A comparison of basic parameters with the cultures of other primates, our closest living relatives, offers a clear starting point for appreciating what makes human cultures unique and comprehending the fundamental purpose of symbolic (spoken) human language.
Human babies, on the other hand, are naturally inclined to assist strangers without the need for coercion or external incentives, as opposed to popular beliefs about human nature that power civilizations.
Dr. Michael Tomasello has dedicated his career to researching the evolution of cooperative behavior and how human conduct differs from that of other primates, having worked with kids and chimpanzees for many years.
A number of easy tests proved that human babies and young children are highly collaborative in comparison to chimpanzees, which may come as a surprise to some economists.
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Anthropological research also backs up our natural collaborative nature. Samuel Bowles is an economist who has spent his career researching the origins of economic inequality over the last 100,000 years and comes to fascinating conclusions.
Humans lived in small communities without writing language, money, or cities for several hundred thousand years.
The archaeology that is available, as well as the evidence from “uncivilized” indigenous groups that have survived up until recently in a few isolated locations, indicate that the social conventions of such civilizations were quite similar:
In pre-civilized groups, the most powerful social norms were those that kept people from getting power over one another.
While human language has evolved, it has done so at the same time as modern civilizations have diverged from patterns observed in other primate communities in terms of a much greater emphasis on fairness and cooperation.
We must infer that human communication’s first and main purpose was to help people communicate more effectively (through increased efficiency) with one another (Collaboration
- Coordinating group activities
- Knowledge and creative ideas are passed on with others and future generations.
- Setting standards that are appropriate for each country’s specific circumstances.
- This technique is one of the most efficient methods for reducing friction and maximizing productivity in a team. It helped us to minimise the time and effort spent in disputes, as well as freeing up time to focus on items such as the ones listed above.
The evolution of language-based symbolic spoken communication and cultural transmission as a power and resource saver is perhaps best interpreted as such.
Humans outsmarted rather than dominated their primate counterparts. Human culture’s fundamental goal is group cooperation both inside and outside the group.
Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.
– David Sloan Wilson and Edward O Wilson (2007)
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The concept of neurodiverism in human beings
We must look outside of Michael Tomasello’s and his colleagues’ experiments to comprehend human creativity and group intelligence beyond the most fundamental forms of cooperation.
To understand the full spectrum of human collaborative capacity, we must consider individual neurology variation’s impact on sensory processing and social motivation.
To date, the majority of anthropological study has neglected to consider the influence of neurological diversity on human civilizations.
When observing and interpreting human actions, social scientists frequently take for granted neurotypical social purposes.
Taking into account that neurodivergent persons, particularly autistics, may be more interested in respect and social standing than they are in elevated social status, opens up a broader perspective on the development of human civilizations.
Even in prehistoric times, autistic and other neurodivergent people’s intense domain-specific knowledge and associated specialized talents would have resulted from their interest and unusual senses.
Some of the acquired information and skills might have been essential to society or attracted attention from others.
Neurodivergent people may have been regarded as trustworthy repositories of vital information and skills, which will subsequently have been passed down to others and future generations via cultural transmission.
Without writing, knowledge transmission relied on all five senses and extensive engagement between acknowledged masters of a trade and motivated novices.
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Given the neurotypical human tendency to over-imitate, any fair practices established by trustworthy autistic individuals with important expertise will have been swiftly incorporated into the cultural repertoire of the group.
The ability to collaborate and transmit culture in the context of neurodiversity allowed humans to survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a wide variety of situations. Pre-civilized cultures clearly recognized the talents of autistic and other neurodivergent individuals, and they would have recognized the value of including a variety of abilities and unique cognitive capabilities.
Cultural diversity in human terms
The limits of our species’ group sizes, cultural evolution’s potential, and the resulting cultural diversity are best understood as the most significant and distinctive species level survival advantage of humans over all other primate species.
Human civilizations that operate at human scales are extremely resilient and adaptable. Hunter gatherer bands might rely on human intelligence for adaptable cooperation and
Human scale is defined by restrictions on the collective environmental footprint as well as limits on material possessions imposed by a nomadic existence.
It required several hundred thousand years for humans to encounter situations that led to the formation of larger groups. Human scale can only be increased with the aid of technology:
- Agriculture may be used to increase the food calorie production per unit of land.
- Settlements that are permanent and have been built up over time have particular social customs.
- Debt management systems that are trustworthy and dependable (who owes what to whom)
On the one hand, such technologies in combination with a hyper-local group size provided a local edge over other groups.
On the other hand, permanent settlements and dependence on agriculture made the group more vulnerable to epidemic diseases, droughts, floods, and other natural calamities.
This might help to explain why mobile and egalitarian hunting-and-gathering groups held sway for so long, and why some hunter-gatherer societies have survived up until recently.
We are well advised to study the benefits that are available at human scale and to critically evaluate all of the potential drawbacks that arise when civilizations exceed the limits of human scale as we approach existential risks in the 21st century.
A world that is globally interconnected via digital networks is revealing some of the disadvantages, such as brittleness and vulnerabilities, of technological monocultures.
Ecologiste hommesHomo ecologus
The amazing thing about mankind’s cultural capacity is that, through a chain of fortunate findings and inventions, we have built a worldwide network for the exchange of essential information, as well as opinions and false information.
It appears that only a virus like SARS-CoV-2 can enable this network to be put to good use, and shift cultural attitudes.
It’s fascinating to see that SARS-CoV-2 has had a quick impact on cultural changes, which have important implications for civilization:
- Cities, which are expressly built to enable fast sequences of human interactions in anonymous settings, have been compelled to adopt and enforce rules for physical clearance and limiting social contact.
- When it is used as a weapon to safeguard social power gradients and profits, money has now become a bad sign that signals untrustworthiness.
- The authoritative literature is an important element of the informational and propagandistic system. It includes language that offers a precise, detailed, and logical explanation of both past and present events. However, when used as a method for spreading propaganda and distortion, formal written language — which contributes to the spread of the virus today — may play a valuable function in sharing
It’s apparent that the future of human civilizations now rests on our ability to develop these foundations.
It is about much more than overcoming neoliberalism or changing out a few technologies (even if both steps are necessary). It is about a transformation that reaches right down to the foundations of our civilization. The question is not whether such a transformation will take place – it will whether we want it to or not – but how it will occur and in which direction it will develop.
– Extract from: Fabian Scheidler. 2020. The end of the megamachine. Zero Books.
Concepts such as cities and written language, as well as numerical metrics, may survive, but their scope of application and the operational regulations and customs that go with them might be drastically altered to the point where we will need to invent new words to clearly distinguish between old information economy [hoarding] meanings and new knowledge age [sharing] meanings.
In a world increasingly not only connected by trade in goods, but also by exchange of violence, information, viruses, emissions, the importance of social preferences in underwriting human cooperation, even survival, may now be greater even than it was amongst that small group of foragers that began the exodus from Africa 55,000 years ago to spread this particular cooperative species to the far corners of the world.
– Extract from: Bowles and Gintis. 2013. A Cooperative Species : Human Reciprocity and its Evolution. Princeton University Press.
Planetary intelligence is a result of a feedback loop between viral learning cycles (mutations) and human-scale learning cycles, which are now amplified thanks to a worldwide digital network at super-human scale. Humans are discovering the hard way that interfering with that network for disinformation and attempts of hierarchical control is detrimental to humans and the planet’s entire ecosystem.
Where can we go from here? We live in a rapidly changing world, and our capacity to comprehend the one into which we’ve been thrust is quite limited. Once we accept our shortcomings, however, It is possible to learn from our mistakes and the lifestyles and survival skills we acquired in our pre-civilised past, which served us for several hundred thousand years.
Our goal is beyond human comprehension, yet we may always achieve ways of life that are in sync with our biological and cognitive needs and limits, even when we find ourselves in a self-created hellhole. All it takes is a change of viewpoint, as well as certain changes to the aspects of our lives that we prize.
The picture is not entirely bleak, however. Michel Bauwens’ writings on the significance of the common in the emerging knowledge era are encouraging, and architect Julia Watson demonstrates how we may respond to climate change by tapping into millennia-old wisdom about how to live in harmony with nature through “lo-tek” radical design.
In my opinion, autistic individuals have a role in the developing world, and it will not be in big government agencies or businesses, but in non-hierarchical organizations and networks of mutual aid established by autistic and neurodivergent people that can provide a level of psychological safety that cannot otherwise be found within W.E.I.R.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
― Buckminster Fuller (1975)
Autistic people, from a position of security in a network of mutual aid, are ideally positioned to be change agents for the evolution of social norms for collaboration between groups, allowing human scale communities to manage limited resources sustainably at the bioregional level, and sharing trustworthy knowledge globally via our global communication networks.