However this I don't like, you've to heavily idealized the actual process of evolution, which by all accounts, natural selection is really a coincidence of the favoritism of environmental circumstances. How did camouflage evolve? In the discussions at school with my students we sometimes speak anthropomorphically about natural selection and evolution, almost as if the animals themselves chose consciously to adapt and evolve certain traits. This is simply nonsensical! Species don't chose to evolve, the environmental circumstances favor certain features over others, and the way in which these features evolve is through a combination of purely RANDOM mutation and further sexual reproduction where even if species mate selectively, none-the-less the combination of genes is randomized. Both result not necessarily in conscious or strategic evolution, rather purely serendipitous. Camouflage for example evolves as animals when the environment favors one kind of marking over another as an animal with some markings survives and reproduces more successfully where as the previous versions eventually go extinct. Kodak bears are genetically identical with brown bears, and even sometimes swim back to shore in Canada and live out as brown bears. How did the brown bear turn white? It surely didn't consciously decide this change, rather the snow white environment favored the eventual transition as lighter and lighter brown bears reproduced more successfully than darker brown bears until inevitably they turned white! Then in time the white bears out competed the fully brown bears and the brown bears either left or died off and after a certain amount of time the genetic differences get so strong that they become separate species. At this time Kodak and brown bears can still fully reproduce like Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox are in full communion
It may have become confusing but in my post I discussed both natural and artificial selection. The death penalty, castration, and even family extermination have been used throughout human history and these are, in a very real sense, a form of artificial selection: the tribe making a conscience decision to remove an individual, and in some cases even his entire genetic line, from the gene pool. Maybe they didn't think about it in those terms (though in the case of family extermination, they may very well have), though that's exactly what they did.
As for natural selection, it's certainly true that the species does not determine how they evolve, that would be artificial selection, but I don't think it's incorrect to speak of the system as 'choosing' certain traits over others, it may not be a conscience choice, but an algorithmic choice is made: creatures and species that can survive and reproduce get to pass on their genes and influence the future of evolution, those that cannot survive and reproduce do not get to do so. So the system is optimizing all the elements for one characteristic: survivability. Yes, it can often be environment-specific, but since environments change over the ages there are many valuable environment-independent traits that get passed on as well.
Now that we've gotten the science out of the way, lets look at this quoted discussion about the cultural evolution of certain human traits in relation to natural selection. I'm sorry but I just do buy into the influence of reproductive instinct and natural selection on the evolution of human psychology and culture. Yes, human beings have a fundamental, biological drive to reproduce, as do ALL living things, but just like all other living things, we are not solely defined by this urge just as we are no more defined by our urges to defecate!
The very nature of the system requires optimization for survival and reproduction and survival is only important through reproductive age, of course certain species can have various other characteristics, but these are the two constants across all living things from humans to insects to flora to bacteria. They are very strong and driving forces that must be strongly present for a species to survive. And, yes, there are outliers, but evolution is a game of means.
Animals do not live solely to reproduce, and sometimes scientists in their studies and theories forget that somethings live just to live, and reproducing a facet of this existing. There is far more to life than just reproduction, and it is not the sole driving force, Freud was also mistaken. I just think you have oversimplified the process and factors involved.
Of course I've oversimplified it, this is a web forum, I'm making a casual argument, not presenting a scientific dissertation.
Humans have evolved a remarkable capacity for logic and reason, which we no doubt evolved to give us a survival advantage, but we have done much, much more with it than that. But still, despite our accomplishments, we have a fundamental desire to survive and to reproduce (or at least engage in the reproductive act, our intellect has allowed us to separate the pleasure of the act from the consequences of the act and make decisions balancing our desire to survive (kids are expensive and don't help personal survival); however none of this has diminished the desire to actually engage in the reproductive act). But we are complex beings and how these things interact with our rational abilities is hardly straightforward, but we can't deny their overwhelming influence on human society, in fact the very existence of human society, of humans as social animals, is the result of a survival tactic that doesn't hurt with reproduction either.
Also, the fact that we survive to reproduce does not imply that these two impulses are in harmony, they can be pulling in opposite directions and one can even be detrimental to the other. But just so long as they are sufficiently optimized to the environment to be able to exist and reproduce in that environment and are more successful at it than competing species, that will be the species that survives. Though these things are likely to be optimized as time progresses.
Culture is precisely what living things, be it humans or flowers, have inherent to their life which defines them beyond reproduction and in fact counters the forces of natural selection and nature.
Flower culture? Really? A little to 1960's for my taste.
Culture is beyond instinct and in fact it controls instincts.
If culture controlled instinct, the western world would have become extinct with the celibacy craze of the Roman Church in the Middle Ages.
Humans are not the only social animals with stratified societies and complex sociocultural patterns, and these are really beyond evolutionary explanation either in humans or animals!
No, we're not not, these characteristics are inherent in all social animals or at least all social mammals. They are traits that are necessary for animals to successfully live in a social context. Humans and horses don't both have stratified societies and complex sociocultural patterns because horses reason similarly to humans, we share these characteristics because they are necessary characteristics to live in a social situation and either followed similar paths of evolution as a result of this strong necessity of these characteristics for survival in a social situation or derive from a common ancestor that had these traits and passed them on due to the ability these traits gave this common ancestor to survive (I honestly don't know enough about the history of the evolution of the Horse to say which is true, I'm not even certain how long ago our common ancestor lived, though I'm sure someone has calculated it from DNA analysis).
Species do many things to counter natural selection and ensure survival of even non-reproductive members counter to the instinctive drives or reproduction because while all universally share them as DNA bearing creatures,
As you reminded me earlier, evolution is not a conscience choice by the species (at least for non-human species), we are likely the only species that has ever figured out this connection between survival and reproduction and its role in the advancement of evolution. Social animals help non-reproductive members survive because they are programmed to seek the survival of the herd. They don't know that evolution programmed them this way to simply be able to survive to reproductive age and reproduce more efficiently. They know what their instinct and impulses tell them to do, they don't know why they have them.
surely our lives are more beautifully complicated then that, even if solely defined by our numerous primal urges such as hunger, companionship, reproduction, fear, and pleasure!
They are because we have developed this remarkable capacity for reason, this doesn't mean that these primal urges and impulses are not central to our lives and existence, they are, but because of reason we are able to expand beyond these primal desires and at times expand on or even influence them.
After all, we are often hungry for different things, seek companionship for different reasons, purposely avoid reproducing, deny fear, and have different definitions of pleasure.
We are hungry for different things, but we tend to gravitate towards that which is familiar (though I freely confess, I'm an outlier in this regard). Do we seek companionship for different reasons or do we inherently desire companionship and simply come up with different rationals to justify that desire? We may purposely avoid reproduction, but very few of us can shed the reproductive desire while of reproductive age, the writings of the Church Fathers can attest to this much at least. We can deny fear, but so can the the mother in the wild deny fear to protect her young, but we are more sophisticated in that we can also deny fear for rational reasons, not purely instinctive ones; but it is hardly true that reason always conquers fear, more often than not the opposite is true, we try to rationalize and justify our fear and as a result our history is plagued with genocide and great tragedy that results from this attempt to rationalize fear, this merger of fear and reason where fear ultimately wins. We may have some different ideas for leisure, not that evolution spent much time on those characteristics, but the vast majority of people (and social animals in general) share many of the same fundamental pleasures across all cultures, peoples, and species: the pleasure of a drink of water when suffering from thirst, the pleasure of food when truly hungry, the pleasure of success over failure, the pleasure of friends and companionship, and, above all, the pleasure of the reproductive act.