Yes, I think they probably want to make it clear that they're speculating. As for the search for meaning, though, I think there's an individual version of this and a social or cultural version. Someone comes up with a story and/or ritual that feels comforting, shares it with others, who share it with others, etc. Each would be motivated by his/her personal sense of comfort derived from the story, but if it's a good one, then society at large would benefit from the comfort. I think it's plausible, but unproven.
As far as aggression towards "outsiders," this is so prevalent within the animal world that I tend to believe it comes with genetic wiring. The platitude that "You have to be taught to hate and fear," is something I suppose we all might want to believe, but I wonder if there hasn't been research on human children that suggests otherwise.
If it has to be taught, where did it come from?
Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) occurs when a pregnant woman uses cocaine and thereby exposes her fetus to the drug. "Crack baby" was a racially charged term coined to describe children who were exposed to crack (freebase cocaine in smokable form) as fetuses; the concept of the crack baby emerged in the US during the 1980s and 1990s in the midst of a crack epidemic. Early studies reported that people who had been exposed to crack in utero would be severely emotionally, mentally, and physically disabled; this belief became common in the scientific and lay communities. Fears were widespread that a generation of crack babies were going to put severe strain on society and social services as they grew up.
Later studies failed to substantiate the findings of earlier ones that PCE has severe disabling consequences; these earlier studies had been methodologically flawed (e.g. with small sample sizes and confounding factors). Scientists have come to understand that the findings of the early studies were vastly overstated and that most people who were exposed to cocaine in utero do not have disabilities.
Human behaviors that have endured for thousands of years have done so for a reason, overall they preserve the species. War certainly seems like a behavior that would result in the opposite (and thanks to technology it now might) but it's been with us as long as recorded history and mankind certainly has flourished throughout.
I agree with those who believe it is an element in the formation of a culture, but I'm not sure it is the only one.
Do you accept that a troop of baboons have a "culture?" ...
As far as aggression towards "outsiders," this is so prevalent within the animal world that I tend to believe it comes with genetic wiring. The platitude that "You have to be taught to hate and fear," is something I suppose we all might want to believe, but I wonder if there hasn't been research on human children that suggests otherwise. I can see how adults may steer the child's instinctive behavior towards a given group, but that's not the same as creating it. I'll have to some research on this.
I'm inclined to think that the term 'terror management' is more applicable in today's culture to be 'terror encouragement', as in 'finding ways to keep people terrified'. The previous mention of 'crack babies' was a good example. It was basically racially motivated bullshit just as 'Refer Madness' was in an earlier time.
I do believe TMT is fairly correct, based on Ernst Becker's book, Denial of Death. By taking society's cultural mores as important facets of ones' life, we can ameliorate the awareness of our mortality to some degree, I feel. Culture, and its institutions offers enough of a diversion to keep us not always ruminating on our mortality. In effect, society's institutions gives us a reason to chase the proverbial merry-go-round ring, and lose oneself in busyness and ego enhancing activities. It also lets us feel that in some way our being part of a society that will outlive us, gives us a measure of vicarious immortality, since we are part of something bigger than our single life.
We, the people, are the grand, great, conspiracy. We're responsible for voting them into office where they legislate. Anyone here know an honest, ethical, politician? How about the candidates for president?
As I wrote, I don't think it's all nature. Parents can ramp up the genetic predisposition to fear outsiders.
Plus, I think the notion of people "hating and fearing" others has been trumped up. Of course it exists, but I think I can count on one hand the number of people I've met over 61 years who actually hated another group of people just because they were different.
It occurred to me while I was reading your post that the issue of the origins of culture and the current state of affairs are different questions. I haven't (yet) read anything by TMT proponents that speculate about the origins, evolutionary or otherwise. The literature may be out there, but I just haven't seen it yet.
Anyway, I think I see what you mean about the elements of culture developing with a group-first emphasis. Culture is necessarily social, not individual. The me-first drive isn't culture, just instinct (barring the rare cases of self-sacrifice). Is that pretty close?
It seems rather obtuse that these people haven't covered the significance of culture itself in regard to their theory seeing as how they involve it as a part of this theory and yet treat its psychological aspect and the current state of affairs as if they exist in a vacuum, in and of themselves.
If these people are referring to their theory in the context of instinct then I fail to see where culture comes into play.
I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated.
As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, Although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. "Because of my thousandfold experience," he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: "And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold." (Karl Popper)