Human Possibilities: The Interaction of Biology and Culture

Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies Fall 2014


This article briefly describes the two main strands of a new unified theory about human nature and human possibilities: cultural transformation theory and bio-culturalism. Bio-culturalism combines findings from neuroscience about how our brains develop in interaction with our environments with findings from the study of relational dynamics, a new method of social analysis focusing on what kinds of relations—from intimate to international—a particular culture or subculture supports. Bio-culturalism recognizes that our species has a vast spectrum of genetic capacities, ranging from consciousness, caring, empathy, cooperation, and creativity to insensitivity, cruelty, exploitation, and destructiveness, and proposes that which of these capacities are expressed or inhibited largely hinges on the nature of our cultural environments. Cultural transformation theory looks at the whole span of human cultural evolution from the perspective of the tension between the contrasting configurations of the partnership system and the domination system as two underlying possibilities for structuring beliefs, institutions, and relationships. The article describes the core components of partnership- and domination-oriented societies, provides examples of each, and proposes that our future hinges on accelerating the cultural transformation from domination to partnership in our time of nuclear and biological weapons and the ever more efficient despoliation of nature, when high technology guided by an ethos of domination and conquest could take us to an evolutionary dead end.

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