Social Psychology

Ultrasociality: The Size and Complexity of our Society Means We have to rely on Each Other to Survive


For the past couple of months, we’ve all stood by and watched in stupored horror as the CyBeRnInJaS had their way with the Maricopa County ballots and voting machines at the behest of the Arizona GQP senate in the so-called fraudit of the county’s presidential election. Unfortunately, all they’ve succeeded in doing is soiling those ballots and machines that they can no longer be trusted. The ballots cannot be recounted ever again because they no longer accurately represent the election and the machines cannot be trusted to accurately record future votes and must now be replaced. Now, we are being treated to the specter of the same petrifying process being visited on other Democratic voting counties in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania as delegations of GQP state legislatures flock to the re-count site to observe the process. It puts a new meaning on monkey see, monkey do, don’t it?

There has been lots of kvetching on liberal social media about this process, the lack of prosecution of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and friends, and the Congressional Dems not being able to magically implement their agenda like passing the infrastructure and For the People Act. While the causes of these things and so many others in the news today either happening or not happening vary greatly, they all have one thing incommon, they take many experts in their fields to accomplish.

We live in a vastly complex society with over three hundred million members. To function successfully, we rely on physical and social systems to deliver the necessities of life to each individual in sufficient quantity on a daily basis. It is nearly overwhelming to imagine. For example, during the 2020 year of #COVID19, we consumed over 337 million gallons of gasoline per day! As the recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack demonstrated it takes an entire complex, yet hidden, system of refineries, storage facilities, pipelines, and trucks to get each person in the US the gasoline they need to get through their day. And that is just one commodity that we all rely on.

Everyday we rely on experts and professionals to do their jobs to get us the things we need, and yes, GQP even the care some of us need, to get us through our days. Each of those experts and professionals have family members and some of those family members need care that the expert or professional cannot deliver directly but must trust is there in order to do the job that we rely on them to do. It is a vastly complex interconnected system. Making sure it remains intact and functioning is the focus of the American Jobs Plan aka the infamous infrastructure bill, but that ain’t what this post is about.

Complex societies like ours are called ultrasocial. As explained in Finding Happiness in Trump’s America: the Log in the Conservative Christian Voter’s Eye, ultrasociality is a complex society that is characterized by a large dense population, a complicated division of labor, and convoluted, cooperative, coordinated activities. Sounds about like modern human existence, don’t it? It also sounds like the social insects to those of us who think about those things, but that is the subject of another blog post on someone else’s blog. Who can be snarky, sarcasticky, and profaney about the pro-social behavior of ants, amirite?

Let’s just take it as gospel that we evolved to work in groups of about 100 to 150. And, if you are now scratching your ass and thinking, wait a minute, we haven’t lived in groups of 100 to 150 for about 40,000 years. You’re right. Like so much of what ails modern homo sapiens, we’re trying to fit 40,000 year old hunter-gatherer savanna equipment into the internet savvy information age environment. The fit is just barely functional. We are trying to live and work in groups of hundreds of millions.  No wonder we are having difficulty living and working together.

Finding Happiness in Trump’s America: the Log in the Conservative Christian Voter’s Eye

Many of the problems we’re facing from the failure to vaccinate in sufficient numbers to the failure to confront climate change to police reform are all caused by our failure to trust our experts and professionals. Not that there are not disagreements among experts and professionals on what should be done, but they have a much better understanding of these complex situations and have a much better idea of how to cope with them.

It is another of the lasting legacies of the anti-democratic Republican-led right. It predates the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, but he sure did exacerbate it with his narcissistic overconfidence in his own expertise on all subjects. No where was this more obvious than in his handling of the #COVID19 pandemic.

The increasing insistence of the conservatives on basing all of their decisions on my opinion is as good as your facts for the past forty years or so and our steadfast belief that the rugged individual who is willing to go rogue and disobey all the rules to do what he knows is right, in short, to go all John McClane on your ass, will prevail and win the day. You know everyone of those fools who stormed the Capitol during the 6 January Insurrection had images of John McClane dancing in their heads egging them on.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case down here in reality in our ultrasociality existence.

Think on this for a moment, our hunter-gatherer savannah existence in groups of 100 to 150 was so complex that we evolved shortcuts, biases and heuristics, to deal with them so we wouldn’t expend so much energy on thinking and evaluating and could save our dumb asses from predators and rival tribes. If that was the case, how can we pretend to cope with the overwhelming amount of information available to us and all of the decisions we have to make nowadays in this utra-technological electronic age? We can’t.

Our evolution has taught us to rely on those around us to process large amounts of information relative to hunter-gatherers and base our opinions on those of people in our 100 to 150 member groups, so that’s what we’re doing now. And, now, we have media information outlets that are willing to parrot the lies told by those promoted by those who want to manipulate us. We have social media to repeat the lies, make shit up, and argue over the lies promoted by people deliberately running disinformation campaigns.

For ultrasociality to work, those with the most power and influence have to promote the “good” of the society not just their own self-interest as the Koch Brothers and others are doing now. It is critical that those who are elected to public office to enact laws and execute policy have a clear understanding of what is best for us as a whole.

However, what we have nowadays is an electorate that is satisfied with the sweet nothings their politicians whisper into their ears about how we’re the greatest country in the history of humankind and if we just keep on with what we were doing before the New Deal, we’ll continue to be the greatest country in the history of humankind when all those rural conservative Christian white voter whisperers are doing is transferring the nation’s wealth to the 1% as quickly as possible in exchange for allowing those voters to be as racist and misogynistic as they wanna be since we all know that racism and misogyny are what made America great.

To survive this threat to our democracy, we have to be aware of these human fallacies:

  • We form our opinions based on those of the people around us, both online and IRL and the media we watch.
  • Our political ideas are heavily influenced by the politicians we like and much less by the “principles” we think we hold.
  • We must rely on experts to help us navigate some of the hardest most complicated decisions that humankind has ever faced and that threaten our very existence.
  • We cannot fall into the trap of following what we want to hear. We must do the hard work of getting a sufficient understanding of the problems we face so we can make accurate and informed choices about the expert opinion we follow and the politicians we elect to office.

If we don’t do these things, our democracy is doomed and perhaps all of humanity.

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“Ant Party” by tarotastic is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

34 replies »

  1. We called them “Essential Workers”. We put up signs that said, “HEROES WORK HERE”. The lovers of freedom who found a demand that they wear a simple mask to help stop the spread of virus a tyrannical assault on their “liberty”, abused them (even killed a few). Some were offered a pittance of “hazard pay”, but a minimum wage of $15/hr that one might actually be able to live on? Oh, no, that would destroy the economy. It’s not just the experts and professionals not being trusted and valued. Writ large, we also don’t seem to be able to value the people who really keep the wheels turning, who keep us all supplied, transported, and such, the human infrastructure. We even talk of those who do one of the most fundamentally essential jobs as “hicks”, and such, farmers, upon whose ability to grow more food than their family can consume, the entire enterprise of “civilization” depends. Could it be that at some deep level we have not gotten over having slaves and serfs, unpaid, infinitely replaceable, and silent? Surely, the nobles and burgers who thought that way were disabused of the notion by the Black Death centuries ago. How soon we forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I’ve worked enough minimum wage, menial labor, and contract jobs to understand how ownership and management views such workers. I’m guessing you have, too. They are seen as interchangeable and utterly replaceable. They are a dime a dozen. It is the canard of people don’t want to work when they can make more on unemployment, so the obvious solution is to cut unemployment. Every universal basic income study and negative income study that I know of has found that people prefer working over any kind of assistance. In our current economy there are many impediments to working including childcare and better paying opportunities. In general, many kinds of assistance has a lot of strings attached: no man can be in the family, i.e. single mothers and children only, Medicaid comes with it, but most minimum wage jobs don’t provide any medical care.

      The way the working poor are viewed in our society is utterly sickening.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • Back in the early ’70s I worked for a while as an AFDC case worker in Chicago. I learned that in that program, because it was so severely needs-tested, it cost $3 to deliver $1 in cash benefits. Several decades later, I heard the same of the Food Stamps system. That 3-to-1 ratio seems to be consistent for needs tested programs. It may be true that the cost of trying to stop “cheaters” (AKA: Welfare Queens) is actually greater than what the cheaters get away with.

        The question of who are the “deserving poor” and who are the “undeserving poor” is as old as any plan to help the poor. The major exceptions have been when politicians (mainly autocratic populists) have seen an advantage in supplying Bread and Circuses.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          It just goes to show that a conservative is a person who is worried that there is someone somewhere getting away with something they shouldn’t be. It goes back to our Puritan roots of God’s love and favor being reflected in your monetary success on earth. All poverty is a failure of personality, so it is worth any cost to ensure that no one gets anything that they don’t deserve… and none of them deserve anything. Liberals must be stopped at any cost. Their reasoning is inconsistent, tangential, and spiralling out of control.

          If we survive this period of time, we’ll be stronger.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  The think about getting on your high horse and raining holy righteous hell down on your detractors is that it activates the reward and liking systems. It becomes its own closed feedback loop motivating addiction.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I learned long ago that anything a drug can get a brain to do, the brain can do on its own with its own soup of neurotransmitters. I’ve had occasion to explain mania to people familiar with street drugs by saying that mania is where people who abuse stimulants like cocaine and meth are trying to get to. Any behavior that gets those feel-good juices flowing is potentially addictive, and outrage and righteous indignation do that real well.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      It is the biggest flaw in democracy. It is too easy for politicians to demagogue outrage and righteous indignation to get votes. Once that cycle gets started, democracy is in trouble. Social media just made it easy to create outrage machine bubbles on both sides.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And it is utterly unclear and confusing what should, would, or could be done to reduce it. In the social media system, click bait is a hugely profitable business model without regard for truth.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      We used to rely on social norms and the wisdom of the electorate to elect stable sober candidates, but then we started to let just anyone vote, so thost stable sober candidates realized that to continue winning they would have to appeal to the white masses to counter-balance the influx of non-white, non-male voters. Mix in big oil and other industries, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for authoritarianism.

                      Perhaps the lesson is that basing a society on the shortest route to a profit is not the best of ideas.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • “The shortest route to a profit” is a great description. We do currently have a system rife with short-term incentives, demands, and imperatives, both politically (not thinking past the next election) and economically (the next quarterly report, even the next stock trading day). I’ve pondered whether having the Presidency, House, and Senate elections all in the same year is a good idea, or it might be better to stagger them (might mean a change in term lengths) so that no two ever happen in the same year. The other radical idea is to get rid of the stock market so that once someone (individual or business or institution) owned a stock they and their heirs would be stuck with it for ever. That might sufficiently incentivize long-term thinking by owners and managers, and therefore, their bought politicians.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      The shortsightedness of our political and business elites is exactly what has gotten us to this disastrous point. Always kicking the can down the road on climate change and other pressing issues (infrastructure and climate change to name two) has left us as a society in a very bad position to respond to the very pressing needs that both and other issues present us with.

                      With all of the difficulties that we’re having in the Senate, especially, it is clear that we need to change how our government is structured so that it is more representative of the population as a whole. Step one after securing voting rights is to eliminate dark money in politics. We’ll see if that happens.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • One step is the end of the filibuster. The catch is that that sword cuts both ways. If the current version of the Republican party were to get majorities in both houses and the White House, the thought of what they would ram through is horrifying.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I agree with your statement, but that’s a future that may not come. What we have now is a present that we have to cope with. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle, but we need that empty bottle now, to carry the metaphor to its absurd ending.

                      This is exactly the bind that McQonnell likes. He got Reid to end the filibuster for federal lower court judges, so he would feel justified in ending it for SCOTUS appointees. He got Reid to do his dirty work for him by making it impossible to appoint judges when you needed 60 votes in a cloture vote. He’s doing the same here. He’s hoping Schumer will do it. He’d love to be majority leader without the filibuster.

                      What choice do we have? When all you have is extreme partisanship, you can’t have a democracy. Our only hope is to deliver a drubbing to the GQP in 2022 and 2024 and end them as a party. I don’t think that will happen, but I think it is possible for the Democrats to expand their majorities in Congress if they can get some of Biden’s legislation passed and clearly demonstrate GQP obstruction on the other.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • For the Democrats, the essential is to demonstrate that they can govern in a way that actually helps people, and could do more but for the GOP obstruction.

                      On another note, this is a good read: https://www.wired.com/story/far-right-social-strategy-smokescreen-trolling/?bxid=5bd6730124c17c1048004ec8&cndid=31950619&esrc=AUTO_PRINT&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_061821&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list1_p2

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Thanks for the article. This notion of distracting the low-information conservative voter from the misery GQP policies are causing them with divisive social issues is pretty widespread. I’m glad to see it is getting talked about in a myriad of ways in many different places so that it reaches as many people as possible.

                      I think that one thing we have going for us is that the notion that the GQP is obstructionist, authoritarian, and corrupt is baked into the American electorate. If the Dems can deliver, and it looks like they should be able to deliver something given Manchin’s changing stance on voting rights and the filibuster and the improving possibilities of infrastructure and police reform bills, then we should hold our own in the ’22 mid-terms.

                      Remaining to be seen: the effectiveness of equating CRT with Marxism and the ability of state legislatures to declare the winners of elections.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Some number of those state vote suppression laws are likely to be on hold for some time due to litigation by both private plaintiffs and the Biden DOJ. There are so many and so many grounds to challenge them that the state and federal courts will have a lot to chew on.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I know Marc Elias and Democracy Docket have filed suit against everyone of them just as soon as they are passed, and Garland has announced a doubling of the lawyers working in the voting rights division of DoJ. The litigation against these laws will be robust, but as Elias points out, the likelihood that one of their suits will fail is quite high just given the shear number they’ve filed between the 2020 election and now. Also, the GQP will be filing against whatever Congress manages to pass. The 2022 election will be a chaotic event with court rulings changing the rules at the last minute in spite of traditions saying that we shouldn’t be doing that.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Traditions? Oh, that’s sort of like “Norms”. I guess the prospect of either of those things being upheld brings us back to the fruits of the long effort by the GOP to pack the courts whenever they have had the chance, and putting that on steroids under McConnell. Could the Democrats really have thought that the Warren Court would last forever all by itself?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Given some of the recent decisions by the Roberts Court, it seems like placement on the highest court has tempered some of the more radical instincts of the most recent appointments. We’ll see how if that continues when some of their pet issues — abortion and guns — come before the Court.

                      We’ve seen some really bad decisions made by some of the most egregious judges on the lower courts. Luckily, the way the court system is structured the appeals go from single and small panels of judges to the full court and that group decision often reverses them. That may not hold unless the Dems can approve judges at the same rate that McQonnell achieved in the last few years of his time as majority leader.

                      We are in serious trouble. My thinking has evolved slightly since the last time I addressed this issue. It is clearly the work of the Koch Bros. They have been plotting the destruction of our democracy for decades all so that big oil can continue to be profitable long since it was time to abandon it. That’s real psychopathy.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • There is a tendency for some people appointed to SCOTUS to “go native” on some issues, at least somewhat.

                      I’ve wondered sometimes how much of the recalcitrance, obstruction, and denial by some (Koch Bros included) is less psychopathy than failure of imagination, simply not being able to imagine a different business model and then digging in to do everything possible, including destroying democracy to preserve that business model. But, in the case of such radically libertarians as those guys, it is also a fundamentally sociopathic ideology and belief system.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Too many CEOs and big business folks are psychopaths for me to be looking too far from that explanation. The Koch Bros seem like the worst kind of psychopaths, too, those with executive functioning, resources, and familial support.

                      I’m increasingly convinced that they are the first movers for our authoritarian grab. They started forty years ago or so with the fall of Nixon and teamed up with Murdoch to create Fox. That was the beginnings. They’ve been working at it ever since.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I looked up who founded The Heritage Foundation. The Kochs weren’t listed (which does not men not involved), but the money guy was Joseph Coors (a brand of beer I’ve always avoided).

                      “That’s libertarians for you – anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.”
                      Kim Stanley Robinson

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      The Koch Bros are good at hiding their funding of various conservative think tanks and grassroots organizations. For example, they are funders of the Federalist Society, ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity as well as many others through a wide variety of mechanisms. They are by no means the only ones, but probably the ones with the most influence and determination to destroy everything in the name of oil industry profits.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I suppose that focus is a measure of their psychopathy, on the anti-social side, not giving a dam what happens to the world, even their own descendants, after they die, so long as they can keep increasing their own wealth and influence until then.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I had a student write a research essay on psychopathy over my objections. Such essays are really hard to write, especially if you want to score well. Her thesis was that there were two types of psychopaths, those with strong executive functioning and those without. Unfortunately for her, not only has the topic been written about extensively, she found the literature, used it, and didn’t adapt her research question to push beyond it.

                      Psychopathy is chiefly characterized by the inability to feel empathy and guilt. When it is accompanied by an inability to manage your impulses, executive dysfunction, you get violent criminal behavior. These are the folks that populate our prisons out of proportion to their representation in the overall population. The ones that have a degree of executive functioning become politicians, doctors, and business folks often rising to the top of their professions because they are unencumbered by empathy and guilt.

                      The Koch Bros are probably a mixture of narcissism and psychopathy. They feel no guilt for what the damage they’ve done, have no empathy for those they’ve harmed, and feel very entitled to the excesses that they desire. When shame doesn’t exist and cause you to curb your impulses to violate social norms, then we need the law and other consequences to provide that boundary. But, when you have enough money that the usual boundaries can be easily circumvented, then there are few limits on your behavior, so we end up with the Jeffrey Epsteins, Harvey Weinsteins, and the Koch Bros.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Another feature of Psychopathy is the belief that everybody else is just as predatory and unprincipled as they are, or “losers”, the majority who are mere prey and unworthy of consideration.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      That’s interesting. That practice falls under the auspices of the false consensus effect, which is the belief that most people are like you on any given dimension, that you represent the average person. It suggests that that circuit in their brain is wired up like everybody else’s. The only part of the brain that hs been found to be different is a part of the pre-frontal lobe that connects to the limbic system.

                      Personality disorders are interesting because they share features. There’s a degree of narcissism, anti-socialism, and borderlinism in all of ’em. It’s why I’ve seen Trump diagnosed as all three.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • That trio of diagnostic categories is lumped together as Cluster B because of the shared features and presents more a question of emphasis and predominance of symptoms over time than one of a person being purely one or another. It is also important to remember that personality disorders and other types like mood, anxiety, etc. are not mutually exclusive. I’ve seen people who were both Borderline and Bipolar, for example. They presented very, very differently depending on their mood state and could be very hard to manage.

                      I think some proportion of the psychopaths in our prisons due to low executive functioning very likely are like that due to co-occurring developmental disorders, or on the Autism Spectrum or Schizophrenic Spectrum on particular, not to mention PTSD.

                      The is a lot of false consensus thinking going on. Several belief groups, religious and political, do clearly believe they are the vast majority.

                      Liked by 1 person

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