Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ozymandian Endgame - Peak Oil and Dunbar's Number

Thomas 18: "Have you discovered then the beginning that you look for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death."

Matt 18:20 For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.”

quoth Cobb this morning;
I think that any splinter from the hegemon must remain existing at a scaled-down level of autonomy or face the same problems of scale which are the origins of standardizations which ultimately constrain expression in hegemony.
Cobb-ski wrote about Dunbar's Number a month or so ago - but got it deeply distorted through that lopsided neoconservative looking glass of his.
We can't love everyone. We can't even keep track of everyone. Where is the power in that? Where is the wisdom in that? it only makes sense if you give into it absolutely, one must be an apologist for Christianity in order for it to be comprehensible.

It leaves us with a series of smudgemarks we make on people, like bumpercars in the eternal human circus. It is an absolute reason to be charitable but to no end other than the belief that you become a better person for doing so.
Truth is, Christianity makes no such prescriptions of scale - rather - it prescribes a vital moral and spiritual praxis centered on the practice of community. To misunderstand this aspect of Christian praxis, is to misunderstand Christianity altogether.

The deep cover brother (Malcolm Gladwell) popularized Dunbar's Number (or, as he called it, "the Magic Number One Hundred and Fifty") in his bestselling 2003 business management book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. I've been writing "at this" topic since Vision Circle days with my initial prescriptions on local Interpersonal Communion. However, synchronicities borne of Spence's comment about grid vs. off-grid and Mahndisa's comment about the emergent psychic qualities of interaction became dazzling in the light of a couple of articles I came across this morning.

Dr. Robin I. M. Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist studied the behavioral ecology of primates and the relationship of primates to their environment. Dunbar analyzed numerical data from primate studies conducted worldwide. He observed certain "defining behavioural characteristics," such as "the time devoted to social interaction, the level of social skills and the degree of tactical deception practiced." Extrapolating to human societies based on the size of the human neocortex, Dunbar theorized human beings naturally form groups no larger than about 150 (147.8, actually) and "cliques" of about a dozen. Dunbar's paper, "Coevolution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans," appeared in Behavioral and Brain Sciences Vol. 16, issue 4. The figure of 150 people has become known as "Dunbar's Number."

Chris Allen wrote a very strong article about it a few years ago - The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes and put it in the context of practical and effective group sizes.
Essentially, as we increase group sizes beyond 80, to 150, 200, or even 350-500, we typically do so by breaking larger groups down into smaller ones, and continually reducing community sizes down to the point where they can be understood and managed by people -- and so efficiency reasserts itself.
Peter Goodchild knocks it out of the park, however, with his recent article Peak Oil and Dunbar's Number;
Small groups have their problems. Nevertheless, in terms of providing human happiness for the average person, the tribe is always more efficient than the empire. Any political party that was at all honest in its dealings would therefore state quite plainly that the human population must drop from seven billion to several million. Schumacher’s solutions are couched in patronizing monosyllables about moral reawakening, but he is on the right track. The anarchistic dreams of Kropotkin and the ecological dreams of Schumacher are complementary; they are both visions of a world without a corrupt and inefficient government, a world not covered with concrete and asphalt, a world that leaves room for trees and birds.
You didn't really think I was going to end the year without a final nod to the 800lb Malthusian reaper (peak oil) now did you? You know me better than that by now....,