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Conservatism and Creativity in Cultural Evolution: A View from the Arts and Humanities.

Robert Watson, UCLA Department of English

Creative arts and humanistic learning allow us to vary, evaluate, and regulate the evolving cultural systems that we empower, at some cost and risk, to protect us from the unique openness of human consciousness. Culture takes over the conservative tasks (performed biochemically in most non-human creatures) of giving shape to the overwhelming data offered by the world and providing coherent instructions for responding. Yet high culture (both artistic and scholarly) helps the broader culture co-evolve with us, offering a safe setting for experimental innovations, selecting which latent parts of our epigenetic library should be activated in a particular environment, and favoring variations that promote long-term diversity over self-serving viruses that commandeer the body-politic into narrowing, inhumane projects. Universities provide an essential defense both against the reactionary tribalism that resents complexity and multiculturalism, and against the runaway meme-complexes now often manifest in capitalism and religion.

Monday, January 13, 2014
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Los Angeles, CA, Haines Hall 352, UCLA

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