Rather than viewing society and culture as real things, an observer can
recognize that humans live in groups that repeat and modify innate behaviors to
produce prolific variations on a few underlying themes that are common to all
societies. A smart observer will consider the grouping characteristics of humans
and discern basic patterns and problems underlying the apparent complexity of
modern civilization. The organization of society begins with small local
clusters that link family groups into clans that are more or less cooperative
units. Clans associate, forming bands that tend to affiliate with other bands
forming tribes, looser affiliations that occupy larger geographic areas. The
band-tribal structure emerges from ancient animal groupings.
Human behavior can be understood in relation to the whole spectrum of primate
behaviors and social organizations. Humans appear to have an eclectic
combination of primate tendencies with elaboration of features such as tool
making, symbolic reasoning and spoken language. Linda Stone suggested that:
“Primates are a natural grouping of mammals that includes prosimians,
tree-dwelling animals such as lemurs and tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans.
Some of the physical characteristics that distinguish primates from other
mammals are binocular vision and the grasping hand with mobile digits and flat
nails. Evolutionary trends characteristic of the Primate Order are most
pronounced in humans and include prolongation of gestation of the fetus,
prolongation of the period of infant care, and expansion and elaboration of the
brain. An important feature in the social life of many nonhuman primates is
dominance and the formation of "dominance hierarchies."… a dominant animal wins
aggressive encounters with others and usually has greater access to resources
such as food, water, or sexual partners.“
Patterns of organization, rules, and institutions that regulate human
behavior are in flux and will continue to be unstable. As human populations
expand and interactions become increasingly complex, innate abilities are
stretched and distorted. The ability of individuals to relate to other humans
remains limited and limits the effective management of enlarging groups.
Managers and leaders do not become smarter as the organizations they lead become
larger. It is axiomatic that organizations that exceed a threshold number become
dysfunctional. It is matter of empirical study to recognize group size
thresholds, and too little is known about the cognitive limitations of leaders.
At the level of the largest organizations, small groups decide on policy and
procedures that effect many nations, even the fate the entire species.
International negotiations often involve numbers of people in crowded assembles
such as the United Nations. When crises arise and critical issues need
resolution, the best results are often achieved by single individuals or small
groups who intervene above and beyond the complexities of rules and the rituals
of large assemblies and work out a deal. Individuals can make deals and settle
disputes when other more complex and impersonal negotiations fail.
The tendency to impose rules and policies from the top down is, however,
risky because individuals and small groups cannot understand the needs, values
and beliefs of large numbers of local groups. World-wide policies will tend to
fail since they emerge from limited understanding and ignore the tendency for
humans to relate most strongly to a small local group. At the deepest level,
humans discriminate and select only a few humans out of many to trust and share
time and space.
In modern urban communities, humans of many descriptions come together to
learn, work, and play. They pass through a common space every day. Strangers are
ignored or actively avoided. A ride on an elevator reveals a remarkable innate
resistance to interaction with strangers. Most humans feel tense and awkward in
an elevator and avoid eye contact with other riders. If you override this strong
tendency and say something to your fellow riders, the tension builds, and
everyone is focused on getting out of the elevator as soon as possible