|Cultural Software is the first book that seriously applies theories of cultural evolution and the theory of memes to the problems of ideology and justice. Instead of resting the concept of ideology on outmoded notions of "false consciousness," Cultural Software shows how ideological effects get produced through the spread and reproduction of forms of cultural know-how, or cultural software. |
Human beings are the bearers of this cultural software, it helps constitute them and shapes them as persons with distinctive values and purposes. Yet cultural software reproduces whether or not it serves the interests of human beings. Rather, cultural conventions and institutions spread as if they had their own interests in survival and reproduction. And some kinds of cultural software can act like virtual parasites, breeding unhappiness and injustice as they reproduce in human minds and institutions.
Drawing on anthropology, evolutionary theory, cognitive science, linguistics, sociology, political theory, social psychology, and law, Cultural Software offers a strikingly original theory of cultural evolution, a theory that explains both shared understandings and diversity within cultures.
"Balkin argues ingeniously that meme theory replaces more familiar critical theories of ideology, because it alone explains how people come to believe the things they believe, without reference to dubious assumptions about "false consciousness" or "hegemony." [Balkin] writes with lucid balance. . . . Balkin's account is the most nuanced and convincing on the question of what we actually gain from meme theory."
--Mark Kingwell, Harpers
"After 250 years of writing about ideology, it is difficult to have something new to say that advances our understanding of this elusive concept, and yet Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology by J.M. Balkin manages to do just that... a remarkable work that will be usefully read by a broad audience."
--Susan Silbey, American Journal of Sociology
"[A] path-breaking effort to rethink legal critique using ... biological and cybernetic models; the scope of its ambition and the subtlety of its execution are likely to make it a definitive work."
--David Charny, University of Michigan Law Review
"[I]ntelligent and extremely well crafted... [A] wonderfully clear presentation of the major strands of postmodern thought."
--Emily Sherwin, Philosophy in Review