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Scale of social structures

From Wikipedia
Humans are social creatures. We live in groups. We use our social abilities to increase our overall capacity, to improve our potential, while being part of families, clans, tribes, communities, states, or economic continental regions.

The potential of a group of three individuals can be greater than the sum of the potentials of the same three operating individually, assuming that they all have some drive and that they maintain a relation that favors collaboration. As we increase the size of the group, the dynamics between members changes and the effectiveness of the group can diminish. According to the size of the group, different types of roles, relations, rules and norms, protocols and tools are needed at different scales in order to maintain the advantage of the group over the sum of its parts. Social structures grow in relation to their potential to generate more benefits for the individuals that compose them. Whenever a group loses its capacity to provide for its members it fragments into smaller groups, or it may completely dissolve. In other words, individuals seek different types of benefits within groups, and if they don’t find them, if the group can’t provide these benefits, and if they have the possibility to choose other alternatives, they will simply quit the group for a better one, if they have this choice.


Throughout the long history of humanity, the number of individuals that live in a relation of interdependence to benefit from their collective output has increased, as social structures have scaled from the family, to the clan and the tribe, to kingdoms, to states and empires, to continental socioeconomic structures. Over time, we have evolved increasingly effective means to deal with the complexity that comes with larger groups, allowing these groups to provide a higher advantage to members, at increasingly larger scales. This social evolution has not been continuous, smooth or homogeneous. It is evolution at work, with its irregularities and setbacks.
In the ancient world, the mastering of plants and animals growth had unleashed a new possibility of scale by solving an essential problem, food supply stability. Collaborating to work the fields and herding animals produces a surplus that can free us time to think and to develop new technologies. Some people took social support roles to become priests, politicians, soldiers, administrators, animators, philosophers and scientists … The invention of representative or descriptive scripts (writing) has made possible the recording of information, which enables reliable communication and effective coordination of action over large geographical areas and through time. Quantitative symbolic systems (mathematics) have enabled bookkeeping and complex systems of redistribution and exchange of resources. Values, culture, social norms and laws have also evolved to sustain life in increasingly large social settings. We have created institutions of all sorts to crystallize some relations and processes, to make them more transparent, more ubiquitous, to order flows in our societies. All this has further increased our ability to sustain even larger social structures.

A new technology opens new possibilities, governance and culture model new human behavior and habits to complete a new transition to a new socioeconomic structure. After that, the new society goes through a period of consolidation, followed by decline, and even demise. But the new ways don’t die with the declining civilization. They are picked up by newly emerging societies, they are remixed with other ways, and the process repeats itself, over and over again, in small or large increments depending on how disruptive is the technology that instills the evolution.

Those who evolved ways to function well at a larger scale, to show up in larger numbers on the battlefield, to create more surplus from their economic activity and to allocate it wisely, usually imposed their domination on their neighbors, who were still limited at a smaller scale. We can formulate the hypothesis that this evolution of our capacity to function at larger scales has been conditioned, and even imposed by our belligerent nature, by our latent urge to dominate the others, or else be dominated by the others.

One of the most important thread in our socioeconomic evolution is the redistribution of resources in a group, a community, a nation or a continental socioeconomic structure; resources that we collectively produce. Again, if the group doesn’t provide for its members it is weak and can collapse, can be destroyed or be absorbed by another group. Redistribution of resources in this context means the reallocation of the production (seen as a collection of material and immaterial, tangible and intangible assets) of the group to individual members for their own use, and for collective uses following endeavors that the group may pursue (development of new technologies, solidarity mechanisms, military action, etc.). Over the course of our history, we have implemented different solutions to this problem of redistribution, striking a balance between being a potent society (surviving nature and the threat from other groups) and creating a livable and enjoyable environment for its members, or at least a critical number of them that can insure stability. This redistribution is about flows of assets. We may think that these assets can transit through organizations, or any other construct, but in the end we are dealing with individuals, which are the substrate of any social system.

Systems of redistribution of resources have been shaped by the compromise between what individuals desire for themselves and what the others accept or tolerate to be taken or consumed from the pool. Egalitarian systems assume that individuals voluntarily moderate their desires to create a general sense of fairness: everyone has equal access but no one should abuse. At the opposite, we find tyrannic systems that are ruled by the most powerful, where the redistribution is dictated according to the will of a few in power. History shows that both systems are unstable, or require a lot of resources to be maintained. In larger groups, where anonymity reigns, where at any given moment we can't have enough information about every other individual's contributions to society and consumption, meritocratic systems have been implemented: everyone takes in proportion to his contribution. These systems require some metrics and evaluation mechanisms in order to restore a sense of fairness from the tension between individual desires and the other individuals' acceptance. This is an oversimplification. In reality, we find mixed systems with tendencies towards one extreme or the other. 


A subjective, qualitative system of redistribution
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