I also agree value drift hasn’t historically driven long-run social change
My impression is that the differences in historical vegetarianism rates between India and China, and especially India and southern China (where there is greater similarity of climate and crops used), is a moderate counterpoint. At the timescale of centuries, vegetarianism rates in India are much higher than rates in China. Since factory farming is plausibly one of the larger sources of human-caused suffering today, the differences aren’t exactly a rounding error.
That’s a good example.
I do agree that quasi-random variation in culture can be really important. And I agree that this variation is sometimes pretty sticky (e.g. Europe being predominantly Christian and the Middle East being predominantly Muslim for more than a thousand years). I wouldn’t say that this kind of variation is a “rounding error.”
Over sufficiently long timespans, though, I think that technological/economic change has been more significant.
As an attempt to operationalize this claim: The average human society in 1000AD was obviously very different than the average human society in 10,000BC. I think that the difference would have been less than half as large (at least in intuitive terms) if there hadn’t been technological/economic change.
I think that the pool of available technology creates biases in the sorts of societies that emerge and stick around. For large enough amounts of technological change, and long enough timespans (long enough for selection pressures to really matter), I think that shifts in these technological biases will explain a large portion of the shifts we see in the traits of the average society.
If selection pressures become a lot weaker in the future, though, then random drift might become more important in relative terms. ↩︎