Disclaimer: This essay is not intended to be an exhaustive study of the sociology of human collectives, nor does it purport to accurately represent current psychological or sociological thinking. It is an exploration of process: how to think about the realities of this time on the planet from as broad a perspective as the average thoughtful person might obtain from sources generally available, and using the human capacities of reason, logic and intuition.
A major issue is how collectives work in humans. We cannot assume that they work in ways analogous to collectives in other species. But we can and must assume that our collectives have a natural history and system based process. Our collectives’ origin and operating principles are primarily contained in the Consciousness Order not the Living Order. The motivating principles do not arise solely from the biophysical reality the way they do for other forms of collectives. Social insects have long been compared to human societies, but we can reject such comparisons as thoroughly misdirecting and disinforming. The relationships are certainly not homologous and analogous only by the most tenuous associations. What usefulness there is to such comparison I will leave to others.
We need some beginning. For my thinking, that beginning is the Primate Pattern of social associations. It is a genetic pattern of behaviors homologous in primates and, therefore, foundational for the social behaviors of human evolution. Hominids did not discover or ‘learn’ social relations, they lived them and evolved them in the same way that they lived and evolved the hominid posture. There were, of course, great ‘breakthroughs’ in behavior just as there were in structure and from similar fortuity: the grasping hand of the climber so easily becoming the fine motor tool of the flint knapper and watchmaker; the emotional connections of mutual grooming so easily becoming the social bonds of honor and respect.
But always with the history of hominids there is a moment when the scales tip from the momentum and action arising from the Living System of Order to those seemingly same actions arising from the momentum of the Consciousness System of Order. The difference in the beginning was significant for human survival, but almost unrecognizable in process, though it has become the most important fact on this earth.
‘Two humans’ is a very different ‘animal’ from one human in a way that 2 toads are not remarkably different from one toad. Two wolves are similarly quite different from one wolf for some of the same reasons: the two can function as an effective unit (one) to accomplish a single task; humans do this at least an order of magnitude more effectively than any other vertebrate species.
But humans can form units (entities) of 3 or 12 or 100 or 3000 or millions. When they do this, biological models and analogies fail. Fifty thousand humans functioning some part of their actions through a common set of expectations, motives and rules is utterly unlike the seeming equivalences of 50,000 caribou or 50,000 snow geese, etc. The humans can be organized for a huge variety of relatively simple sets of behaviors producing a massive common action on the world. They only need a common story keyed to sufficiently common experience. There are no rules that require the collective’s behaviors to fit any reality other than that offered by the designs of Story. The collective’s motives are not a summing up of the human motives of the participants, and may not even be known or understood by anyone.
Humans form collectives first and foremost because we are a tribal animal – that is, we have the capacities, at a deep biological level, to commune with others – and to do things that cannot be done alone or in intimate groups of only a few. A couple of years ago I was stalked for almost an hour by a mountain lion, miles from any possible protection. I know that my visceral longing for extra sets of eyes, for other human animals, came right out of my DNA.
There are some ‘natural’ human collectives – most small groups tend to take on similar patterns across cultures, and family groups have generally common patterns – but most human collectives function through the designs of a Story. A simplistic statement of the situation is that the Primate Pattern brings people together and Story designs their behaviors.
Since humans can organize and since humans have the primate pattern of organization as our genetic default, it is no surprise that we collectivize our actions. A hunting group forms to take on challenges that cannot be accomplished alone, and then the hunting group becomes an entity that drives new actions. The collective structure and action becomes part of a social environment and as such can first supercede and then replace many aspects of the biophysical reality from which we evolved and to which our consciousness designs were originally adapted.
Another way that collectives function is to allow participants to “logically” act in one way under one model and differently under another model (the same person can play football and chess); act in ways that would be contradictory if attempted under the same model for action. Thus a soldier can kill people when acting in the military collective, but may not when functioning as a part of a commercial collective. This also demonstrates some of the difficulties of collectives forming rules from self-referencing designs. It is further demonstrates the utility of narrowing the range of collective associations so that participants better fit collective values.
There is no dichotomy between individualism and collectivism. It is a matter of what commonalities are formed around, and to some extend the degree to which inclusion is extended. Being ‘opposed’ to “collectivist principles” only means that one is opposed to some other collective’s Story, not that one rejects the actual sharing of values and ideas.
What this analysis points out is not the right of a collective activity to exist, but the clarity of our understanding of the Story with which a collective activity functions. A collective activity has great power simply because it comes from the summed action of many people operating under common behaviors. The common behaviors support the collective’s story, but also must engage the individual person by designing them into the collective’s Story and by meeting important needs associated with both the human social pattern and human individual needs.
Today (and for a few thousand years now) our collective entities have formed in response to other collective entities. The very weak connections of collective action to human needs and biological nature have produced entities that, while made up of human actors, compete with humans for existence – this is, of course, madness.
We are watching the titanic struggle develop between the corporate collective and the government collective for influence over the multitude. In their most pure form, the corporate collective is like a pedophile offering candy. Its Story has very simple values and no rules about presenting its values honestly. The government collective is yelling to cross the street only at the cross walk. It is complex; its present Story offering protections of some sort to almost all participants. Fascism – the combining of the corporate collective with the government collective creates the worst of all possible worlds: pedophiles lined up at the crosswalk.
 I was never afraid, just intensely aware. The absence of a companion was felt like a 3 day thirst.