l. 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.

k. Culture, Sub-cultures and Cultural Evolution

Culture, Sub-cultures, and Cultural Evolution


As mentioned in a previous article, an organisation is any group of people who work together with a common purpose. Every organisation has a culture comprising values, norms, beliefs, operational knowledge, and symbols.


In common parlance during the 1960’s, the word “sub-culture” was associated with rebellious, western, youth cultures. More recently, it has become associated with style-based cultures, predicated on fashions in music and clothing. However, these are merely the most overtly expressed sub-cultures. The more general definition used in this article is a group of individuals within a parent culture who, whilst largely subscribing to the latter, deviate from some of its norms, values, beliefs, and symbols in an identifiable way.

The parent culture can be that of an organisation of any scale, from a club, through a nation, to the global community. However, we most often tend to think of sub-cultures as being relative to national culture. The most significant national sub-cultures are political, ethnic, religious, regional, gender based, age based, occupation based, class based, and so on.

How Sub-cultures Arise

There are three main ways in which a sub-culture can arise.

  1. Organisational Emergence. A sub-culture can arise in the same way as any other organisation. A group of individuals who identify a common threat or opportunity come together with a common purpose. Within such a group, a common culture arises, and a leadership hierarchy can also arise. It is worth noting, however, that there also exist interest based sub-cultures, e.g., sports and hobbies, which do not necessarily become organized. Thus, whilst an organisation always has a culture, a culture is not necessarily part of an organisation.
  2. Cultural Migration. The anthropologist, Roland B Dixon, noted that ethnic migration can also result in cultural change. However, more general cultural migrations can also occur, for example, when one business is taken over or merged with another.
  3. Top-down Design. Present day marketing specialists are well aware of the importance of sub-cultures as consumers, and are capable of promoting a designed sub-culture via the internet and social media. Many, but not all, Western sub-cultures are now consumer based, therefore. This is an example of how an improved knowledge of social systems can alter a culture.


In extreme cases, the parent culture can be regarded as a threat by a group of individuals. So, they may come together to form a counter-culture, which seeks to radically alter the parent culture. Counter-cultures are normally political in nature and organised.

Sub-cultures and Cultural Evolution

Sub-cultures play an important part in cultural evolution. A sub-culture may be relatively minor at first, but can grow and ultimately become absorbed by the parent culture. Recent examples in the West include the absorption of the following sub-cultures: women’s rights, LGBT rights, ethnic minority rights, religious rights and so on.

Historically, due to the prevalence of authoritarian regimes, sub-cultures tended to emerge in hiding at first. This is because authoritarian regimes tended to regard them as a threat to the status quo, and because sub-cultures were, initially, relatively powerless and easily eradicated. For example, in the dark ages, people who did not conform to religious norms, or who questioned the social hierarchy, could be burnt at the stake. However, the Renaissance sub-culture later emerged. It sought the reinstatement of knowledge lost following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This ultimately led to a more rational approach to theology, the natural world, and the arts. The Renaissance was followed by the Reformation, a reaction against the Catholic Church’s doctrine. It led not only to religious change but also to more general social change. It highlighted corruption in the Catholic Church hierarchy, afforded women a greater role in society, helped to spread literacy, and weakened the relationship between church and state. The subsequent Age of Enlightenment, in which philosophy, logic, and reason flourished, resulted in major political changes that formed the liberal democracies that we see in the Western world today. All of these changes originated with a sub-culture.

Alongside the decline of authoritarianism, there has been growing tolerance for sub-cultures.  Increasingly, they have been allowed to grow or expire with relatively little interference from established institutions. The effect of this has been to increase the pace of cultural evolution.

Despite this growing tolerance, social pressures remain. We all hold our culture in mental schemata, and these can cause us to behave towards others in a way that encourages them to adopt the same culture. That is, we aim for cultural homogeneity or the sharing of a common culture. Inevitably, the likelihood of such homogeneity decreases with organizational size.

On the other hand, cultural entrenchment, i.e., the unchangeability of an organisation’s culture, generally increases with size. Our cultural schema can also cause us to regard people who hold a different culture or sub-culture as a threat and we can, therefore, attempt to stifle emerging sub-cultures. The larger the group of people who hold a culture the more successful this will tend to be.