I came across this for the very first time today – the The MonkeySphere. I’ve never seen this before but Damn if it’s not a right on accurate understanding of small social circles.
If you’ve never read it, please, go do so now. The basic premise is that we as a species can’t actually comprehend or care about more than 150 people as a group and anyone outside that group is not considered a real person.
It explains why this is, gives practical examples of how and why this occurs and is, in general a pretty good read. Also if you don’t, what I’m about to say next won’t make much sense. So do yourself a favor and go read it!
The only thing I would add to this is that the end examples of how we *cannot* care about people outside of the 150 people social group tends to read a bit like justification for some of the pretty horrendous things we as a species do to each other. “Oh, it’s alright that I just carpet bombed Iran, I couldn’t care about them anyway because my brain isn’t big enough”.
I mean please, that isn’t right.It might be what we are genetically programmed to think, but the whole point of being a rational species is that we can over come that to some degree. The mere recognition of this state is enough that we can overcome it in some ways.
What it doesn’t take into account is the idea of respect, even just societal ingrained-but-not-really-meant respect. Politeness and so on.
I tend to believe these things were created as a direct result of this social limit of caring. It’s a way of compensating for the fact that although I don’t care if the person in the car infront of me lives or dies, I give the impression I do which salves any social interaction I may have with him/her.
Politness / respect is the social lubrication that makes us attempt to overcome our genetic indifference to those outside our social grouping and is what enables us to not act on impulses that are not repressed because of familiarity with the person concerned.
Yesterday I was involved in an Altercation at the mall. I was standing in line at Panda Express getting a refil for my daughter when I became aware of an altercation going on behind me. A man and a woman were getting verbally fractious and as I watched, the guy just smacked the woman in the face. Right there and then.
Obviously I jumped between them and then assisted the cops when they arrived track this guy down – he and the woman were unknown to each other.
I remember driving home and thinking “Ok, this guy didn’t know this woman, why would he just think it’s ok to thump her like that?”. What had been going on in his day that he was so pissed off that he smacked a woman for bumping into him? What made him so mad that he didn’t think before he did it? Did he seriously expect to get away with it??
It was a classic example of the MonkeySphere syndrome – she was outside his social circle, he was upset at something and lashed out at someone who he didn’t know and didn’t care about for a trivial reason.
It’s a fascinating aspect of sociology. I hope you find it so too.