Storyteller’s Ant-hill

Photo credit – Martin Beek {https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/}

COVID-19 pandemic has reinvigorated the battle between collectivism and individualism. Experts picked their favorite position and hurriedly gathered evidence that supported their narrative. Clueless politicians, caught in the waves of infections due to morphing viruses, did what they are good at – spewed a hodgepodge of measures on the society which kept it busy and confused.

Cooperation is a trait in which the individual unit invest in behaviors that are costly to themselves but benefit the organization.

It is ubiquitously present in nature and not uncommon to see individual units working together to build larger structures that improve the collective wellbeing and survival. Anthill and beehive are colonies built by social insects. Rights, obligations, social hierarchy, and division of labor among the individuals in these colonies are crystallized in the physical structure of the insect. Deviations are rare and hence, the overall form of these colonies is preserved and reproduced for millions of years. In essence, anthill is not just a colony of animals, it is in fact an organism of individual ants. Their structure is robust and functions are fluid, like group of cells cooperating to form an organism. Individual cell in the body or an ant in the anthill does not question the unfairness in the distribution of resources or labor, but mindlessly perform the acts that preserve the superstructure. The orderliness in their behavior is embodied inside these individual units. The acts of a cell or an ant are majorly, but not entirely, predictable over space and time.

Individual liberty in cellular organization

Liberty is the capacity of a finite system to behave differently if it needs(?wants) to, in order to accommodate for environmental fluctuations. It is the fluid and versatile element of a rigid structure. Human body is made up of trillions of cells working collectively to survive. Their principles are immutable and methods are instinctive, all written in the code-script when the first cell was formed. Even within this rigid structure, there are group of cells that hold the capacity to dissent and the power to deviate and adapt.

Immune system is the epitome of cellular liberty. It is made up of deviants and nonconformists. The behavior of this system is not entirely dictated by the rules of the DNA. It does not remain constant during the life time of an organism, rather it continuously reorganizes its structure and function based on the environment. Immune cell even has the freedom to shuffle its genes and generate a diverse range of structures! A kind of liberty which a heart cell can never imagine. Fluidity and liberty to modify are not just useful tools, but an absolute necessity for survival of the whole. Most humans with an immune system that lacks the capacity to adapt and respond to an environmental stimuli succumb at an early age.

Fiction has the power to move us

There is a spontaneous tendency in humans to aggregate into groups. Over the years, humans have formed a variety of units and subunits of organization. Some ideas of grouping have been stable for centuries while others have been meta-stable and incorporated changes with cultural evolution. Family, tribe, religion, language and nation have all formed arbitrary organizational lines within humanity for survival and wellbeing. Certainly, progressive integration of humans is the cardinal reason behind our biological success and massive collective social wealth.

Individual behavioral patterns that gather humans to form a society is not just instinctive, but also an outcome of human ingenuity. It is quite likely that the key elements which goes into the building blocks of socialization are embodied in our chemistry, similar to ants and bees. However everything is not sheer automatism. There is also a large layer of fluidity in our structure that is capable of wild morphing. Our brain is not a nonmalleable structure like those in insects. The physical structure of brain and behavioral patterns that stream from it have a phenomenal degree of liberty to change according to the world outside. Especially, it has the capacity to create and accommodate new cultural ideas as knowledge and social wealth advance.

Does the society exist for the sake of individual or the individual for the benefit of society? Or is it that the cell, human and society are all just transitory pieces of a continuum and the concept of ‘self’ is merely a grand deception constructed by few cells in one’s brain?

The ability of humans to ‘believe’ a coherently constructed story and the capacity of language to create concrete physical change in the structure of human brain have played a crucial role in building human society.

In its communicative function, language is a set of tools with which we attempt to guide another mind to create(evoke) within itself a mental representation that approximates one we have

Scott Delancey

Language, as a symbol, can be used both to inform and deceive a human mind. Ironically, both information and deception have had constructive value in human aggregation. Human brain does not seek ‘Truth’. It only looks for an explanation – a form of a narrative that is consistent with preconceived beliefs. Even in reality, the line that separates truth and myth is blurry, as truth itself is dependent on human understanding. There is no such a thing as absolute truth. Both truth and myth are products of human imagination constructed using signals. It is merely the commonality in imagination among human minds that is defined as truth or facts in a society. Truth and myth do not differ in kind, but only in degree. This includes even the widely respected physical theories of matter and energy. They are all merely models of reality waiting to be proven wrong in the future. Both the ‘myth-making’ ability and the capacity to ‘believe’ a myth are probably absent in other apes preventing them from creating a larger social order which could have provided biological success and social wealth.

Collectivism and individualism are not two sides of a coin, they are one and the same. Human society is a natural outcome of man’s need for self preservation. The fundamental structural elements for building a society are ingrained in our genetic structure. Evolution of our society into more complex ones is due to creation of ideas by human intelligence. They become embodied in a mutable form inside the human brain using language as carrier. Ideas are not heritable but, transmitted over generations through culture. The existing social order is the product of centuries of human imagination. Our DNA provides us with the faculty to create, transmit and engraft these cultural ideas. The same intelligence that creates social values, also provides us with the ability to question the existing order – The liberty of thought and action in every individual, that creates a change when there is a need for the society as a whole. Unswerving obedience to the existing social order, preserves the culture. Individual liberty that challenges the order, creates new ideas that could make human society even more complex and resilient.

It is merely one’s hope, that freewill drives us. In reality, it is the combination of primal instincts and a collection of societal fictions that move us. It tells you when to wake up, how far to go and how much to do before you wind up. But, our mind has the liberty to imagine its own fiction. The actual content of imagination is not dictated by our DNA. Our biological structure only provides us with the faculty to imagine. Dream on, individually or collectively…

Religion – Paragon of Orderliness

Before scientific revolution, religion was the source of both knowledge and behavioral codes that built and maintained cohesion in a human society. In this method, the concept of god was the centerpiece of all explanations, as it harmoniously merged the desire to understand nature, morality, and emotional well-being. With the advent of scientific methods, knowledge came under the realm of science. Social order in most modern societies are established by State through laws and social ethics, guided by science and a value system that is fluid enough to evolve accordingly. Currently, the role of religion is to provide a psychological framework, that helps in facing uncertainties and inevitabilities – sine qua non of any life with the faculty of intelligence. The upside of human intelligence is the ability to gather insight into current experience and foresee future. The downside is the unfortunate part of knowing that a vast section of reality is above and beyond human capabilities for intervention. Religion is a set of philosophies and principles that would help one to be in peace with such adversities of life.

It is invariably impossible to gain something without losing something else somewhere else of equal value

References:

1. Chance and necessity. Jacques Monod. 1970

2. The two sources of Religion and Morality. Henri Bergson. 1932

3. What is life? Erwin Schrodinger. 1944

One thought on “Storyteller’s Ant-hill

  1. This article sees multiple angles of human cooperation and individuality in different context. Got lot of rich content in it. The role of language and human tendency to lean towards consensual bias in this subject is a more interesting piece too. It would be interesting to know, if the future humans would be able to unlearn these things and come altogether with a new perspective in future.

    Like

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