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.

The basic question of existence is whether you will join with something to form a greater level of complexity.

The more complex question is: Where do you stop?

  1. Matter is the greater complexity of atoms.
  2. Chemistry is the greater complexity of matter.
  3. Life is the greater complexity of chemistry.
  4. Sexual reproduction is the greater complexity of life.
  5. Species are the greater complexity of sexual reproduction.
  6. Humanity is the greater complexity of species.
  7. Tribes are the greater complexity of individuals. City states are the greater complexity of tribes. Nations are the greater complexity of city-states. Did you think it would stop there?

A multicellular microbe is a negotiated community; deals were struck, some individuality was sacrificed, a brand new cooperation of diverse elements was required. A single human being is a negotiated community cubed, cubed and cubed. We are massive mobile towers of cooperative complexity.

At every stage, some will bond higher and some will hold back. They hold back not because they are bad or wrong, but because they are holding the line of the highest complexity they have any faith in, or can understand. Every simpler established level of complexity is both a platform for the future and a safe fallback. When a new stage of complexity is forming, all who don’t want to join see the new form as crazy and unreliable: A cockeyed, unstable monstrosity. Life does not saw off the branch it’s climbed onto.

The forces driving Brexit and American nationalism/ fascism are the same forces driving Islamic fundamentalism and all the other defensive retro-reality movements worldwide. There is a terror of a new level of complexity that is comparable to the fear of death. There is a sense that borders of self are broken, and floodgates have opened which will dissolve the recognizable and wash away what we love, what we are.

Don’t be discouraged, friends. Bond higher. If you don’t want to though, this is where your optimism ran out and you took up a new career as ballast. Your cement has set. The end of optimism isn’t a hard fact, it’s a choice. You are the current high point expression of all the daring recombinant synthesis that lead to your existence. This seems an arbitrary moment to lose faith in the road you took to get here.

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Not Racism.

Scientists have been explaining for years that race, as people think of it, doesn’t exist. What we think of as race is just a single frame from a movie of human traits, determined by locality, conditions, and culture. These are traits that are selected for by a group over time until they share many common points. These traits could be as changeable as a cloud over time. The time required would be generations long but our enormous human genome could supply as much variety as people want (to mate with). The group usually doesn’t change though, and continuity is the default. Why?

It is deep in us to identify down to our very souls with our local people, customs and styles. We prefer them and strive to protect them. It is second nature to jump to their defense. A better name for these defended traits is “culture” but we should recognize this use of “Culture” as a deadly serious “this is me, don’t fuck with it” business.

In fact, culture is a bigger and more elemental thing than we’ve grasped. All of us have two overlapping states of being. The Individual self; The daily us, with our stories, personal history, etc. This is the self we identify with. The other state of being is a “cell” in a cultural body. Human animals are preset to focus constantly on their personal journey and struggles. It’s difficult to wrench our perspective upward and look down on the massive being we are a tiny part of. Our culture is an organism made of members. That organism uses culture as the definition of self. This definition is used to recognize those who belong and don’t. It’s a pheromone for the hive; a membrane of inclusion or exclusion. In other words, it is the foundation of the immune system of our cultural, community organism. When a cultural immune system goes on high alert it sees enemies in all that is other. This is the ugly moment that outsiders are described as vermin, an infection, etc. Cultural “purity” and nativism surge, driven both by hatred of outsiders and fear of being mistaken for one.

Culture creates a matrix of behaviors, styles, and preferences. It describes beauty and what makes a good man or woman.  The phenotypes of people in a given culture are not coincidental, they are part of the culture. It’s like studying nature/nurture within a single family, how do you know where one leaves off and the other begins? People initiate the culture, but then the culture generates and maintains a particular style of people…who then maintain the culture! It is a chicken and egg cycle. the people shape the culture but no more than the culture shapes the people.

We all feel stressed when placed in another culture that does things very differently. That culture is not wrong for being different and we are not wrong for feeling stressed. If you’ve been lifted out of your Monopoly game and dropped into a game of “Hey, that’s my fish!” or “Twister”, you won’t be feeling quite yourself…literally. You have stepped outside yourself…you are an isolated molecule of your own culture, drifting in the wind far from home. This is why “travel is broadening” it is basic brain stretching and it can feel good or horrible, depending.

Think about the early 20th century immigrants who entered New York City through Ellis Island from all over Europe. These droplets of different cultures rolled as quickly as possible straight for the “Little [insert country here] Neighborhood”. There they could fuse with a tiny colony of their own people; the people whose cooking smelled right, whose voices sounded normal. An ethnic neighborhood might be as small as a single block and kids had to be careful coming and going because if they got caught on the wrong side of the street they’d be behind enemy lines. Even later when groups were more settled and established there’d still be for example an Italian neighborhood bordered by Polish and German neighborhoods. Finally, second to third-generation kids would identify enough as American to not make a point of staying in the neighborhood.

These European immigrants were obviously more acceptable to the white and European based mainstream culture of America. The borders of difference were relatively permeable from both sides and group after group eventually became “Normal People” to standard America. Who found it harder? People whose features weren’t European. Asians found the borders unyielding and the other side of the border all too often, dangerous. But the virtual walls around the many Chinatowns and Japan towns were well maintained from the inside as well. Ethnic neighborhoods are reality islands created by pressure from inside as much as out.  Continue reading

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You know when you are at a family gathering and someone mentions something that you know is just an argument waiting to happen? Someone has stepped on a landmine and internally you race through your options: Should I placate, distract, argue, or maybe just run? My thought experiment is about race and culture, subjects that make almost everyone feel this way. At a minimum they make you brace for impact.
These hot button words make people dumb because they either snap into combat mode with arguments locked and loaded or they go all “deer in the headlights”.  It literally initiates a fight or flight reaction which means there is no thought or learning taking place. But I need to get at what these things are and mean, so here I go.

 The Experiment:

  Aliens randomly gather 200 men and women and take them to a faraway island or hidden valley and wipe their cultural memories while leaving personality, basic knowledge and survival skills intact. They leave them alone for 500 years and then return to check on them.
Would they have:
  • some recognizable “racial” traits?
  • a leadership structure?
  • a standard of beauty?
  • a spiritual / religious framework? And some sort of representative (priest, shaman) role?
  • stories they like to tell?
  • music?
  • unique styles of clothing?
  • an attitude towards outsiders?
  • some sort of roles for men and women?
  • a story about death?
  • richer and poorer? Or higher and lower caste?
  • a warrior/defense group?

Continue reading

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A Species is often defined as the largest group of organisms where two individuals are capable of reproducing fertile offspring, typically using sexual reproduction.

Species Complex is a group of closely related species that are very similar in appearance to the point that the boundaries between them are often unclear. Differentiating measures include similarity of DNA, morphology, or ecological niche.

Speciation is the evolutionary process by which reproductively isolated biological populations evolve to become distinct species.

Adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly into a multitude of new forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available, creates new challenges, or opens new environmental niches. Continue reading

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 Connecting some of the subjects here recently: The Blending Problem, Holons, etc. here’s a natural, earthy synthesis. It proves nothing, I think you see it or you don’t. It’s fascinating too how paradoxical individuality is from this point of view. Every individual is a colony but every colony is built of individuals. bee
 
From Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy:

“A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.”

There is an idea gaining credibility that just as hives behave as individuals made up of the independently moving “cells”, that primate brains are almost like hives unto themselves…vast collectives of caste system individuals handling tasks that cumulatively produce the neurological reality experienced by the individual. This can’t be described as a final proven fact, but the model holds up, right down to the notion of specific cells that are needed being produced. algorithmically to changing needs. This extends to decision-making, which is the main subject of Honeybee Democracy. The bees exercise a collective intelligence that mimics not just small-group decision-making but the cognitive deliberations of our own brains:

“We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”

Like many biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. He continues:

Continue reading

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In this post I’m bringing together some diverse psychological research. The idea I want to support is that human beings have strong and predictable reactions to power and weakness. Each of these videos alone makes an interesting (and often disturbing) point but together they show what happens to people given “the upper hand” and some of what happens to the people they hold it over. It’s important to me as a foundation for some of the next ideas I’m going to be laying out. This is difficult collection. They are worse together than alone. It feels like a damning indictment of the human race but I’m not looking to scold so much as to understand . The important thing is establishing a clear picture of our native relationship to power and privilege. I think of this post a bit like evidence before the court. I’m going to cite this post in later articles.

There are fascinating and dark things here, but many of these videos are too long for casual viewing. The exception might be the last one, “Money on the mind” which is also very interesting and much cheerier than the rest.

Stanford prison experiment

Phillip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison experiments shockingly revealed the flexible nature of our identity in regard to ingroups and outgroups. It showed how completely uncharacteristic behaviors can be evoked by placing ordinary people, randomly into the roles of Guards and Prisoners. The young men assigned the role of guards quickly fell into astonishingly cruel and harsh treatment of the “prisoners” even knowing perfectly well that they were just their fellow students and hadn’t done anything wrong. It was merely “staging the show” that transformed them into ugly, alien strangers. Meantime the “prisoners” quickly took on the helpless, angry, calculating roles typical of people in that situation. Perhaps our behaviors are almost all situational and generated by context:If so it may be that we gravitate to whatever context feels most natural to us and simply don’t notice behavior being evoked…we just see it as our behavior.
But I see what happened here as evidence of uninhibited “us and them” behavior in an uneven power balance.  People have wondered how nice young German men with no background in sadism or abuse could turn into the men machine gunning families in a ditch. Well this is that. This is the cruelty of ethnic cleansing but also of schoolyard bullies. Your childhood memories almost certainly contain a few of these dramas, whatever side you were on. Like all play, it’s practice for adult life.
We know that the roles played in this drama are the main evoker of this pattern, modulated by the level of demonizing toward the victims. It ought to be basic training for anyone headed for such a situation to be aware of this mechanism.

Blue eyes brown eyes

In the Blue eyes/ Brown eyes experiment – “racism” or “class privilege ” is evoked in children within hours…minutes even in this experiment. As one group embraces a sense of privilege and a convenient rationalization for it the other group immediately tastes the bitterness of insults and lower status. Humans like privilege and take to it like ducks to water. That means that they probably maintain an unconscious alertness for people who could be grouped beneath them because privilege rests on that foundation. Furthermore since we are discussing groups as well as individuals, consider how likely it is that “unconscious conspiracies” to pick pariah groups actually take place in cultures around the world.

Continue reading

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Every human blends a wide range of psychological variables. Each variable in this list is a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on each spectrum in this list. I don’t think this is some complete list, just some that I was mulling over. And they don’t follow some meaningful rule concerning their position to the left or right. I mean for example that “daring” and “submissive” are not in any sense related because they both appear on the right. There may be some overlap between some of these characteristics that could justify a connection but it’s imperfect and I’m not intending that meaning. I also don’t think that good is on one side and bad on the other.

Every trait on this list is a spectrum.

It seems human groups naturally create a spread of these traits because I can’t think of any culture outside of science fiction where there is a real uniformity of these characteristics.
The old sci-fi tradition often portrayed a trait as a species. Remember Star Trek? Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans, Ferengi? Each of these takes all the variables for a self and mashes them through a single psychological template.

Imagine how profound (and awful) the effect would be on a culture if they exclusively doubled down on the most extreme range of the traits above. In theory, you could have an entire population very unbalanced in a certain direction. But it never seems to work out that way, does it? Perhaps the whole thing is absolutely random but there could be within us a sort of community algorithm to keep a healthy range of steady but flexible groups. Some flexibility in the system would allow different tribes to investigate the effects of leaning more this way or more that way as a group. I don’t mean the tribe would look at it that way, just that cultural differences would naturally emphasize different traits and there could be an impact on survival as a result.

There are also structural, age-based ranges for a number of important psychological factors concerning the community’s ability to preserve it’s form but also change if it needs to.

  1. The very young imprint the culture, taking it at face value.
  2. The young adult/teenager range is the most progressive, the most likely to question things being this way. It’s a cultural version of questioning your own parents.
  3. Families, mated and settled are the meat in the sandwich. They essentially express and live the culture in a moderate conservative way. Naturally, they tend to embrace it but the cracks and stressors show up here too. In worrying about their own children they worry about all children and what world they will live in. Again, this tends toward conservatism but enough worry can turn this.
  4. The old of course tend to be convinced that everything is going terribly wrong and we ought to back the hell up. They are the paragons of cultural retention.

These behaviors are emergent from the developmental moment of each but across a culture the impact is factorial.

I think this is rather like the age-based division of labor in insect hives.  We have a non-random, predictable political range (“tension force” if you read my other stuff on conservative/progressive).  I suspect evolution is a little bottom heavy with more people in the conservative mode but always with enough wild-ass adventurous and rebellious types to keep stirring the pot.

I have a half-assed thought that neuro-atypicals such as Autism spectrum and ADHD people may figure in population dynamics as a necessary element. Autistic people famously helping to advance technology with their obsessive interests and keen observations and ADHD people (I like to think) because their restless love of novelty may contribute in its own way.

I also believe that high functioning psychopaths and narcissists have a place. Their utter lack of concern with others and cold desire to get all the goodies CAN act as an organizing mechanism creating political or religious movements or starting big businesses, etc. Someone sufficiently convinced of their right to rule over others can collect followers like a magnet collects iron filings.

Does it sound like I’m imagining some sort of overseeing entity? Not really. I’m not so much describing what drives this process so much as pointing it out. We don’t understand what drives the balanced population dynamics of hive insects for example. How do they maintain the right population numbers of different castes and such? We know they do, and we don’t know how. If there are principles driving these real-time population adjustments at the hive or even species level, we don’t know what the hell they are or even what mechanism could accomplish it. Science has to patiently build scaffolding closer and closer to any mystery before the answers it finds are truly scientific and not guesses. Along the way, it has to settle all the preliminary questions underlying the big question. We are a long way from solid answers here. Perhaps understandably, most scientists don’t like or respect weird mysteries because there isn’t anything they can say that wouldn’t be wild speculation. They tend to respond neutrally if at all, often suggesting that there’s no evidence for the mystery itself. What is certain though is that human life is coordinated somehow at the community level as well as for the individual. The most practical way I can pursue answers is by looking for patterns of coordination at the obvious level of the world around me. The patterns may start to reveal something of the mechanism as we study them and their relationship to each other.
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