The Community Organism
A community is a self-organizing being. These posts focus on the connection between our ordinary behaviors and the way they knit together a “superorganism” via unconscious participation.
“My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” -J. B. S. Haldane
How do these days taste to you? How do they feel, literally in your heart? Do they sit with you, whispering confused thoughts? Do they weigh on your stomach like a heavy meal?
Life in Covid-19 lockdown has a unique feeling, in distinct contrast with all that preceded it. If you were writing the great Corona novel you’d observe the climate, character, and ambiance of this time. The form, style, and subject matter would come out of you dyed vividly with the anxious, strange, and haunting uncertainty of this collective experience.
If god forbid, someday in the middle future we find ourselves in quarantine again, all this will hit us like a lead-pipe deja-vu: The dread, uneasily watching spasmodic charts of cases and deaths. Reports from overwhelmed cities and tearful ER staff. Ourselves adrift, unemployed, possibly forever. Time dissolving, as the familiar weekdays drift out of position like objects in space. Untenable haircuts growing like abandoned yards. Every one of these experiences is more than a thought. All of them are sensations in the body, and feelings in the heart.
More subtly, there is something in the air in these altered times. An instability, or fragility, as if everything is suddenly exposed and undefended. There is an ominous sense of something bad, just out of sight. You feel vulnerable but vulnerable to what exactly you don’t know, you just feel exposed, vaguely targeted.
This is a psychological state in the wind like an odor: Strangeness like a pressure drop. It makes you check the locks. It makes you alert to small noises.
The next morning you wake up to a normal day, and those feelings are gone. You may think “That was silly getting so weirded out”. But what if last night’s feelings weren’t a mistake, but a perception of shifting reality, gone the next day like a blown-out storm.
“Reality Weather”™ is a metaphor to describe this nameless but omnipresent aspect of life. It’s silly that something so fundamental (if ephemeral) lacks a common handle so there it is. Reality weather is the mood of days, the expression on the face of passing time. Reality weather is the music accompanying the compelled dancing of strange times. I don’t mean the shifting experience of any one single person. I mean the moods and gut feelings that we in the collective experience as external shifts in personal climate. Of course, it is a subjective experience, that’s what experience IS but reality weather is like the simultaneous community experience of a powerful drop in barometric air pressure. It must be experienced, person by person, but reality weather is the connecting Venn circle of persons having a congruent experience. Reality weather is a collective mood-swing. Continue reading
More boys than girls are born in the wake of war. Statistically beyond doubt, everywhere, and consistently. If you shoulder this question like it’s yours to answer it squeezes your think-bone till it taps out. Either there is:
- Individually something in the nervous system of men and women, or at least of women that turns direct observation of their society at war into a temporary preference for boys.
- or –
- Some sort of “Community Organism” feedback system sending that message as instructions that are followed.
We are behavior machines. Observed from our POV, from inside us, our lives are oceanic and operatic, the deepest story we can know. Movies run their characters through madly overheated plots just to be able to tell us a story of comparable intensity to the experience of our inner lives. Opera utilizes extreme music that translates emotionally to the weight of a normal life being lived. Art is like having to shout to be heard at all. Our lives are magic bags, bigger inside than out.
As individuals, we arrive here loaded like treasure galleons with personality, attitude, and latent loves and hates. As babies, we appear to people around us as simple proto-adults, nearly homogenous: The site of a future human being. But our parents can see our hot and cold feelings, and see our patterns develop like old photographs. A coherent narrative takes shape in the styles and passions we show as we grow. We develop through our own experiences, a bit, but not nearly as much as we reveal ourselves. What we already are, becomes visible. We ourselves are part of the audience for this uncovering, we stumble on hard facts of who we are like plot twists. These are the unexpected truths of growing. Our personal executive-style emerges from this dense core of individuality and we advance, leaving a culminating trail of decisions like footprints in the snow. So our trajectory becomes clear, looking back, things we struggled over seem inevitable. Continue reading
Long exposure of a crowd trying to enter Vasileostrovskaya subway station in Saint Petersburg during the collapse of the Soviet Union (1992) by Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko
Mean exactly what they sound like: Fear of the new and Love of the new.
They aren’t cute made-up words, they are technical terms from biology. Animal ethologists (they study behavior) coined them because they needed to describe a common trait variation. Within a species, there are individuals who exhibit an openness to novelty. They try different foods, different hunting or mating techniques, for example. This is Neophilia.
The only way we could notice this is against a background of “by the book ” individuals. These are not risk-takers, these are the ones who define “normal behavior “. Whenever an animal’s general survival strategy and behavior is described, it ‘s the story of the Neophobes. But the deeper story is that Neophiles, while they live risky and often unsuccessful lives as individuals are key to survival and evolution.
In fact, it’s likely that that the pattern lived out by the neophobes was initiated by neophiles. First, the neophile may simply hit upon a more successful approach, and thrive. Second, when the species experiences a crisis in food or health or predation, the neophiles are likelier to be “the resistant strain ” that survives. These are the two main reasons for subspecies variations. So if you imagine this heretical thought; that life, rather than being the 100% dumb luck festival of the neo-Darwinians, has strategic algorithms for success, then these observations make perfect sense. Where or how these exist and operate is not my problem here. When patterns predictably exist in nature there are underlying causes to be found. If you follow this blog you know that my vaguely mystical point of view is not pointing to a “god did it ” conclusion and is not content with a “mere coincidence ” explanation.1 Continue reading
Hal Whitehead, Kevin N. Laland, Luke Rendell, Rose Thorogood & Andrew Whiten Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 2405 (2019)
Culture (behaviour based on socially transmitted information) is present in diverse animal species, yet how it interacts with genetic evolution remains largely unexplored. Here, we review the evidence for gene-culture coevolution in animals, especially birds, cetaceans and primates. We describe how culture can relax or intensify selection under different circumstances, create new selection pressures by changing ecology or behaviour, and favour adaptations, including in other species. Finally, we illustrate how, through culturally mediated migration and assortative mating, culture can shape population genetic structure and diversity. This evidence suggests strongly that animal culture plays an important evolutionary role, and we encourage explicit analyses of gene-culture coevolution in nature.
An interesting short article at livescience.com about the Neolithic revolution, the brief period when humanity shifted from wandering small tribes to settled agricultural communities. It was a radical shift in lifestyle that undoubtedly challenged the self-control of all participants. One of these early Neolithic communities in southern Turkey lasted for over a thousand years and provides fascinating insights into the experiment in living that took place there. It was densely populated, a proto-city.
The archeological record paints a picture of people pushed beyond coping to into routine violence.
“Archaeologists recently discovered that the transition from foraging to a more communal farming lifestyle raised significant challenges for people who lived at Çatalhöyük, a 32-acre site in southern Turkey that was occupied from 7100 B.C. to 5950 B.C. Çatalhöyük was home to as many as 8,000 people at its peak, and is one of the earliest known cities.
Overcrowding and other factors created a highly stressful environment. And for Çatalhöyük’s Neolithic occupants, stress found an outlet in brutal violence, including bashes to the backs of heads with projectiles, scientists reported in a new study.”
Major premise: All sexual organisms have a sexual strategy.
In part 1 I talked about how desire has sculpted human bodies into what would have been a sexual superstimulus 200 thousand years ago but I left out an essential underlying principle. Unless you are a drab shell of a person who has entirely given up, there is a layer of your daily behavior that is about sustaining fuckability. It’s unlikely you check the mirror on your way out the door and say “Awesome, still fuckable” but I’ll bet that thought HAS surfaced, maybe using different words or no words at all, many times. The fact that you can estimate your fuckability quotient by glancing in a mirror points to the underlying principle.
Even the people who would summon up an old school “harumph, well I never…” of denial at the suggestion that they glance at everyone’s naughty bits or evaluate their own fuckability this way, absolutely do operate this way but with their naivety draped modestly over their self-awareness. Nature cares about the behavior, not the self-awareness. Nothing is more representative of our behavior than to think endlessly of sex while doing everything in our power to hide those thoughts from others.
With the origin of humanity, nature launched a new project that included radical departures from her standard rules for mammals. Having a harumph reaction to sexuality is uniquely human and a frankly weird deviation from standard earthly norms. Animals have a “stop that!” reaction, and a”get that thing away from me” reaction but they lack the harumph. Why? Why do we Harumph? Why don’t they? What exactly does “harumph” accomplish for us? That end will be tied up in part 3. Continue reading
(Note: This article needs editing. I’m leaving it published because that’s how I hold myself accountable to get that done)
Cultural tension force and the Human Operating System (HOS)
Humans naturally group together to form communities. Culture is the connecting, unifying skin that automatically grows over these communities, reflecting them, defining them, and binding them together. They are now a community organism, existing through one lens as their normal human selves but through another lens as a massive individual, autonomous self as unaware of us as we are of it.
What the Hell are you talking about, Hugh?
The Human Operating System or HOS is the innate battery of automatic and mostly unconscious behaviors that humans display by default, a handful of tiny cultures may not use these defaults but defining anything by the exception to its rule is being perversely counter-intuitive on purpose. It’s a demand that we ignore most of what we see going on in favor of something that is barely going on at all.
Tension force is societal homeostasis generated by opposing ideas. You could visualize it as the reason why both teams in a tug of war don’t simply fall on their asses.
The advent of life on earth was a revolutionary uptick in the complexity of the universe. It was unlike all that preceded it but it wasn’t much to look at. It remained that way, asexually replicating till time itself grew bored and wished to go do something else.
At last another revolution appeared… a revolution of making new and different things forever: Sexual reproduction.
Top priority was making new combinations of life and new combinations out of those combinations. Obviously, any organism capable of sexual reproduction has to have a reproductive system. This is the HOW. If all we had was the HOW, the revolution would fail for want of a WHY. What is the WHY of sexual reproduction?
You look beautiful tonight, that color is incredible on you. God, you smell good. In this light, you look like an angel. I never thought I could feel this way. Kiss me.
The WHY is Attraction, Desire, Approach, and Embrace. Without desire, life would have stopped evolving at blue-green algae. Let’s imagine that nature herself wants sexual reproduction to succeed in spreading innovation, diversity, and beauty in an ever-expanding wave around the world. The first thing SHE has to do is make everything want it as badly as she does.
And Nature said, “Let there be lust”. Continue reading