Critical Mass and Minimal Effective Number

Humans, like all social animals, need to aggregate. This is subliminal and intuitive. As with all behavioural biology the benefits are multiple, but the most obvious are protection and procreation. Genetic evolutionary benefit follows the latter as are protection of the community by the evolution of a military machinery by the former. In the present age the social benefits of aggregation include ventures such as railways, roads and much of industry. These are all a joint effort of a community.

Although a minimal-number aggregation is necessary for many reasons, it seems that a maximum number also exists. Where this (relative) maximum is exceeded problems arise. [The greatest nations have produced the greatest wars, with the greatest loss of life. Prior to 1870 the “wars of Europe” were relatively restricted with minimum loss of life and destruction involving the civilian populations (the 100 Years War must be regarded as exceptional, because of the period over which it raged and the area over which it ravaged)].

Recognising the foundation need to protect humans from other humans, supranational militaries have evolved. Again the aggregating maximum is shown to be flexible by this strategy. At times these take the form of treaties-of-war. On other occasions these are super national organizations such as NATO or a variant of that which was the super-national war machine of the Soviet Union.

Ironically, these joint ventures also destroy human social balances. This is because these constructs (for example the railways) constrain people into communities. Too great a number of humans then become dependent on that (and other) infrastructure and are so unable to fragment into smaller societies.

A West Indian saying is “crab-in-bucket”. This illustrates a bucket of crabs, where the biggest and most powerful reach the top of the bucket, grasp the rim and are in a position to escape. However, the “lesser” crabs climb onto the leader and pull that crab back into the bucket, nullifying chance of escape.

Moral 1: betterment of single individuals is impeded (but not prevented) by social groups.

Moral 2: societies are self-regulating and self levelling.

In reality both scenes (congregating and separating) operate in parallel. “Hiving-off” by the most capable is a feature of social biology. But, in parallel, is the tendency to prevent “hiving-off”. Thus a delicate equilibrium results about an optimal point which depends upon (and varies with) context. To illustrate by the above example the context might be altered by the height of the bucket or the nature of the rim. Hence context plays a critical part in the life of the social animal. Where food is plentiful and energy abundant, large social groups evolve. But context changes. Thus the abundance of energy from forest wood might become a finite resource; once a population exceeds a maximum threshold, relative have died away because a resource became progressively less available. Notable examples include the walking distance of the forester from the settlement. Once this distance exceeded a threshold, that society collapsed, at times with a simultaneous collapse of the entire ecological balance.

Thus societies which are too large ultimately become self destructive in a myriad of ways. As a parish society enlarges above a threshold the varied contributions by specialise individuals are replaced in larger groups by a second (internal) aggregation – such as police forces. This brings another cascade of problems. Once specific groups, such as the police force, aggregate that group will become self protecting, and separate from the greater group (both physically and in ideology) – such as changes in motivation and commitment focus. Even the appearance changes allowing that group to self-identify by distinct uniforms and labelled motor vehicles. Thus society becomes fragmented, not on the basis of a heterogeneous group of various capacities, but into homogenous groups which evolve self centered abilities. Although the subgroups are dependent on the greater society, they begin to function autonomously once their own threshold is reached. Then that autonomous group might conflict with the greater society from which it originated. Political power exemplifies a sequestrated, self seeking group which can lose its relationship with society generally. Lawyers similarly sequestrate readily. These are two powerful and potentially destructive groups which rapidly begin to evolve, with their own interests paramount, in progressive conflict with the interests of wide society.


About jp

Orthopaedic Surgeon
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