Saturday, August 29, 2009

Evolving Utopia Part 9

Part 9: The Paleolithic

We cannot observe the first humans, but there are things we can use as reasonable assumptions: they lived in Africa by gathering fruits, nuts, roots and tubers, scavenging carrion and, when their technology was up to it, hunting and fishing. They took care of their children because human children need care for a few years before they can do useful things. We know about these kinds of things because we do them ourselves and are aware of them.
There were people in the 16th to 19th century who were still in a relatively primitive state because they had been pushed to the fringes by others and had to spend all their energy on survival. From what we know about them we can assume that they shared their resources and made their decisions by consensus most of the time. They didn't have an authority to regulate behavior, but used teasing and nagging to control those who did not behave properly.

This is all characteristic of people whose behavior is based on mutual conformity. And there is a very good reason for that.

The characteristic that distinguishes homo sapiens sapiens from the other still extant primates is that we communicate by using abstract mouth-noises. Other species use mouth-noises to communicate emotions, but homo sapiens alone can communicate abstractions.

That kind of communication has one strong requirement: everyone in the communication group must use the same noises to mean the same thing. This is the significance of the parable of the Tower of Babel--if we don't all use the same mouth-noises for the same thing we can't take advantage of the sophisticated cooperation that mouth-noise communication makes possible.

Thus is is extremely important that we be mutually conformist in order to survive as human beings.

Mutual conformity is not uncommon in animal species. Ants and bees, for instance, are highly conformist because it is a genetic trait. But humans can't be conformist to that degree.

Ants, bees, schooling fish, and other conformist animals are born as clones and are conformists from birth. Humans take a long time to be a contributing member of the tribe, so they represent a large community investment. They have to learn to survive independently between the time when they move by themselves and they contribute to the tribe. The species can't tolerate the possibility that a mistake will take several children who were doing the same thing.

So we have an inherent problem.

We have the advantage of mouth-noise communication, but it requires us to be bivalent: individualistic and conformist at the same time. This can be represented by a Fermi-Dirac distribution in behavior space; we want to conform to the centroid of the group, but the need for individuality keeps us from all being in the same cell.

Immediately it sets a limit on local group population. If there are too many individuals there will be two who are so different that there is a lot of tension. The tribe tends to fission to preserve tranquility.

When we are surrounded by other tribes and can't fission we have to control population by infanticide, and the only criterion available to paleolithic technology is to select out those infants who don't look like the rest of us.

The result of a series of fissions, migrations and infanticide is that, as a species:

(a) we will be found more widely distributed than other related species who don't use mouth-noise communication,

(b) we will have a strong local resemblance which will probably be correlated with dialect. We call the local resemblance "race".

(c) Although there will be a variety of appearance in our distribution we remain one species, i.e., we can interbreed.

That characterization is unique to homo sapiens sapiens.

We lived for 50- to 100,000 years in such a small group governed by mutual conformity, with no hierarchy. If anything, that is the most "natural" form of human society. As we will see, the other systems we have tried are not stable. What we need to do is invent a social infrastructure compatible with technology and as democratic and stable as a paleolithic tribe.

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