Eusocial Polygamy

Sunday, May 21st, 2017 12:08 am
flwyd: (rose red sky blue)
The Wikipedia article on Eusociality notes that E. O. Wilson has claimed that humans are eusocial, but his arguments have been refuted by a large number of evolutionary biologists, who note that humans do not have division of reproductive labor.

Human colonies certainly don't have a single queen and a separate cast of infertile workers. But I can't help but wonder if the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, polygynous Muslims, and other historic polygamous cultures meet a reasonable version of this criterion since they free up many worker or soldier males without fathering duties.

A Nation of Hives

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 08:57 pm
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (raven temple of moon)
The problem with social networks is that they present the same context for all sharing, no matter what the content. Even with LiveJournal friends groups and Google+ circles, your heart wrenching post about inner demons might show up between two lolcats and people think you're a let down when they want a laugh. Or your flippant lolcat might show up between an article about child abuse and a video of an earthquake and you come across as an uncaring douche.

In real-life sharing the people in the audience aren't the only determinants of appropriate sharing. The context they've created is also key. The things we share with a couple friends at a rock concert–passion, dance, exhaustion–are different than what we share with the same people in a coffee shop–analysis, discussion, confusion‐even though they're both done in public.

I don think big social network sites are able to tackle this well. The goal of UI designers is to create a simple mental model for users interacting with the system and the goal of software engineers is the create a simple operational system for interpreting user actions. Neither goal is helped by a flourishing diversity of contextual social norms. I hope all the bulletin boards and topic-focused sites survive in an ecosystem dominated by the Twitbooks. Because humans do really well when they can use location and appearance as cues to social behavior.

Google+Plus

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 12:34 am
flwyd: (Taoist goddess Doumu)
Google announced the Google+ project today, which is a collection of features to make it easier to connect and share with people you know. At the heart of this is circles: groups of people that mirror some of the groupings we make in real life. There's the straightforward "I don't want to share the pictures of Saturday night's party with my coworkers" case. But circles can also be used with more nuance, too: the people I won't annoy by posting amusing links about bacon, the people who live near me, the people I feel comfortable talking about my sex life with… Circles aren't a new idea for many LiveJournal users, who've had access to friends groups for years, but it's a concept that's missing from many prominent places in today's Internet landscape.

As a Googler, I was asked to invite a few friends to the Google+ field trial, which started today. This will be an opportunity to find out how everyday people use and confuse the features. "Launch and iterate" is one of Google's mantras, and we know we'll need strong feedback and iteration now that we've got users that aren't all in the atypical "Google employees" circle. The system isn't adding new users right now, but if you're interested in an invite when they become available, leave me a comment. (If you've got an invite from someone else, feel free to add trevorstone at gmail to a circle of your choosing.)

On the flip side, I don't intend to cajole, pressure, or spam anyone into joining. If this isn't your bag, I won't flood your inbox with invites and notifications. And feel free to invite me to be social the old-fashioned way: email ;-)
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