Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nature Article on Migration and Social Change

The latest issue of Nature has this interesting piece on how migration is a force of social change. Here is a sample:

As cultural evolutionists interested in how societies change over the long term, we have thought a lot about migration, but only recently tumbled to an obvious idea: migration has a profound effect on how societies evolve culturally because it is selective. People move to societies that provide a more attractive way of life and, all other things being equal, this process spreads ideas and institutions that promote economic efficiency, social order and equality.

Culture is the set of socially acquired ideas, beliefs and values carried by a population of individuals. Various processes change the distribution of cultural variants through time. Some processes act at the individual level as people selectively learn ideas, and those ideas affect an individual's chance of teaching others or of being imitated by them, causing some cultural variants to spread and others to disappear. Theory and much empirical data indicate that individual-level processes can stabilize a vast array of beliefs and institutions.

....This way of thinking changes our view of the consequences of conflicts between societies. Focusing on military competition alone predicts that societies may be nice to insiders and rough on outsiders. Powerful societies may exploit their conquered and resist their assimilation. But taking the effects of assimilation into account suggests that conquering empires will be ephemeral unless they induce immigration and integration.