Tag Archives: society

Powerful Influence from Small Changes

While this article is on *Brain Inflammation and Obesity* specifically, there seems to be a number of deeper implications if we apply a wide angle lens to the fact that certain infections, or microbiome populations, or traumas, etc. in the context of our complex biological system can shift behavioral expressions on more than physical scales. This influence on our relational landscape has a powerful influence on our experience of life. Extrapolated further we might begin to get a glimpse of how our evolution, history, culture and sense of identity might all be far more nebulous and arbitrary than we are used to believing.


The Social Life of Plants

Plants have any number of methods to communicate both internally and externally in order to keep themselves informed and respond to their environment and developmental needs. They use this vast array of capacities to negotiate their way toward maturity and reproduction among other things. As it turns out, plants have a rich social life. They are for instance able to forge relationships with various benefactors in the plant and animal kingdoms and coordinate their effort, including the recruitment of other creatures, to ward off antagonists. They sense, and think without the means of a brain as we understand brains, yet they have the capacity to perceive and respond on remarkable levels which we are only beginning to understand. Here is a documentary on some of the recently discovered attributes of plants.

The Seeds of Human Culture are in the Cell

The notion that DNA is a static information repository is fading, as is the notion that RNA and protein are passive outcomes of DNA. Together all the structures in the cell form a dynamic community that includes a social life (cellular communication), institutional structures (golgi apparatus, ribosomes, etc.), a police force (phagocytes), roads (microtubules), transport vehicles (Kinesin, Dynein), local culture (see article link below), and so on. In other words; there is nothing that we express on a macro scale that is not also echoed on micro scales. We reflect of the nature of the cosmos. It could not be otherwise.


Self Inflicted Cultural Wounds

From my perspective, as long as medicine is a for profit business, and not held as a high social value that is geared to attract people motivated by the act of service toward the strength and well being of the population it will have a parasitic and predatory edge to it. This edge will, like cancer skew both research and practices to incline toward generating income over wellness, eroding the strength of the people it is supposed to strengthen. In other words, we author our own poverty due to a self inflicted cultural values problem which leads to destructive symptoms, including institutional structures that feed on, rather than nourish the strength that comes from having each other’s backs rather than being on each other’s backs. The pill dependent marketing driven culture, as well as the high priced profiteers of the industry are symptoms of that failure to recognize where our bread is really buttered.

Bonus irony points: The article about this is in “Vanity Fair” http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/09/health-care200909

Chemistry is Language

Just because we are not consciously aware of the influence of chemical communication signals that inform and direct our behaviors does not mean they are not present in abundance. The same way chemical signals like hormones within the body inform and direct the behaviors of various cells and organs, chemical signals also do this between us. Pheromones are chemical signals that change the behaviors of other animals of the same species.

Pheromone actions in humans have been investigated, but the evidence thus far is generally considered weak. While the evidence of pheremonic communication among every other organism is staggering, signaling such things as alarm, where food sources are, triggering sexual arousal and behaviors, bonding behaviors, repulsion and attraction and so on, somehow we have resisted acknowledging this same communication channel happening among humans.

My guess is this area of science has been historically stagnated by false assumptions and wishful thinking. Perhaps a desire to keep humans in a special class, perhaps due to the fact that we idolize verbal awareness so much we confuse our meager, error prone , but convincing verbal map with the actual territory, but the evidence that we are just like every other biological organism, the product of a complex tapestry of communication on multiple levels, which we only get to see a fragment of, is now emerging with more convincing vigor. Here is one such study along those lines:


The Power Law and The Nature of Systems

Zipf’s law, also known as the power law identifies the uncanny consistency of the frequency of behaviors in natural systems, including complex organized adaptive systems like biology. For instance; the frequency of the most used word in any language no matter where it originates will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, and so on.

Ziph’s law goes by other names, such as the power law, but the orderly distribution of relative frequency is remarkably consistent across many systems, these include physical, biological, and social systems. City populations follow this distribution. So do the sizes of craters on the moon, the strength of solar flares, the frequency of behavior patterns such as sex or foraging in various animal species as well as the sizes of activity patterns of neuronal populations, volcanic eruptions, and so on. It is also true of social systems.

This information on Ziph’s law has a lot of implications if it is fully unpacked. If we extract the value from what it means we might consider the fruitless waste of time it is doing things like angrily baying at the moon over the 1%, or whatever name is given to primary social influencers. Changing Ziph’s law seems fairly unlikely to succeed no matter how loudly we squeal. It is perhaps a more effective strategy to focus instead on the fact that we are all responsible for the tone of the relationship climate we all live in and contribute to.

Based on the fact that natural systems arrange around this law, including social systems, a more effective thing would be to build a social economy based on how much we can give to each other, rather than how much we can get from each other. In this way those who, in the future, will assume the inevitable mantle of having the most influence might also be inclined to behave with these same values. Even if this took a couple generations to take root and bear fruit, it would be worthwhile. A quote attributed Gandhi, perhaps falsely, but good advice no matter where it came from comes to mind; “Be The Change You Want To See In The World”



Striking a Balance between Tradition and Rebellion


Here’s a couple thoughts on the value of the balance between traditions and the rebellious agents that emerge each generation to challenge them and test both their strengths and limitations. This perspective may be subject to revision. Some assembly required. Void where prohibited by law.

Traditions are the bonds that hold a society together. They lay the foundation for trust by enabling an expectation for behaviors that, if accommodated, can help the individual to navigate – to forge a niche. They calm the social waters so to speak, make it a familiar place, rather than frightening one that saps all our energy trying to figure friend from foe, but this strength of tradition only works if they are held in the proper strength. Traditions held too rigidly and overbearingly cause the social structure to become unable to adapt to changes, so it shatters under the weight of that need to change when it inevitably comes, too loose and the social structure devolves into chaos along and the fruits of cooperation and integrity die off.

In just the right measure, the balance between tradition and rebellion helps a society to prepare for and adapt to the variables it needs to face in a developing social and physical environment. The conflict between tradition and the rebel is also a ritual reminder and ceremony of sorts that reinforces the bonds we need to forge a society at all. (The biological drivers for this are, in effect, a religion embedded in our nature that many of us only know by their abstract, literally untrue, yet figuratively valid capture in the various rituals and religions that have emerged over the years) From my perspective, traditions and rebellion are like water – too much, we drown in them lifelessly floating as an object, merely existing more so than living, too few, and we die an agonizing death from the thirst we need to satisfy in order to remain integrated.

The Two Primary Drivers of Biological and Social Order

Any coherent unit of order, no matter if it is biological or social from an organism, to a group, to organizations and communities, or nation states are established by two primary behavioral drivers. The first driver is a collection of coordinated activities that establish the integrity of the unit. A group needs a cementing bond to identify “self” from “other”. Self behaviors are aligned around the community. In biological terms, an individual organism is built on a framework of shared genetics and common epigenetics that form a cohesive bond. In the case of complex creatures like ourselves, this coordinated effort extends to specialized organs that coordinate activities to maintain integrity, and the ability to collectively obtain and metabolize nutrients that also maintain the integrity.

In social terms, integrity also has bonds, these bonds may be formed with a set of ideas. It could be the love of a sport, or the behaviors that support the commonwealth of the community. In all cases, the global principle is that there is some form of cohesive glue that establishes and maintains the integrity of the group, thus establishing a metabolism social order.

Behavioral expressions are the way a social group demonstrates and reassures itself that it is maintaining integrity as a cohesive unit. These behaviors are how a group nourishes itself. This can come in the form of ritual behaviors such social nit picking in chimpanzees, or in the case of humans, it could come in the form of uniform clothing, symbols, the wearing of hats, common language, saluting a flags, the saying of pledges, or taking of oaths either formal or informal. These things, and how they are valued determine the strength of the bonds that maintain the metabolism of the group.

The second primary driver of group cohesion is the development of a kind of “behavioral immune system” that has the capacity to reject any behaviors or contend with situations that are perceived to be potentially harmful or destructive to the integrity of the group. This social immune system that provides a defensive group cohesion engine is not unique to humans by any means. In fact, we are but one expression of this global biological driver that is threaded throughout the entire web of biological life from top to bottom. We see its expression biochemically and socially.

Here is one small example of this principle at work in the case of ravens, those that cheat are excluded from the protective network of cooperative birds. Ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators, but they exclude cheaters because they free ride on the assumed risks the others take. Here is more detail on this group cohesion behavior in ravens.

Is our social behavior an Echo of Physics?


Every atom the functions as part of our biological system craves specific relationships with other atoms. There are systems that are geared to satisfy those hungers and other systems, like our immune system, that are geared to reject and expel any elements the “do not belong to the in-group” so to speak. It is this complex social dynamic between physical elements that forms and maintains our biological structure.

Like the relationship dynamic that happens on a micro scale, as a whole, our biological system has specific hungers that must be met as well. From a certain perspective, our own behavioral and social actions are, in essence, a reflection of that from which we are physically composed. This can be found clearly echoed in scientific disciplines such as sociology. The following is one example:

According to Social Identity Theory, comparison with an outgroup is the main engine by which positive ingroup distinctiveness is formed.

Experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel and others into the so-called Minimal Group Paradigm illustrate this point well.

In the experiments to see what the minimum was to establish an in-group, a number of assumptions, concepts, values or practices were accepted in order to better allow a view of the onset of human group formation and of the appearance of discriminatory behaviours toward out-group.

From the article:

“Intergroup behaviour was analyzed in a situation of “mere categorization” such as where people involved as subjects in this research were told that they were individually “overestimators” or “underestimators” of the number of dots in a display. It was found that even under very flimsy and apparently baseless assigned social categorisation into two distinct, and previously “unheard of” social categories, in-group favoritism and out-group derogation occurred in the distribution, by the research subjects, of “rewards for participation” in the study.”

This is more evidence that shows how hard wired we are to cling to a group and reject anything perceived as out-group.  For a more detailed look Click Here

The Coming Social Age

Luther Standing Bear

The Japanese have a word “kodokushi” that means “lonely death”. It refers to people who died so socially disconnected they got noticed as a result of unpaid bills or the stench of their decay. From a wider view, this kind of death is an expression of social stress on a cultural level. It is increasing in places like Japan, where an individual’s social identity has been strongly tied to what that person does – their status in an atmosphere of decreasing opportunity to fulfill roles of that nature. When jobs dry up in a culture that heavily associates social identity to roles such as work and status with nothing of merit to replace it, so does a person’s social life and identity.

This type of expression of social stress is also true in the context of cultures that use unspoken inferences to imply false paths to satisfaction like; monetary and or material success is the path to satisfied social standing. Or a celebrity culture,where popularity is equivocated with success and satisfaction. In these cases it sometimes leads to the opposite; isolation in the form of a prison of superficial relationships and a servile life of superficial show that looks enticing from afar, but is quietly alienating and unsatisfactory to those within its grips. The false illusion can ultimately craft a pluralistic ignorance engine in the culture where people are enchanted by the notion and spend their lives desperately chasing the empty dream – the missing piece of satisfaction that is never to be found in a social maze that is actually a prison disguised as a prize – with only the promise of fulfillment, but no actual satisfaction.

Expressions of stress due to cultural identity crises happen anywhere there is a false path to satisfaction, but also anywhere a former means of forming a social identity is shattered and a path for a new social identity is not clearly established. When disruptions to the social economy, and by extension our connections to each other, are stressed and or destroyed, we become displaced and exhibit stress responses. Various exhibitions of stress like kodokushi are the result in individuals or whole cultures displaced by changes in the environment for which we are ill equipped to adapt.

We have witnessed this identity problem in indigenous people’s throughout the world. Those that have been displaced by western civilization suffer in the wake of social economic stresses. The basis by which the people established their identity was destroyed, and with it, the people. Where the means to form a valuable identity in a social context is disrupted, and no clear alternative path to cultivate a solid socially valued identity is presented, much less cultivated, we see expressions of stress. These social malnourishment stresses are expressed in many forms, including kodokushi. Sometimes self destructive alienation and deterioration take the form of life ending addictions, crime, and other predatory acts such as abuse, or in the case of western technological societies; a sacrifice of quality intimate relationships for gadgets, entertainment and superficial social posturing, none of which are fitting staples of nutrition for our innate human social hungers. As a result, we elevate the most vacuous inconsequential banalities to the status of ultra importance and proceed to swarm on it as if it had real merit – a cycle of self perpetuating distractions that keep us from addressing the reality of our desperately unsatisfied state.

In the west, our fickle passion for a flurry of distracting gadgets and banalities increasingly consumes our time, but does not lead to fundamental satisfaction. As we have distanced ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from ourselves, and this has led to many expressions of cultural stress. When displaced from satisfying forms of social nutrition, we become socially ravenous creatures, desperately consuming anything that remotely looks like food, including social junk food, and each other, for the sake of forging a social identity – even if that identity is an unsatisfying and self perpetuating farce.

On a larger cultural scale, these expressions of cultural stress are the pre quake tremors that precede a much larger tectonic shift laying at the threshold of our near future. One of the fundamental challenges we face as a global culture is how to establish a satisfying identity in the context of the fact that our material needs will be increasingly met through technology. As technology increasingly replaces the need for human participation in the traditional hunt-gather-perform aspects of human sociality, we face a social identity crisis of unprecedented proportions as a species. Our traditionally formed social identities were based on necessary roles which are now increasingly being displaced by automation. If we do not act preemptively to craft a a new social economy, we will face the backlash of stressed humans desperately trying to get their bearings in a world we longer understand.

As we are carried forward on the inevitable currents of time that move us toward the future, in order to succeed, we need to understand that we are primarily social creatures with material needs – not material creatures with social needs. It has always been so, although the social currency has been historically based on material, this is changing and we need to adapt, or suffer the consequences of maladaptation. Although we have historically conflated material needs with social ones out of necessity, as this base erodes we need to recast our understanding of ourselves. We need to focus in on what has always been the driver of human satisfaction all along, sociality. This is the common denominator, and of paramount importance to recognize to successfully move forward. With this in mind it is perhaps wise to recognize that we are entering the social age.

As technology increasingly fulfills our material needs, the stability of our future will need to be built on what we bring that is of social value, rather than what has been of material value. This requires some rewiring of our traditional perceptions of what is of value. We need to move from material mindset to a social one. It is not a mistake that the stone age, bronze age, iron age and the industrial age gave way to the information age. The move has been from material to non-material values. We must now recognize now that the common denominator that has always been social. The variable has been what fills our fundamental hierarchy of needs. Social is what we must now put at the forefront of our understanding of what is of value. Adding value in a social context is what we need to recognize, cultivate and strive for as humans in order to have our bearings in the social age – in order to adapt. Our attempt to fill our social needs with materials pays an ever diminishing return on our level of satisfaction. This is based on the law of supply and demand. The degree to which we make the transition to the social age economy effectively is the degree to which we harmonize with what has been at the foundation of our human nature all along – and that is social. Delivering products of constructive social value is heart the new economy.


Here is an article related to kodokushi http://nautil.us/blog/alienation-is-killing-americans-and-japanese