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The Culture of FeedbackEcological Thinking in Seventies America$
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Daniel Belgrad

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226652368

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226652672.001.0001

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(p.174) Seven Neo-Orthodoxies
The Culture of Feedback

Daniel Belgrad

University of Chicago Press

Toward the end of the seventies, the culture of feedback came under attack by conservative critics who challenged the mainstays of ecological thinking. Molecular biologists reasserted a reductionist genetic determinism in descriptions of natural selection, dismissing the theory of coevolution as unscientific. These neo-Darwinists relied on game theory to argue that even altruistic behaviors could be fully explained as the result of competition among “selfish genes.” Similarly, conservative economists applied game theory to the problem of “stagflation” and arrived at a neoliberal solution. Their supply-side economics recommended an end to government regulations in order to “free” the market. These economists positioned the competitive marketplace, rather than the ecosystem, as the final arbiter of human destiny. Supported by supply-side economic theory, the cultural politics of Reaganism mobilized a popular blend of individualism and optimism to flout ecology’s accepted truth that there were natural limits to economic growth. Consonant with a regressive notion of individualism, Reaganism emphasized closing borders and strengthening barriers in order to protect a traditional American identity. This ran counter to ecological thinking’s core belief that identity was emergent from the complex dynamics of interdependency characteristic of nested open systems.

Keywords:   Reaganism, genetic determinism, neoliberalism, free market, game theory

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