The Community Organism

A community is a self organizing being. These posts focus on the connection between our ordinary behaviors and knitting a “super organism”together via unconscious participation.

In a few other articles I’ve made the point that random millions of people having babies with other random millions of people give birth to consistent percentages of neurological and psychological types relative to the population at large, generation after generation. Some of these groups are defined as disabilities or pathologies. Example groups ADHD, and ASD are disabilities, sociopaths are seen as pathologies…it’s the second part of the name! They are generally thought to be caused by failures of infant development to complete normally and a pretty strong genetic connection. ASD is the obvious example of a spectrum disorder. Predictable numbers of ASD people are born year after year.

Clinically ASD includes a short list of recognized levels of the disability which exist along a continuum of severity. There’s a break here between the small range of what’s accepted as proven medical science to be autism and the much broader range of people who are legitimately diagnosed as autistic even though they are much higher functioning than the accepted range. It’s tacitly understood by therapists, teachers, parents, etc to be a section of spectrum that could be positioned at the end of the current spectrum and just pick up where it leaves off and run all the way out to those who have a few touches of these traits but are otherwise completely normal. That makes sense as the autism spectrum. I’m grandfathering ADHD in on this spectrum because 80% of high functioning autistics also have ADHD. Continue reading

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The Part that Sounds Sensible

  1. The Learning Perspective: B.F. Skinner is the theorist behind the flat mechanics of the learning perspective. He argued that adults shape the speech of children by reinforcing the babbling of infants that sound the most like words and that children learn language from punishment and reinforcement. B.F.Skinner was a behaviorist who’s only tool was a hammer and theorized that every type of behavior was a nail. His theory of language through conditioning briefly dumbed down the whole conversation.
  2. Interactionist Theory: Interactionists argue that language development is both biological and social; That language learning is influenced by the desire of children to communicate with others. This drive to communicate and share is a powerful motivator. The mistake is concluding that this motivating desire is a causal force rather than a related and helpful one.
  3. The Nativist Perspective: Developed by Noam Chomsky. He argues that humans are biologically programmed to gain knowledge and that all humans have a language acquisition device (LAD). The LAD contains knowledge of grammatical rules common to all languages. The LAD also allows children to understand the rules of whatever language they are listening to. Chomsky suggests that universal language acquisition behaviors in humans reveal that it is innate. Obvious but unseen till Chomsky.
  4. The Language Instinct:  A 1994 book by Steven Pinker. He argues that humans are born with an innate capacity for language. Pinker sees language as an ability unique to humans, produced by evolution to solve the specific problem of communication among social hunter-gatherers. He compares language to other species’ specialized adaptations such as spiders’ web-weaving or beavers’ dam-building behavior, calling all three “instincts”.  In calling language an instinct, Pinker means that it is not a human invention in the sense that metalworking and even writing are. While only some human cultures possess these technologies, all cultures possess language.

You (make-believe loyal reader ) know I am absolutely sure that language is innate. There is a circular but sensible reason it is innate. Everyone has to talk because everyone else does. Language is an essential survival trait in a social species. That means It is too important to leave it up to us. Can you imagine if children had to depend on parents to ensure that they could speak? There would be a large random distribution of mute humans everywhere, trying to get by. The same forces that guarantee the action of your heart and lungs provide you with an automatic phase of intense language acquisition that clicks on when your body says it is time. Continue reading

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John Allen Chau was a 27-year-old American missionary from Vancouver Washington who dreamed of bringing Jesus to the hostile tribe on North Sentinel Island known as the Sentinelese. In a sense, he did, before dying in a volley of arrows. This is a story about many things, including several that are regular subjects of this blog. Buried in this sad stupid story is a raw example of tension force. If you’ve been following that idea, see if you can find the brief area where it comes into focus here.

Sentinel Island is 700 miles off India’s mainland. It’s illegal to go there because:

A. They attempt to kill anyone who tries and succeed fairly often.

B. They are an uncontacted hunter-gatherer society, a stone-age tribe of humans who know not a goddamn thing about the messy, stressed out human hives buzzing around them. This makes them a rare treasure despite their murderous diplomacy. What’s in it for us? The mere fact of their untouched existence is like a unicorn in a sacred grove. They exist like the long-hidden heart of wild humanity, steadily beating without us. They aren’t chained up to our machine: They have never tasted the poverty or long hours of the shitty, non-essential work they would be assigned on the periphery of our world. They have an unshared language, names, totems, myths and stories buried deep in the secret world of their lives. They laugh at things, they undoubtedly sing. They track the moon and watch the stars. They surely have a name for us and our crazy machines and our snooping ways. And they have a policy toward us: FUCK OFF!

But there’s a much more important reason not to contact them. Officials say the islanders have lived in isolation for nearly 60,000 years and therefore have no immunities to common illnesses such as the flu and measles. Advocacy group Survival International said that by contacting the community, Chau may have passed along pathogens that have the “potential to wipe out the entire tribe” of about 50 to 150 people. Continue reading

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A fascinating glimpse at the first Americans via genetics. They crossed the Bering Strait and shot off in all directions. A body from Nevada turns out to be very closely related to a body found in Brazil, across the equator…a few hundred years later. Close relationships were found between people who lived 10,000 years apart.

Crossing From Asia, the First Americans Rushed Into the Unknown
By CARL ZIMMER November 8, 2018
Three new genetic analyses lend detail, and mystery, to the migration of prehistoric humans throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Some early peoples came 20,000 years ago and died out, their DNA never found again. Some stayed in Alaska or doubled back to it later, apparently soured on the American dream. This article describes the adventure and sweep of this virtual gold-rush of a migration.

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Through the long human story, we find our ancestors living out several different basic strategies, each more complex than the last. The transition between is often a transformation.

  • Paleolithic
  • Neolithic
  • Village
  • Town
  • City

The Paleolithic (Old stone age) is the longest period of human experience. In this phase, we hunted and gathered. We were nomadic or semi-nomadic. We lived in small groups and made decisions in a relatively open, egalitarian way. The distance between headman and tribesman was minimal. This long phase of our time was spent getting a toehold and spreading all across the earth. The earth could never have been as densely populated by people as it is now if this strategy had continued. The “carrying capacity” of a small nomadic group is very finely balanced on a knife-edge of luck and skill and the relationship between the number of mouths to feed and the available food would have been constantly on everyone’s mind. Sick babies would likely be abandoned and sick elders in hard times would “walk out on the ice flows” to improve the odds for their families. The level of complexity in this life was low, the number of places where their lives overlapped and engaged with others was minimal. Strangers were serious business. The Neolithic picks up exactly where this leaves off. Continue reading

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I have a theory that the reason that many different neurological types maintain consistent percentages per capita year after year is that somehow it’s useful for constructing human communities. As an incomplete example, I’m talking about:

  • High functioning sociopaths (cold-hearted leader/organizer types) 4%
  • Bipolar disorder (frequently leaders or very creative) ~2.6%
  • Autism Spectrum (technological and scientific innovation) 1.7%
  • ADHD (novelty generators) 5% to 11%
  • Schizophrenia (visionary thinking in any discipline) 1%

I’m not certain how the predictable gay and lesbian* population percentages factor into this exactly but as a guess, they have historically not been focused on raising children. As a predictable percentage of the population not absorbed in raising families and often positioned as outsiders in their own surrounding cultures, they would almost guarantee the existence of an alternative subculture where they might generate new ideas not approved of by our final group. 3.5% 

Everyone else is good old standard human stock who mostly just want family and security. I think the neurotypical brain which defines this group, is every bit as much a specialized filter as the atypical types mentioned above, it is simply specialized to keep things simple and inside the comfort zone. They respond to social pressure far more seriously than atypicals which makes them a kind of cultural cement. Neurotypical breeders are the low center of gravity for every community that ensures stability. They are neither better than our atypicals, or worse, they are the dominant percentage because life wants a solid base to grow from. There are three structural divisions in this last group. ~90%

  1. Male and female. ( the transgender variations and shadings of male and female are very small in number compared to “standard issue” they might be classed with the gay and lesbian populations for our purposes.  0.3%) There are obvious cultural roles and practical roles determined here. One astounding but well-documented fact is that during and after wars, a higher than average number of boys are born. The mechanism driving this effect has no useful model within current science but the reason for it is easily understood: “I guess we better make a few more boys to cover losses”. Whatever the mechanism is, it perceives large events at a community level… and adjusts via individual pregnancies. Males ~51.9% Females ~49.1%
  2. Progressive vs conservative viewpoint, which is strongly linked to personality type metrics and as I’ve explored elsewhere in this blog their “Tension force” creates the defining zeitgeist of every culture. In a polling in June 2010, 40% of American voters identify themselves as conservatives, 36% as moderates and 22% as liberals, with a strong majority of both liberals and conservatives describing themselves as closer to the center than to the extremes (Wikipedia).
  3. Age-based focus and attitude within the general population. From child to teenager to young adult to middle-aged to elderly there is a predictable staged transition through age-based societal roles***: Student, soldier, young married, worker, settled parents, judgemental elders. In a way, this echoes the division of labor within bee and ant colonies. How do they decide what job to do? As the individual insect ages, it progresses through a series of preset “vocational” roles within the hive. For humans, the most basic example of the age-based behavior difference is the openness of the young to change and the resistant defensiveness of the old. This mechanism makes a cultural shift possible, then limits the amount of change.

According to my half-assed theory, being Neuro-Atypical or sexually atypical is not a random failure to create a normal person. Rather it is a structural role predictably of some benefit to the general population. That would explain why the percentages of these varied types are so reliable. Everyone from the most boring normal person to with wildest transgender bipolar radical conservative has a structural purpose in the diverse needs of the human hive. This points to a real-time reproductive algorithm affecting the population as a whole and somehow sensitive to such temporal events as war. It would be no shock if such a mechanism exists, for it to show other concerns about population balance necessary to keep the community organism in good repair. We see a similar balancing mechanism in other hive creatures. In a sense, it’s like a body generating replacement cells of the right kind as needed.

 


  • * I’m not claiming to have discovered an atypical neurology specific to gays and lesbians. They are here because their population percentage is very consistent over time and they tend to occupy a unique reality niche.
  • ** I’m not mistaking transgender folk for gay or lesbian. I’m just placing them in a sex/gender outsiders group.
  • ***  William Shakespear on this preset aging process:

At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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Humans naturally gather together and pool like a liquid to form communities. Culture is the connecting skin that automatically grows over groups of people that live together.

All day, every day we send out signals, respond to cues, and we check for acceptance. We tune and adjust our behavioral frequencies person by person and place by place.  We calibrate in real time with regard to any person we exchange signals with.  We are walking encyclopedias of cultural standards and sub-routines. We don’t need to consult a book because the book is internal and automatic. The most important thing about the book is that it is automatic. It is the operating system for all the diverse players and situations inside the skin that grew around them as they lived together. The skin defines the boundaries of the self that they have all agreed to mutually be. Inside the skin is the kin: sharing common interests, goals, and loyalty. This is about hearth, home, reality, normality, and self.  Culture is the cohesive force that defines any people as one people. It binds and unifies. It is deep within us to protect it if threatened. That desire to preserve the culture is a survival instinct because the community would collapse without it.

We all want to look like a good person: Sane, appropriate and lawful. Every single one of us is doing this all day in every encounter. So the community as a whole is expressing this trait. All communities do. It’s a ubiquitous bottom-up human behavior and therefore a defining trait. In each community patterns of behavior form, woven and endlessly reinforced. Memes of many kinds emerge, in every area of life: Clothing, food, music, sexuality, morality, and then they replicate or die, crystallizing as signature cultural styles. Every stereotype cultural image we have is just an iconic meme of OUR culture imaging that other culture. It’s just a shorthand and shallow summary of that culture we all carry with us. I haven’t mentioned a single example but I bet you can summon up 2 or 3 effortlessly. Those are your copies of that meme. And everyone in every culture has their own version of these things. Coin of the human realm. We tag people with a “You’re Bad!” sticker if they speak these stereotypes aloud and unfiltered. Of course, that doesn’t change anything because the Human Operating System (HOS) has supplied every living soul with this trait, including the next generation and so on. When we use group shaming to enforce cultural sensitivity we are using one trait of the HOS (social pressure) to alter another (identifying outsiders). The HOS is the innate battery of automatic and mostly unconscious behaviors humans display wherever we show up. Culture is the one-off expression of those underlying rules by a local community. Any culture is a SELF, an individual being composed of us, ourselves. We are tiny agents emitting the same-self frequency of belonging together. E Pluribus Unum.

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The most intractable problems of this jittery moment come from the human sweet-tooth for conflict and excitement.  The sweet-tooth is natural, it is good or bad by context.  If you are an ancient human and opt to look at the exciting thing, you are better at staying alive. If you are an ancient human and your clan starts getting pumped up over increasing tension with another clan, you are your clan are more cohesive and motivated. In this context the “sweet tooth” is a healthy (pro-survival) relationship to your environment. It’s a bit like our love of actual sugar, fat and salt: That love becomes destructive when these go from rare, random windfalls to a superabundance. When we can have as much of something as we like, we keep mashing the button till we find out how that ruins us. Morbid obesity is what THAT button does. What does this other one do?

Our hunger for excitement and conflict became more complicated when our “news” input went from direct observation and word of mouth to massive information pumps like newspapers that could flood a large city in a day with a single message and point of view. Thousands of opinions could be massaged and tweaked at once. “Yellow journalism” was the click-bait of that time.  The radio hit people like a massively purified version of the newspaper drug. Music and voices could hit sweet spots in our monkey guts that letters on paper could only dream about and rather than the isolated one-at-a-time experience of newspapers, radio could flow like a connecting current though everyone in earshot. And everyone was within earshot. Then the television became a cultural charging station in the center of every home. At night we were quietly filled with a homogeneous informational snapshot of the day. Of course we felt more united, any axes we were grinding were not wirelessly communicating with all the other axes. You couldn’t make that world combust because there was no connecting medium of petrol fumes.

The issue now is that we are a different organism as flashing, participating neurons on a network then we were as slow moving, disconnected creatures who got the news from kids on bikes, or in the mail, god help us, or arriving on the TV like a friendly little train at the same time everyday.

The organism we are now is constantly lit up, alert and watching for movement like meerkats on crack. The news equivalent of plasma waves erupting from the sun flare and sweep endlessly across the internet. Our new atmosphere is a highly combustible, volatile medium. The ignition behind these flare ups is mostly outrage, as one group or another does a “football stadium wave” of alarm in response to some stimulus. Tsunamis of cortisol are washing over us 24/7, leaving us feeling hypervigilant and weary.

Why? Because we are idiots who like that sort of thing. We can’t help being idiots who like that sort of thing…BECAUSE WE LIKE THAT SORT OF THING. Part of the rush is certainly negative but part of it is the fun of holding hands with like-minded neurons and cascading as a gigantic wave across the world. It’s thrilling because we are playing with a new level of complexity and connection.

We are a new species variant of human and we are figuring out what this human is, what it does and what it can do.
And because we are the only animal enemy we have left, we are looking for its weaknesses;  feeling around for its windpipe, thumbs and eyes.

The danger from this all out competition for eyeballs and clicks is low except where real territorial stuff is on the line.  There, virality means masses of people losing control of themselves and losing all sense of proportion. You know, like angry mobs.

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The original meaning of the word outlaw was a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law.

“Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people’s priorities change when there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them,'” says Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT. “A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into ‘mobs’ that commit looting, vandalism, even physical brutality.” (MIT Parent Herald When good people do bad things. )

This is intuitively easy to grasp but we are so naive in regard to our apparent rationality that most of us don’t think we would caught up in the madness.  The couple pictured here (below) are Jose Ismael Torres and Kayla Rae Norton. They terrorized a child’s birthday party with shotguns and confederate flags and vicious racist threats. The picture links to an article.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are lovely people momentarily caught up in madness. I am saying they are kind of shitty people momentarily caught up in madness. She is a mother of two kids and her contrite sobs in court are not simply convenient, at least they don’t sound convenient to me. She’s lost everything; she’s lost her children, she’s done being happy. And at this moment in court she is honestly baffled at how things got so out of control.

She had a pre-existing condition as someone closely aligned with an “ethnic identity” group. She had a head full of terrible ideas years before this but the crucial vulnerability was her lifestyle of pack-bonding with this group and against the outsiders defined as such by the group. It’s easy to imagine she was nasty and insulting to random black Americans all her life but she was probably rather passive, giving the “stink eye”, muttering just above a whisper and such. The peaceable social norms of individual people in public places protected her from herself until she stepped outside of them with her pack to proudly show off the confederate flag only a little over a month after Dylan Root’s Charleston massacre of black church goers.  Continue reading

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Let’s get our subject clear by defining the term.

  1. Meme: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
  2. Meme: a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

Memes didn’t begin with Richard Dawkins, Dawkins didn’t raise them and release them into the wild, Dawkins pointed out the existence of memes: He coined the term and the concept. The word meme ITSELF is a meme that spread quickly and burrowed into our collective intellectual DNA. Memes are often described as viral, but why? 

Viruses are self replicating genetic mechanisms which are not alive. They must find living cells to highjack and use their machinery to replicate themselves. Imagine a computer virus as a script instructing itself: “Look for places to copy yourself and copy yourself to them. Loop.” Likewise a meme must find a living and communicating host to live and replicate. Memes are contagious human ideas and behaviors. Left at that level of definition it’s too broad. We need to understand the roles they play in the ecosystem of human behavior and establish a taxonomic ranking of types.

The universality of memeing is obvious. We share things on purpose and even joyfully. “Look at this!” It’s innate to share ideas and to mirror behavior. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense as a way of enhancing survival (hey this plant is good to eat!)  both for yourself and someone you likely shared genes with. But just as important, Memeing is critical to defining the cultural “self” of human groups. Every group of people unconsciously begin mirroring each other and a context and a style evolve, mapping out a behavioral grid. We’re very good at catching on to these invisible but obvious rules and sort of domesticating our own style to fit in. The group systematically begins developing stories and injokes that reinforce the culture in miniature. It also starts to establish a dominance scale, cliques, gossip and social outcasts. When we are face to face, this mirroring and blending of styles is at its most intimate and powerful. Teenagers often agonize as they struggle with this new matrix of social complexity, and in this we can see our own exposed heart and how very much it matters. A good bit of comedy involves violating or mistaking these social rules. These are social/behavioral memes but there are many kinds.  Continue reading

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Or: Why it’s sometimes OK to hate your neighbor. 

The apparent flatness and hard edges of the world we see masks a strange, fluid, flickering dimension between humans. There is no accurate measurement of this dimension except perhaps for our ability to imagine it. Since it isn’t our nature to imagine things this way it takes a little effort.

Please imagine an odd idea; imagine that:
Interaction is embodiment

Imagine that people who engage in any way become a corporate organism for that period. These virtual organisms can flash into existence and straight out again with a speed like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber.

Begin: “Hey, is the Courthouse this way?” “Yeah, just a couple more blocks!” And we’re done. Imagine that exchange as a very short lived individual, existing like a burst of flame.

But two other beings might meet up and eventually celebrate 70 years of marriage, and they were a sort of organism too. In marriage we have some beliefs about this corporate organism that run very deep. “One flesh”. It’s a pretty weird sounding idea to sanctify but it’s honored by religious people and atheists alike. Completely secular people get married with every intention of honoring a mystical contract that defines them as a dual entity. That’s because this idea is deeper than science or religion, it’s core human. This composite organism is the couple’s life together… and I mean IT IS the time and energy they share.

Families also have a special status as a kind of group self. When you think of your own family, you can easily feel the very real lines of connection flowing between you like living tissue and often pulling and kinking in uncomfortable ways. We know that we somehow OVERLAP and that this is one of the most important things about us. Our loves and friends and families are a kind of Venn diagram. But the center of the Venn is you. Subjectivity and individual experience define this thing. Continue reading

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Natural does not equal good. “Natural” includes violence toward outlanders and controlling women’s lives. I suspect “100% Natural” is a phrase Hitler would have liked.

Some questions we ought to ask:

  1. Why is there war? Why does xenophobia appear in every culture? Why does everyone have a culture? Why does virtually every culture come with a religion? Why do most cultures/religions form defensive barriers against each other?
  2. Why is it so common for people (men and women) in so many different cultures, to feel that they have a vote in how women should dress and behave, but almost never show that kind of concern about men? (The general exception being harassing effeminate men).
  3. Why are the young predictably liberal, and the old generally conservative?
  4. Why are liberal and conservative political stances universal within technological societies but always relative to local cultural details? (“I treat my slaves gently, they last longer that way”: Is that a progressive or conservative statement?)
  5. Why are people predictably kind to the rich and famous…but cruel to the poor? (Spoiler alert: It’s because we’re self interested bastards who do it automatically.)

Woman arrested in Chicago in 1922 for too much exposed skin.

All of these behaviors are core hardwired human group traits that support a strong and stable primate hive. These behaviors aren’t beautiful or right philosophically, they are bits of scripting preserved by the natural selection of group behaviors. These are traits that helped us out-compete the good, the bad and possibly the ugly, over the last 200k years.

We are virtually blind to our nature as a species because we are so busy being individuals of our species. We are neurologically immersed in the matrix of these behaviors to the extent that they are not noteworthy. We feel like peripheral players at best to the great events of our time even though these movements are composed entirely of peripheral players. The larger picture is composed of us “pixels” forming the colors, shapes, and gradients, with our massed actions. And just as a cloud doesn’t exist without micro-droplets, human events don’t exist without us in our drifting collective groups. Every notable trend in our world emerges from the scaling up of the actions of individuals who generally feel no personal control over what is happening around them: Most people feel they are just tagging along trying to keep up and figure things out. The mirror of current events is too broad for us to recognize ourselves.  It’s as if the sky was a mirror where we could see our city reflected but not our own little face peering up from it.

The behavior of large human groups is almost opaque to us in the same way that a cell knows nothing about the particular body it devotes every moment to supporting. We plug away at our daily business in much the same fashion. For many decades science fiction writers have explored the issues of robots and their programming and the nature of free will. I think it’s one of those ideas that is compelling because it echoes something deep and unresolved in ourselves, a bit like a profound but confusing dream. In a world where the first semiconscious robot has yet to ask if we want fries with that, the subject is clearly ourselves. Are we…free?

Rejection of understanding our species nature …is a feature of our species nature

To me, it’s self-evident that every organism works from a script and has a species-specific bandwidth of perception and behavioral flexibility.  One of the complaints people often raise in opposition to a biological or evolutionary root explanation for our behavior is that it’s somehow insulting. There’s a “Are you calling me stupid?” thing going on here. These people feel that they are being taken down a peg in a rude way. It’s a variation on the old: “You saying we came from monkeys?” even though for Christ’s sweet sake, nobody ever said monkeys! It wasn’t monkeys! 

So there may be a religious belief feeling insulted here or simply a recognition that people are so different from other animals that it’s stupid not to notice that difference. The difference in free will and intelligence between most animals and ourselves is obvious, and people pointing out our animal nature sometimes seem to be denying that difference or failing to observe it. This comes across as an attempt to lower humans or raise animals in a way that flattens our human struggles to a futile nothing. Our struggles are towering and awful. We work so hard for our victories.  Our own conscious choice and free will appear so obvious to us through our primate eyes that it seems absurd or yes, insulting, to deny it.

However, this sense of having free will appears to be compulsory.  Just as there are clear differences between us and the other animals, there is a clear similarity. The baboon can be tender. Dogs and cats (can) show forbearance to the children of other species. Ducks and dolphins rape. Is a fluke worm morally inferior to Paul Ryan? I think you know the answer to that.

“We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.” William James

William James says it better than I have ever managed to. And no animal recognizes the limit of its own consciousness for the simple reason that that means stepping outside of its nature…and looking down on it. The blind spot that can be seen is not the true blind spot. The tools that permit us brief exceptions to this hard limit are psychedelic drugs and meditation. These are the spacesuits we can wear that let us take glimpses of the outside of our box.

We have a difference of degrees from our planetary brethren and not a difference of kind.  There’s something perfect about this paradox being blended into our most basic perceptions. I think we should recognize free will as relativistic. We have more than most organisms, but less than we ourselves are capable of imagining. We have LESS freedom than we can imagine. We have more free will in some situations and contexts than others. Through nature and nurture and even just dumb ass luck we will have more or less free will than the random people we encounter through the day. We are free to do anything inside the smallish box we’ve been assigned.

But all of our free will is framed by our species map, and for now, even the most determined attempt to break through the edges of the map will resolve as an illusion: A mystifying Twilight Zone U-Turn back onto the map. “We can’t drive out of town!” Welcome to the Human Situation, population, everyone.

Our ultimate free will will be something we explore and potentially expand with advancing technology, digital and biological. The challenge will be to explore a territory where we are massively programmed with “species-specific right answers” that are purely mechanistic and to discover some beautiful truths that aren’t just a means to a strong and stable tribe, with all the cruelty and coercion that attend that. Because in fact, our social primate scripting combined with the megadeath technology we’ve developed is now the most dangerous problem we face. The inner forces that drive cultural competition armed with city killer weapons becomes a “rock, paper, scissors” game with literally EVERYTHING at stake.  And as we’ve seen lately, “wiser heads” can easily lose elections to the surging excitement of shockingly selfish and stupid people.

We are in a race to transform ourselves, somehow, into wiser creatures than we even CAN be right now and everything depends on our success or failure. I believe spreading this knowledge, and these sorts of insights about our species scripted behaviors may be an essential element in us outswimming the riptide and the undertow of that behavior in such an unforgiving age.

 

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It’s hilarious how much cultural “values”, the dos and don’ts, are exactly like the preferences and peccadilloes of a particular person. These Japanese “no-no”s sound like a description of things that one random person might have very strong feelings about… but in fact, a whole country is ready to be very disappointed in you.

14 Things Not to Do in Japan.

You have your likes and dislikes; your quirks and peccadillos. Put enough of them together in a somebody and you have a personality. You and your love have a relationship, with predominating moods and flavors, things you both love and hate, as recognizable to both of you as each others faces. That is the personality of your relationship and you could almost call it a culture of two. You and your family have a kind of extended self, absolutely made of individuals, but having a corporate nature. Again, moods, styles, activities, and traditions: The personality of your family: The culture of us, ourselves.

Your town and state have cliches and classic types, local foods, music, religions, sports, and jokes. Your area may even have unique social faux pas. You have your classic regional moods, so well defined that Hollywood can set a story in your area as shorthand for the tone of the movie.  Your country likewise has these same locally famous traits but pulled from many distant points and due to this diversity, the warmth of these traits is much more diffuse. Americans from Maine might enjoy funny Florida cliches but they don’t evoke the tenderness of good old home-cooked cliches. These taste of home because they are the personality of your region: The self that you are actually a piece of even when parted. If you have been away a long time from the place that is unquestionably your home, odds are that the sight of some hideous local billboard or despised local celebrity might well thrill you and soften your heart. This is you, a tiny particle of that place sensing the correct SELF of belonging and yearning toward it.

Culture is personality flowing bottom-up from a community. It’s the basket holding that composite soul together and in place. It is also the background that makes outsiders visible against it. It’s the recognizable border between us and them. Humans produce culture as naturally as spiders weave webs. The tension force within the culture creates the tone of inclusion tempering exclusion and vice versa. Tension force determines the “temperature” of how cold or warm the welcome is to outsiders.

I don’t associate warm with progressives and cold with conservatives as a political bias, but in this context, conservatism means suspicion, standoffishness or even hostility. Conservatives play the role in the cultural ecosystem of tightening the borders while progressives loosen them. And it isn’t always about a literal border, the border can be about how purely insiders display their cultural loyalty. It can be about disapproving of behaviors becoming less hidebound to cultural authority (often acted out by grumpy old people). Either wing, without the other, is dangerously out of balance. Either wing, deprived of this balancing opposing force, becomes a runaway monster seeking enemies within when it can’t find them without. That’s how desperately important opposition really is. When deprived of it the isolated wing has a panic attack and seeks everywhere for enemies to counter itself.  The steady opposition between a healthy left and right results in a cooperative outcome: A tension force that protects the community from the weaknesses of each. This is the community organism as a healthy individual with a well-balanced nature.

 

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Donald Trump is the perfect president for this moment, in fact, it’s uncanny.

Obviously not in a good way.

I talk a lot about complexity on this blog.  Complexity changes things in incremental ways until there comes a POP of some new emergent thing which is categorically different than all the things it is made of. You can not look at any organism without seeing just such a result. As usual, I’m asking you to put up with me talking about things that appear crushingly obvious.

But listen, single-celled organisms lived, I’m guessing contentedly, for a multiple BILLION years without once feeling the desire to fuck. Suddenly fucking became a fad, a craze. Everybody was sharing genetic material and things got WEIRD. Suddenly there were strangers moving in all around with a bunch of different characteristics. The good old simple ways were gone. Sex was the first sacrifice of autonomy and the first cooperation of individuals making something new and sharing risks and benefits. That’s right. They were cells with benefits.

And then more complex cooperations in the form of more and more complex organisms began to cover the world. But each new multicell organism and lifestyle was a gamble and a loss of autonomy. And there were cells that said “Hell No!” They stuck to the good old proven ways as they have to this day.

Cooperating to build something more complex is the story of evolution. Human beings in their journey to now have reinvented their understanding of “My Group” over and over. This redefining requires flexibility toward the borders of self. If someone creepy and unattractive asks you to share life’s journey you pull away, securing your borders. You might say “no thank you” or “back the hell off!”. Because (in many ways) you don’t want any sharing or blending with them. But even a new friend who perhaps takes too much for granted about how good friends you are will elicit at least a bit of the same response. Who we are with is who we are…at least as it feels inside us.

And for people in times of change when the community is being redefined, and always becoming larger and more complex, there is a similar issue triggering acceptance or rejection. At such times there have always been people who balked and rejected the change as not only wrong for them, but wrong for everyone. Their gut tells them it’s crazy and wrong. These are conservatives, basically. The tides of human change are strong enough that conservatives are mostly pulled into these new arrangements despite their concerns. Then within a generation, the new situation will be the one they are defending from change and radical new relationships that redefine that SELF.

I do have a belief system weirder than this: That communities of people actually ARE some sort of organism, certainly in the sense that bees are. I believe a couple or a family or a town and beyond exist at some level as an autonomous being brought into existence literally by the interaction of the parts. And that AS parts we have great difficulty perceiving whatever truth there is to this.

And I have a belief system weirder than that. I will admit shamefully that I call it reality weather.

Even I am agnostic about this but it’s something I perceive. It is the shifting and scaling up and scaling down of issues and moods and events in the human world. It was visible in the new nations rush to world war one. It’s visible in the wildfire of fascism (and other isms) in the 1920s and 30s. It’s there somehow visible around the sixties and seventies. I think it’s there in mild times as well, but we don’t notice a quiet sunny day. Yep, it sounds dangerously close to astrology but it’s not. I have no dogma around it and I assert no understandable cause. But there’s something there. And we’re in some heavy damn reality weather right now in case you hadn’t noticed.

So why is Trump the perfect president for right now? Because he is absurdly unaware of anyone other than himself. Because he would never have any relationship where he blended and shared with another person. His wives are things. Other people are things. He can’t even hold the concept of what our government and nation mean as a collective and why he shouldn’t just rewrite everything to please himself. He’s that selfish.

Every country chooses leaders in a semi-conscious way that mixes the issues of the day with a tribal totem. Trump was chosen to represent the part of America doesn’t want to blend, or share or care or change. As such, he is an embodiment of not letting ourselves synchronize with others at higher levels of complexity. He symbolizes pure self-assertion and rejection of relationship and cooperation. Any place beyond the borders of our nation has become a rejected OTHERNESS. Just as it also has in England, Turkey, Russia and elsewhere. And all just about simultaneously. As a country enters this kind of period of self-assertion and push-back it reaches into a bag of domineering regressive nationalistic bastards and places the biggest one on its head like a horrible tiara. It doesn’t last forever and it can unfold in surprising ways. The United Nations and the European Union owe their existence to the 360-degree horror of WWII. That’s probably not a comforting thought right now but don’t assume the worst. To some degree optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as long as we back it up with action. Stay cool and take a reality umbrella, it’s really coming down out there.

 

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As you remember, when the neolithic farming revolution went viral our ancestors all reformed their social arrangements in a staggeringly short period of time. They found themselves living together in numbers never known before. There was a short period where the archaeological record shows egalitarian communities sharing without the evidence that points to wealth and poverty.

All of a sudden, there is a transformation, the birth of the State. Power was amassed at the top, allowing poverty to flow down onto the masses. In his 1977 book Cannibals and Kings, anthropologist Marvin Harris explores human culture and society and their evolution. In it, he devotes a chapter to the origins of the state. This paragraph nicely describes the harsh change:



 

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1. Self Asserting

Like the articles on Tension Force and the balance of Progressive to Conservative, this is about the population pattern spread of personality types that defines the way a group behaves. Although it might seem like I’m simply being pro-self-transcendence, this isn’t a moralistic issue and there are unexpected outcomes. And while it clearly overlaps a teensy bit on the subject of right and left wing politics it only has a solid connection to that out at the edges where the saints and sociopaths hang out. It’s hard to talk about this without paying the most attention to the extremes but the wide middle of this spectrum is in “normal” range. A healthy happy person probably has a good balance, but there’s more than one kind of happy.

There are satisfactions that come from looking out for number 1, and the kind of people who make a point of only looking out for number 1 assume that these are the ultimate satisfactions. Coincidentally, Donald Trump is an exaggerated archetype of this point of view. There are obviously rewards for self assertion but self transcendence for something you love can be a full time high filling you with renewed energy. Only in people who are cartoonishly on one side of the spectrum or the other are these traits expressed as absolutes. Trump is cartoonishly self asserting. But self assertion also powers any serious goals and ambitions. It’s the oomph of aspiration. Gandhi and M.L.K. would have gotten nowhere without it. Any poor, hardworking kid who made something of themselves, has used this power.

In fact, consider this: Have more of the horrors and tragedies of the human race come through self asserting behavior or self transcending behavior? Self transcending can be beautiful and saintly but it also drove the selfless nazi and it drives the true believer ISIL volunteer. Giving yourself wholly to a powerful cause is amoral. In MLK it was moral, but only because of the framework of that transcendence. Passionately pursuing a personal goal is amoral. The internal values of the goal determine the good or ill.

The strongly self asserting are often cruelly disinterested in what happens to anyone they don’t personally know and love. Dick Cheney for example only giving a damn about gay and lesbian rights because his daughter came out. If she hadn’t, he never would have seen any point in supporting that position, after all what was in it for him? Strong self asserters aren’t necessarily aggressive or intense but the only important question for them is “How does this affect me?”

Extreme self assertion might rob banks, or investors. But for true horror and cruelty, self transcendence is the big winner. There is no genocide without people who give up everything to kill whoever the great plan points to.

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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…

In their book, The Ants, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson says (pages 219 & 220):

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 raiders 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.

Scent is fundamental.  Continue reading

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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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Scientists have been explaining for a number of years that race as people think of it doesn’t exist. What we think of as race is just a moment’s snapshot of human traits, reinforced by locality, conditions and culture. Traits that are selected for over time till they have a general sort of look. These traits are as changeable as a cloud over time. That time would be generations long in human terms but the enormous human genome can supply as much variety as people decide they want (to mate with).

But it is deep in humans to identify down to their very soul with their local conditions and customs and repel “outlanders”. It is our literal nature.
A better name for these defended traits is “culture” if we recognize culture as a very serious “this is me, don’t fuck with it” business. The word “racism” isn’t getting us anywhere and the reason is that it isn’t accurate. Admitting that it’s culture and fear of being “dissolved in otherness” leaves us no closer to an obvious solution. Am I really obligated to love other cultures? If so, why? And what if that love is unrequited?

Culture creates a context that evokes behaviors and styles. The phenotypes of people in a given culture probably have something to do with cultural preferences and styles. 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 and then to a degree, the culture maintains a certain style of people…that maintain the culture!

We all have a culture and we all feel stressed when placed in one 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 a molecule of your own culture, far from home. This is why “travel is so broadening” it is basic brain stretching and it can feel good or horrible depending on the various players.

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 generally 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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 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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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 are both 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.

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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