Posted: Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:00 pm Post subject: Socialism, Anarchy, and the 'Monkeysphere'
THIS is an incredibly entertaining and illuminating essay from one of my favorite American blogs, Atomic Nerds. The gist is an exploration of how failed ideas of human organization (aka Socialism) continue to have so much pull to people. I think it does a dandy job of explaining the allure of socialism, and the less positive aspects of populism, to so many people. Some teasers:
...Dunbar, observing this, used regression analysis from 38 primate genera to predict the average stable group size for humans: around 150 group members. This is huge for a monkey, but compared to the average size of human societies now, after thousands of years of cultural evolution, it’s incredibly dinky.
David Wong popularized the concept for the web in an article about Dunbar’s Number (redubbed the “monkeysphere”) and why it means that we are so much less moral when dealing with people we don’t know. Once above a certain number of friends, family, and individuals that we interact with on a regular basis, we are dealing with people that are far less real to us because they’re “outside the monkeysphere”; our neocortexes are simply not capable of processing more. One death is a tragedy and one million is a statistic not because the majority of humans don’t care about other people, but because we have a hardware bottleneck at work, every bit as severe as a program reaching for computer memory or storage space that simply isn’t there...
...Still, what we have here is the two most primitive levels of government resting on the idea of distribution of wealth- which has a very limited meaning at this level of society- being in fact a very good idea, seemingly the only good idea at that population size. It’s close enough to the monkeysphere to work, and more than that, it’s the only idea that really works when all your wealth is in the form of a limited supply of tangible goods. It makes perfect sense that we get jealous when we see another human with tons and tons of stuff- for all of our history as animals and the vast majority of our history as humans, someone with tons of stuff almost has to be shorting us and everyone else on stuff, because there is only so much stuff...
One of the odd little thoughts that occurred to me when reading parts of this, was that Hutterite colonies, which are very communal in nature, and experience incredibly low levels of crime and social strife, have a 'built-in' limit of ... around 150 colonists before they split. But that's beside the point, really.
...All that’s left is the software, and it doesn’t work very well, not least because it ignores the design constraints of the hardware. But the hardware IS designed to continue thinking it’s a good idea, because it was so vital to our success as humans for so long.
It even explains why libertarianism is always such a minority political theory in nearly any given society: if there is any concept that is completely and utterly alien to the original primate, it is “mind your own business”. Show me a monkey that does THAT...
Read the whole thing, it's a great read, and very thought provoking.
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