the largest shift from traditional towards secular-rational values happens in this phase.”
  3. “People’s priorities shift from survival to self-expression values as their sense of individual agency increases…” and “The largest increase in individual agency occurs with the transition from industrial to knowledge societies. Consequently, the largest shift from survival to self-expression values happens in this phase.”
g. Progressive and Conservative Sub-cultures

Progressive and Conservative Sub-cultures

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.