Thursday, May 02, 2013

ultrasociality



agrieusocial | The adoption of agriculture was one of the most momentous transformations in human history. It set into motion forces that changed our species from living in small numbers within the confines of local ecosystems into one that is now changing the biophysical characteristics of the entire planet. We argue that this transformation can be understood as a leap to ultrasociality-a type of social organization rare in nature but wildly successful when it occurs. Several species of ants and termites made a similar leap in social organization and the broad characteristics of their societies are remarkably similar to post hunter-gatherer human societies. Ultrasocial species dominate the ecosystems they occupy in terms of sheer numbers and the scale of ecosystem exploitation. We argue that the drivers for the ultrasocial transition to agriculture are economic. These societies operate as superorganisms exhibiting an unparalleled degree of division of labor and an economic organization centered around surplus production. We suggest that the origin of human and insect agriculture is an example of parallel evolution driven by similar forces of multi-level selection. Only with the evolution of expansionist agriculturalist societies did humans join ants and termites in the social domination of Earth. Viewing agriculture as an ultrasocial transition offers insights not only about the origins of agriculture and its consequences, but also about the forces shaping the current demographic transition and the modern global socio-economic system.