Some time ago I posted a piece questioning whether humans are more like bees or Australian brush turkeys. https://wp.me/p1z4yo-lM Bees are gregarious and nurture their offspring, whereas brush turkeys never meet their parents and lead solitary lives except for mating. Most humans are between these extremes.
To evaluate human developments, particularly those that control behaviour, such as political and economic systems, it is helpful to have agreed humankind’s destiny there. They could provide for hive-like sociality, or isolation, or alternate between the two.
It is difficult choose which way is best for humans. Tradition could express atavistic longing for the kinds of group living evolved by primates and hominids. Some humans in lockdown from the pandemic have suffered a deficit of communal care by traditional standards. Others have enjoyed more than usual.
There are many considerations other than tradition and pandemics. People can be individualistic and selfish, or altruistic and kind to strangers. There is a spectrum of ‘social affinity’ with people and nations varying widely. Countries ideally accept tourists’ selfishness but they may find observing local customs of tipping service off-putting, or even offensive.
Strengths of bonding between people and within communities can increase or decrease with hardship, wealth and war. It is possible that as material prosperity increases, individuals become less group-minded. Conversely, dislocation can foster selfishness.
It is unlikely that human psyches can flex enough to change their position very far along the spectrum. We would not expect a brush turkey to take to living in a beehive, nor a bee to be content to live estranged from its kind like brush turkeys. Perhaps the amount of sociality for humans should not be a monotheism, but we will enjoy living with diversity, both in local communities and within a community of nations.
Totalitarianism exists where humans are subjected to a central dictatorial authority, with civil society replaced by atomised individuals, who feel isolated, superfluous and fearful, without rights. There are too many nations where such conditions exist, including several superpowers. These offensive regimes can be mitigated by attention to human rights.
To avoid totalitarianism, a person must have their rights respected, such as to have a fair trial. Will bees in a crowded hive inevitably have fewer rights than free-roaming brush turkeys? Humans in densely populated countries need as many or even more rights than in sparsely populated countries like Australia. Isolated individuals may have fewer encounters with others but they could be as harmful and as cruel.
In summary, the social affinity of individuals is part of the fabric of life and can differ between countries. People have different experiences and need to be tolerant of others within sectarian cultures, especially under totalitarianism, where individuals need rights at least as protective of them as of isolated individuals in other countries. There are turkeys everywhere.
My writing on this and other topics is at https://martinknox.com
The table attached compares central and devolved responses.
Some individuals would be better off under the devolved strategy but others could regard it as creating unacceptable risk. Devolvers must obey the centralists’ laws without access to exemption by conscientious objection. By contrast, devolvers do not make any demands of centralists. Separate arrangements for centralists cannot be made by devolvers, nor can they compensate centralisers.
The centralists enforce a model of human behaviour that devolvers could find inconvenient and pessimistic. The centralists do not have evidence that their strategy does more public good. It can create more economic and educative harm. The centralist case is predicated on the disease being transmitted to more people by devolution because spreaders would be controlled by regulations. In the same way that government welfare reduces some peoples’ donations to needy people, social control of spreaders by friends, neighbours and strangers could be more effective than official regimes of isolation and social distancing. The centralist strategy discourages individuals from social responsibility and allows excessive arbitrary control over behaviour against peoples’ economic interests.
To portray humans as either social animals or as individualists reveals both have limitations. Responses should draw on both strategies. Centralism rolls up a snowball of regulations, when behaviours might be better dealt with by voluntary action. The onus is on vulnerable and infected people to limit their sociality and take care of themselves, before demanding others be constrained.
Accepting voluntarism by others requires trust, but so does observance of regulations. Many people prefer intervention by authorities to imposing their concerns on others who threaten. Trust of others has been lost at great cost, perhaps because the exercise of civility has been delegated to authorities to resolve, as has happened with road rage. When I went to work or a party with flu symptoms, some good person would remind me to go home. Could a pandemic be controlled like this?
Question: What if it would take only one miscreant to infect my loved ones?
Answer: Irresponsible behaviour is unlikely to be prevented by any regulations. They might reduce awareness of clear and present dangers.
My writing on Covid-19, trust, performance, government and economic growth is at: https://martinknox.com
Brush Turkey [/caption
How much of human life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to society?
This was J S Mill’s question in his book On Liberty, published in 1859, the same year as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species.Today, 160 years later, surviving human societies vary in individuality and sociality. For example, in the USA individualism is reputedly preeminent, whereas in China collectivism is more prominent.
Individual and collective orientations are not mutually exclusive. Many societies draw on both in different amounts. Emergence of societies by legislation and government often relates to both sides, as if there is a choice.
Human models of pure individualism and pure sociality are lacking. In nature, Australian brush turkeys are individualistic, whereas honey bees are social. Human societies vary, having characteristics whose position can be considered along a continuum between these two.
Honey bees live collectively, with a single female reproductive, the queen, a few male drones and a mass of sexually inactive workers. Tasks of commencing, populating, feeding and defending the colony are performed by individuals of various castes. An individual’s caste is determined by special foods, feeding and education. Lives of honey bees are lived within certain social structures without much tolerance for experimentation and deviation. The survival of the individual depends on the survival of the colony, in overcoming disease, weather, famine and attack.
Brush turkeys, by contrast, survive mostly alone. Chicks emerge from the nest without parental guidance or protection. They live freely without social structure and can experiment in mate attraction, new territories and different diets. Mature males build large nest mounds where a female comes to leave her eggs for incubation, under his instinctive supervision. The only social structures concern reproduction.
Unlike honey bees, we humans allow reproduction by workers. In most human societies, mating, home building and education of the young are able to be freely pursued by individuals within their economic constraints. Like honey bees, humans have designated roles in society with duties to perform. In some societies, humans have participative decision making to appoint authorities to conduct public welfare. In honey bees, the queen may communicate requirements. In brush turkeys there are no communal concerns.
Comparing honey bees with brush turkeys does not distinguish which animal species is better off. Australian society has facets of both a hive and turkeydom. Comparison is difficult, especially between the USA and China. For social control more like honey bees’, is control over human reproduction necessary?