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.

(Amazing supporting stories:   Argentine super hive (scary) |  Ant communication via pheromones  |  Cell communication  )

Every living thing uses chemistry for communication.

Cells communicate through their own language of chemical signals. Different compounds, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, act like command instructions, telling a cell about the environment around it and communicating instructions.

Insects and animals communicate with chemicals and pheromones, lightly spiced with templated physical signals, in simpler words, body language.

Ants for example (I like talking about ants!) have a smell language that includes the following common phrases:

  • I found food, follow me
  • Danger (even what KIND of danger in some ants)
  • I am your relative (I belong here, and this is my job)
  • I am the queen (and here is an evaluation of my health and whether we need princesses, drones, etc)
  • I’ve been squashed! Danger!
  • I am dead, haul my body out. (Funny article about spraying a living ant with dead ant smell.)

Ants are territorial and maintain borders. The borders are defined with pheromones. They generally steer clear of other territories, but sometimes ants have to fight other ants over food access, invasion, etc.   Imagine an ant hive invaded, it’s WAR! But how do they know it? Ants are pretty dumb and they can’t hear a general announcement. An alarm pheromone “goes viral” and the hive goes into an aggressive posture. And then…

“These colonies conduct ritualized tournaments as a part of the defense of their foraging territories. Opposing colonies summon their worker forces to the tournament area, where hundreds of ants perform highly stereotyped display of fights (italics mine). When one colony is considerably stronger than the other, in other words, able to summon a larger worker force, the tournaments end quickly and the weaker colony is sacked. During the final incursions, the queen is killed or driven off and the larvae, pupae, callow, and honeypot workers are transported to the raider’s nest.

The behavior is mysterious, for ants. Why don’t they simply attack each other? Why is it “highly stereotyped”? The ultimate battle won’t be. They are learning something that affects the outcome. This behavior is symbolic signaling. These are very simple creatures but their scope of communication is roughly parallel to even very complex mammals like wolves. Chemistry is the powerful, swelling music, and body language (stereotyped display) is the lyrics.”

The Ants, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson (pages 219 & 220)

Scent is fundamental because chemistry is fundamental.

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Humans are born according to an algorithm allowing a wide curve of features and preferences such as:


  1.  Self asserting (extreme archetype: Psychopathic self involvement)   |    Self transcending (extreme archetype: Saintly generosity and sacrifice)
  2. Follow the pack (instinctively flows with peer pressure)   |    Follow my own path (instinctively flows their own way)
  3. Past loving (keep the familiar = “conservative”)    |    Future loving  (allow for change = “progressive”)
  4. Preference for small groups (town)    |    Preference for large groups (city)
  5. Submissive (naturally accept leadership) | Dominant (naturally take charge)
  6. Cautious (“Wouldn’t be prudent”)    |    Daring (risk taking adventurers)
  7. Wandering (Viking approach)   |    Homebound (Bushman approach)
  8. Standard Sexuality    |    Alternate Sexuality 
  9.  Xenophobic   |    Xenophophilic
 There is no pattern or hierarchy in what I’ve listed, merely some of the options.
Wherever people form communities these characteristics will lean this way and that in any given generation. Then a  Darwinian survival of the fittest behavior-styles for that time and place plays out. Naturally certain constellations of these data points are more popular and successful in general, but also specific groups of traits are prized (and thus more successful) in different cultures and different environmental areas with different challenges.
People with the surviving personality data points become the stereotypical “person from…”. But we should be able distinguish the difference between there being SOME reality to a geolocated personality style and simple bigotry. Naturally that generation will have children which trend their way but it’s never as simple as that. Human communities require at least a degree of tension between personality extremes. A group needs to have the adaptability to change gears and directions if opportunity or need arises. There needs to be a healthy homeostasis. Human groups are (pre)programmed to organize themselves to have a society which has a dominant style but includes a range of opinions and styles from fundamentalist hardliners for the local hive story to critical thinking rebels or even revolutionaries.

One reason we can conclude “It takes all kinds” is because life MAKES all kinds.

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Elsewhere I’ve discussed my theory that people who live in big cities and people who live in small towns have become operationally different species. There’s nothing biological here except perhaps if there’s some genetic component concerning which lifestyle you prefer. When humans adapt to a new technology or a new living arrangement (in the community sense) they have altered their strategy of life significantly enough that if some other animal could make an equivalent change they would be deemed a subspecies of the wild type. So from nomad tribes to tiny farming villages to cities of millions is a tremendous change …of script. If you could time travel to the neolithic, scoop up one of an infant pair of twins and return to the present, that baby would grow up embracing a level of complexity and social energy that would make his brother or sister go catatonic if they encountered it.

We are a meta adaptor species. We are an evolutionary cyborg embracing technological transformation. While we embrace the techno change our fundamental species script full of animal reactions hasn’t changed a jot. If a baby from modern times was whisked back to replace that other neolithic baby he wouldn’t grow up puzzled at the technology or the social rules. On this level we have a “just go with it” rule letting us imprint culture like baby ducks imprint Momma.

Well there’s another interesting thing about virtual speciation, we might think of it as a second level of adaptation. Within every human community division of labor is key to operation..we might almost call it the reason for community. Metaphorically if we imagine the village as an animal made up of the different functions performed by the people we can start to see what’s going on. This is almost like organ and tissue differentiation. The village is a virtual organism (as was the wandering tribe) if it’s script fails the organism dies, as do it’s human components. By always embracing ANY technology that excites us we are finding pathways out of a dead end script. We are opening up pathways to new versions of what human means.  Continue reading

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There are patterns in humanity that are so obvious that they become invisible. The animal nature of humans becomes invisible as we live it.  As our eyes let in light they simultaneously spray “humanity paint” over everything we see. Living as an animal means following your nature seamlessly with no coloring outside the lines. This isn’t forced. We don’t obey our natures, we ARE one with our natures. When you were a teenager, exploring new feelings and experiences at high levels of intensity, there were no breaks to do something else. At the end of the day you didn’t hang up your teenage skin and settle into a hot bath to relax. At every age you have done as you wished AS THOUGH it was free will when it was really a human animal living its nature.

We don’t see what we are a part of …and this is our fundamental blindness. The blindness of the part towards the whole. We don’t see our human nature just as the fish famously doesn’t see the water. And this is a small part of what we don’t see. If we focus hard we can feel our animal natures, we can see them informing our actions…maybe we can even see them around the world echoed billions of times: The same general patterns of adorable babies and cute kids and teenagers, young marrieds, middle aged and elderly. And we can see the castes of humanity as well, the poor and rich, craftsmen, warriors, scholars, politicians, clergy. And the styles of humanity, modest, canny, rude, sexy, moralistic, secretive, shy or outrageous. In the interests of brevity I’m not cataloging  all the details, there are many more varieties but far from infinite. We are the jumble of humanity, each one the center of the universe, and each a tiny widget in a cosmic machine.

The earth is covered in all its livable zones with humans acting EXACTLY like humans. We snap into the arrangements humans make like we were crystals forming. Trying to understand the way our sacred absolutely personal lives arise from templated scripting and that both are equally real is like holding your hand in flame or your head underwater.  Do you know why you can’t think long and hard about your animal nature? It’s because you are not supposed to. And it’s your own animal nature that stops you.

Whoa, there partner, what about sex and cookies?

No matter what sort of creature you are, you are supposed to stay on task and not start addressing the fourth wall.

That is the first level of blindness. “I am not an animal, I am a human and free to be anything I can conceive.” But certain restrictions may apply. The basic human response is: “I meant to do that”. There is a story in every species. There are parameters, and do’s and don’ts: A “script bible” if you will. Each is a strategy, scripted and programmed. Each is given an allotment of free will and sentience encased within the borders of that strategy. Microbes less than insects, insects less than mice, mice less than wolves, wolves less than man, man less than…less than something that man can’t really imagine because that’s where the damn walls are.

I told you all that to tell you this: There are levels of blindness above that level and there are patterns and meanings above that level. And if you think it’s hard to really grasp your animal nature and your free/not free existence, this next level is something almost no one perceives. What could that be? What body or pattern are we molecules or cells of?

The part we can see from where we are standing is the human hive. It is the millions of people forming an organism without knowing it. We say city, or we say nation, we make those distinctions but we can’t really feel the emergent thing we help to make. We cannot really relate to an autonomous oceanic organism with ourselves cast in the part of kidney cells.

Do you think your cells perceive you, as you know yourself? Do they comprehend your loneliness or your love of being by the ocean? And yet they are the fundamental parts from which THAT you emerges. They are you, but they don’t know it. They go about your business but they don’t know it. And you go about their business but YOU don’t know it. And you are a cell in a non-perceived organism that doesn’t know you, but you work for each other. Both blind and both presumably part of something larger that neither of you suspects.

At the level of cells in the human body everything is playing a part. They aren’t random meaningless “creatures” in an absurd universe, they are simple diligent agents working in a complex bureaucracy that they cannot conceive of. They also can’t know the highly specific role they are playing. What matters is that they do it and they do. And the parallel on our level is that you play a part (or perhaps many) in keeping the organism you are part of healthy and guiding its course. Your politics, spirituality and even sense of humor play a part. Be you all the way, and…imagine the larger world.

If you have an agonizingly hard time finding meaning in the universe remember your nature has you boxed in with an airtight seal. Information that is not about being your animal self is kept from you. The fact that the lens you get to look through doesn’t show the meaning and value in life the way you hope to see them only tells you about the limits of the resolving power of that one lens.  It might be that with this vacuum bottle open the whole goddamn universe is out there singing.

 

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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?

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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:

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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.

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