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25.11.05

Meta Cultural Theory

Cultural Theory argues that none of the four biases (Hierarchy, Egalitarianism, Individualism, and Fatalism) is entirely superior. All four are necessary, in some combination, for a functioning society. On the one hand, it's an appealing idea that seems to offer a useful direction for policymaking. But on the other hand, allowing this higher-order view seems to threaten to let Cultural Theorists transcend the basic theorem of Cultural Theory: that everyone is biased.

But what actually happens is that the biases reappear at the meta level. The question of "how do we coordinate and balance the application of different biases?" is one that admits of four irreconcilable answers. The most obvious is a sort of meta-Hierarchy -- a set of clear rules specifying when and where each first-order bias is applicable. More popular in the Cultural Theory literature is meta-Egalitarianism, under which all four biases are invited to the table to share their perspective as equals. The idea of the complementarity of biases has been most deeply investigated by Michael Thompson, whose study area -- the Sherpas -- exhibits meta-Individualism, a practice of allowing the four biases to compete to see which is most effective at running each sphere of life in a given set of circumstances. And of course there's meta-Fatalism, in which we just hope for the best in our configuration of biases.

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