REVIEWS AT BOTTOM
THE CONCEPT OF A SOCIAL ORGANISM
You would think with all our knowledge in modern times; with all our science, publishing, research, tools; and with all our hi-tech resources for communication, verification and understanding of reality, that surely we would have been able to solve some of the world's major problems. At least you'd think we could have made a start toward solutions of the problems of war, poverty, disease, intolerance, discrimination and pollution. This is a true paradox. How can it be explained?
The Evolution of the Social Brain is a book that attempts to provide an explanation, or at least to present an insight into what direction understanding (and solutions) may lie.
A few examples may introduce the kind of phenomena that go into the concept of a social brain (a term first coined by anthropologist Loren Eiseley).
Just after the time this book was being written, and independently of it, two University of Montreal professors, Dr. Sorin Sonea, microbiologist, and Maurice Panisset, a Veterinary Doctor, developed and promoted their view (in Introduction To The New Bacteriology) that "The Earth's bacteria make up one intelligent but unconscious super-organism, similar to a single animal." (Star-Phoenix Feb. 13, 1981, p.D5)
They said that all bacteria show they have the ability to develop resistance to growing varieties of antiblotics, a phenomenon that shows the ability to share genetic information, as if seemingly separate strains of bacteria were linked to a common central "clearing house." In spite of new antibiotics, the size and capacity of this world-wide bacterial "skin" over the planet will allow it to produce ever new strains to resist each new antibiotic. Ignoring this perception of bacteria, say the two men, means that continued unrestricted use of pesticides (in agriculture) and antibiotics (in feed for cattle, or fighting disease) for example, poses a serious threat in the future. Some bacteria strains will become more deadly; others (needed by us in soil fertility) may become destroyed, along with much of the world's fertile areas: The planetary bacteria organism may take decades to recover from continued chemical shock.
Sonea and Panisset say scientists have been reluctant to change their way of looking at the massing of bacteria, even though their planetary aspects were evident for decades. (The Evolution of the Social Brain also explains this reluctance and why many new and often accurate ideas are so long resisted, such as Sonea and Panisset's.)
There are other examples of massing of organisms. Of course, we all marvel at the migratory flight of birds and their distinctive disciplined formations that seem to surpass our etimates of their bird-brains. Some years ago, Jaques Cousteau reported the massing of many hundreds of lobsters on the ocean bed, like a long "chain," claw-to-tail. The usually timid personality of the individual lobster seemed to be transformed in this process, which occurred every so often, for unknown reasons.
Finally, closer to common experience, we can mention that form of "massing" that we call human social organization.
IF NOT A SOCIAL BRAIN, THEN A SOCIAL WILL:
Have you noticed that at the lower levels of bureaucracy often no one seems to be with any power? Few know who you can see to correct any given problem (whatever it is). In government it is often the same. There are exceptions, but in general, the system is arranged with committees, sub-committees, committees-on-committees, all apparently designed to lose your complaint or proposal in its internal workings, and by then, no one can be found to be accountable.
Power seems (to most of us) to reside in bureaucracies, companies and the state in a kind of limbo. I believe most of the people involved do not have accountibility or power, not even at the top. Instead, they are dictated to by the very bureaucracy they appear to head up or work for. Namely, it is the whole of a bureaucratic system that is often running on its own, and people within simply carry out the logic of the system, a logic in most cases benefitting only itself. (This cruel nature of bureaucracies is mitigated somewhat In smaller population centres, but not always.)
That's why, for example, if you're late with monthly payments, and you write pointing out you have no money now, and can't pay until later, the response too often is: "In view of your present circumstances, we have nochoice but to demand immediate payment in full of the entire sum..."
The most bizarre examples we have heard of involve cases where a system incorrectly decides a person is "deceased," and then no one seems able to correct this (in some cases, for many months) even when the person stands before the system in person, alive and well.
Is that the logic of humans? No, of course not, but it is certainly the logic of people who are unconscious prisoners or mouthpieces for a non-human system.
It's like trying to find a "handle" on a fog in order to pull the fog away. The fog is everywhere, but where you are, it seems to evaporate and offers nothing you can get hold of (no one is in charge of a bureaucratic fog either).
HOW TO DEAL WITH A SOCIAL ORGANISM
However, even a fog can be dispelled, but not from within, and not by any individual. A "front" of clear air can confront the fog and move it away. This is only because a clear air mass is itself another "system" like the fog, and presents to the fog a "wall" that affects all parts of the fog at once.
The moral of this story is that, as individuals, we can do little, but if we organize a system, a movement, then we might move the bureaucratic system by being another system ourselves. Alone we are like the particles of an X-ray, able to travel through a body, a system, without the system knowing it has been penetrated. But if we act together, then like the cells of a foot, and like the fibres of a boot, we can apply ourselves to the system so we are noticed.
Individuals within an inhuman system may not always be mean or dehumanized. As individuals one or another of them may offer some hope; but as they are not themselves the system, the hope or sympathy extended by them are often illusions that "good" bureaucrats might make a difference, and often their promises and expectations fail to materialize. "It's out of my hands..."
The truth is, people within a system are transformed by the "massing" process; they are also victims and prisoners of the system, and must speak for it (if they stay within it, which most have to, to survive). Only a few are like Howard Cosell, the famous sportscaster, who reported boxing for years and then quit in 1986, and condemned the sport for its corruption and brutality; Or like Daniel Ellsberg, who from inside the Pentagon's "think tank," riskedmuch and leaked the now famous Pentagon Papers.
We have touched on just some of the process that goes into the formation and perception of a social character, identity and/or of a "social mind," hoping to show there is evidence that such a thing exists.
Of course, it remains difficult to believe, and so the book on the "social brain" goes more deeply in the concept, showing that nature and life and history are so full of parallels as to make the idea more and more believable. Indeed, the Gaia concept was announced shortly after this book was written, showing that others were independently noticing the same phenomena in a different form and through different eyes.
This book is a 2nd revised reprint of excerpts from the book Continuum, written 1970-73 in New York and published in Canada in a limited edition in 1974. The author holds a degree from Wayne State University (1970) and has extensively studied anthropology, sociology, astronomy and relativity, as well as the arts: writing and publishing several works on music and musicology. In addition to the studies, Bob Flnk has, for 30 years, been active in or helped initiate and lead many successfuL community and social movements, and currently is president of his community & school association.
Are these subject really separate or do they inter-relate as strongly wlth each other as they do with knowledge and facts inside each of their oun realms? For example, what relatlonships can be found between ecology and the arts? Or between evolution & music? Or between relativity and democracy? Does language have anything to do with the science of chemistry? What laws of society govern us, and do the laws of matter also relate to society's laws and give us new inslghts into our behavior and survival?