This piece starts back when humans were still hunter-gatherers, >15,000 years ago.
". . . everybody could keep track of all, or almost all, of the relationships among the people in their tribe. In a society of one hundred people, typical of communities before the Agricultural Revolution, about five thousand relationships are possible between [pairs of] the different individuals* "
"This number is large, but possible to comprehend. One hundred is probably close to the "designed limit" [read "evolved limit" there is no indication the author was referring to the current term "intelligent design"] for human acquaintance — the maximum number of individuals with who a human being can reasonably interact at more than a superficial level."
"Today things are very different . . . it is impossible for one person to keep track of the 12 million possible relationships between 5,000 people — but many high schools in large cities have that many students . . ."
"The overload of information in modern society means that even the most brilliant and well-informed members can store only a small portion of the society's culture . . . This lack of familiarity of people with their culture can be a fatal flaw. Politicians often make critical decisions about issues ranging from the proliferation of nuclear missiles to AIDS in nearly total ignorance of the technical aspects of the problems involved. At the same time the scientists and technologists that politicians need to rely on for technical advice frequently have little grasp of the manifold social and political consequences of their discoveries."
"Unconscious cultural evolution developed in small-group, short time-horizon animals in full possession of their culture. It is inadequate to deal with a world overpopulated with individuals who are only partially in contact with their own cultures yet who must make critical decisions about the medium and long term. Unconscious cultural evolution has not led people to pay explicit attention to their biological or cultural evolutionary heritage."
"Cultural evolution has not compensated for the baggage of an outdated human perceptual system. It has not, for example, invented a cultural "time lapse" system for perceiving the gradual changes that human biological systems are incapable of sensing. It has not led to school curricula to convey the limits of the human perceptual system. It has not led to the establishment of governmental institutions that force politicians to pay attention to the long-term consequences of their actions. It has not generated TV programs designed to produce a widespread awareness of the diverse limitations and built-in biases imposed upon people by their biological and cultural evolutionary history. It has not provided provided us with an inventory of tools specifically designed to overcome biases."
"Cultural evolution has not even allowed most human beings to perceive that their familiar world results from and on-going evolutionary process, even as it has accelerated that process to unprecedented rates of change. It has not, therefore, given us the means of survival."
*Based on the formula n(n — 1)/2
This post is the second installment in what has become an on-going exploration of why humans cannot respond to crises that build up over an extended period of time. It should be read together with the previous post (Feb 9 - Homo sapiens, a classic misnomer — Excerpts from "New World New Mind" - Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich, 1989) and with the following two or three.
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