Take a group of people and plop them down together in any given set of material circumstances. Given the resources and stressors present in those circumstances – not, i.e., introduced by the people themselves – each of them will develop a different schedule of preferences about what should happen next, so as to maximize each his own net hedonic utility. Only when the constraints of the circumstances on what is practically possible are extremely tight – only, that is, when there are only very few options that are tolerable for any of them (as when, e.g., the flood waters are approaching) – will the utility functions of the whole group approximate to unanimity.
Only rarely, then, will all the members of a group completely agree about what should best be done. Almost always, they shall find that they must negotiate with each other in order to reach a joint decision about the fitting uses of the resources at hand. The greater the number of options furnished by their material circumstances, the more likely are they to disagree with each other incompatibly.
When this happens, the question between them is which of them will have to suffer some disappointments or other in order for the group as a whole to achieve an acceptable mix of disappointment and satisfaction – of, that is to say, costs and benefits. It is here that market and gift exchanges begin – and with them negotiations, crimes, laws, politics, and so forth – the whole panoply of common life. Because resolution cannot happen except in virtue of some degree of disappointment, it cannot but produce resentment, which of course threatens always to end in violence.
The problem of society as such, then, is to find ways of increasing the likely degree of compatibility among utility functions, so as to salve resentment, reduce intramural violence and improve coordination.
A cult clusters utility functions tightly together in the solution space, so that there is a much better chance that the group will approximate to unanimity, or at least to agreement on a set of compatible options, thus minimizing conflict. In effect, a cult promulgates notions of what sorts of things are important, or not, and how therefore it is proper to behave.
Whether or not founded in the common cult, customs and taboos too greatly constrain the number of options open to the group. This sort of constraint works on all social rituals, from table manners and rules of polite speech (spelling, grammar and diction) to dressing and grooming.
Likewise will utility functions more likely converge the more the group members are phenotypically similar. Nor is this only a function of similar tastes developed by similar upbringing, although that must certainly play a role. It must also be genetic, for studies of twins separated at birth manifest their truly spooky unplanned agreements about even the most picayune preferences – e.g., for white dogs named Spot.
Finally, authoritative leadership too constrains the options the people feel are truly open to them. Kings give law, defining what is and is not right to do. But then also do they transmit the Law handed down by their fathers: the king is the embodiment of all his ancestral line, and all that it has learned over the centuries about the right way to behave in this or that situation. The scribes of the sovereign in their archives and the clerks of the law courts and secretaries of the parliaments in theirs remember, echo, and refresh the bonds that in past times bound things together.
Whatever else they intend, the organs of society are all aimed at reducing incompatibility of utility functions so as to improve the likelihood of their harmonic coordination. And there is feedback and coevolution among such institutions. E.g., as the taboos on discourse evolve, so might customary political procedures. Contrariwise, as the exigencies of politics or of war push the matter of political discourse into new and uncharted territory (think, e.g., of the challenge to customary American politics of the European invasions), the cult can change in response (as, e.g., with the Ghost Dance).
Again, cultures are selection routines that operate on genotypes: they prefer and reward those sorts of men who are best suited to thrive in them, who then thrive best when they replicate the culture that forms the milieu of their success. Utility is in part a function of physiology, which is to say, of phenotype; as cultures constrain utility functions, then, so likewise they constrain genotypes. Broadly speaking, it therefore makes some sense to treat a culture’s phenotype, not just as one of its characteristic expressions, but also as one of its constitutive institutions.
When any of the primary social institutions fails or falters, social cohesion can be maintained only by an increase in the constraining activity of the others. If, e.g., the common patrimonial cult be vitiated, the sovereign must increase his own sorts of constraining activities in order to keep things going in orderly fashion: so will there be more laws, more police, more bureaucrats – more costs and penalties. A heterogeneous gene pool likewise will need a strong religion or state to keep chthonically disparate utility functions coordinated.
In the modern era, the common cult has fallen into desuetude, as have most rules of decorum. The gene pool of the Western lands is less and less homogeneous. So now are we constrained only by the state and by taboo – by diktat and political correctness – and that, poorly. So poorly, indeed, that the media – another constraining social institution – must propagate falsehood in order to keep some semblance of harmony. Things spiral more and more out of truly harmonious coordination, and chaos increases. Everyone feels this in their guts. So the nisus toward enforcing political correctness grows ever more frenzied and picayune, its ritual immolations of scapegoats less and less effectual at purging the demons we all feel nagging at our minds. So the state regulation of petty private affairs grows ever more desperate and totalitarian, reaching down even to thoughtcrime. The system as a whole is grasping at every conceivable straw in a frantic effort to hold things together amicably.
Take on the other hand the reverse situation, where a homogeneous people adhere all to a strong common cult. Then, things hang together with but minimal activity on the part of the sovereign, and taboos are few.
It is hard to say for sure, but it looks therefore as though phylogenetic homogeneity and a common cult are more fundamental than taboo or politics, and subvene them. Mix diverse peoples together, destroy the patrimonial cult, and no matter how hard the sovereign works or taboos proliferate, things will fall apart, and into war. This sort of conflict of the characteristic visions of disparate peoples living in the same territory cannot be corrected, except by removals of peoples and their visions, leaving as a remainder in each territory only the most robust of the lot: a homogeneous people espousing a common cult.