I don’t mean the John C. Calhoun who was a Confederate advocate prior to the Civil War. I mean the John C. Calhoun who was anÂ adviserÂ to President Nixon on issues of mental health. My John C. Calhoun was essentially a biologist specializing in mammalian behavior. Okay, in how mammals act and why.
Assuming they have any, you can still buy a copy of his Space and the Strategy of Life. It’s way out of print. I got a copy for free from the man himself because somebody clued me into the secret method of getting one. That was, write him a postcard by hand asking for it. Now that, if you will, is sort of odd. But it was fitting, given what his research uncovered. My copy is just a photocopied reprint of a manuscript, I imagine you get covers and everything with the book.
Calhoun determined that any group of mammals has an optimum size. For different species the optimum number is different. For rabbits, it’s a lot. Really a lot. For humans, it’s eighteen. The optimum number seems to relate to how much food can be gathered and distributed, how much space the individuals need for their activities and things like that. For any mammal, when the number of group members gets close to twice the optimum, the group splits in two, hey no hard feelings, and now there are two optimum groups. Lucky groups, I suppose you could call them, keep splitting off and splitting off. Of course, sooner or later, if a species is really successful, it runs out of room to keep splitting in two.
In most cases, if that happens, then some groups just have to go. As in get killed off by other groups. Humans sometimes indulge in that solution, but mostly we don’t. Instead, we add a layer of complexity to our social lives so that we only meet roughly the same number of people we’d meet in an optimally sized group. That’s where social class comes from. After a while, not even that is sufficient, so we add layers of layers. By using these artificial seeming social dividers, we humans can endure population numbers that would be inconceivable to many species.
This relates to politics because, if you think about it, something has to give every time the population of a group of humans reaches eighteen times a power of two. At 36 (18 x 2) you either split, or come up with a class system. At 72 (18 x 4) you can so that again. Before you know it, you’ve got separate villages, a principality, a kingdom, an empire, each adding a layer and keeping individuals only meeting a manageable number of other people. How do you live in a city? You ignore the people you meet on the street unless you have actual business with them, or they are friends in another context. Sure, you’re all in New York or whatever, and you may be a heckuva bunch, but you keep out of each others’ business, because you have to to survive.
So, say your population is approaching 2,359,293, which is 18 times 2 raised to the 17th power. Go ahead and add it up, if you wish. Like say you live in the Las Vegas area, which population recently topped the 2 million mark. Hey, we’re getting close. It would be reasonable to expect that some tensions are developing, right? Well, some are. The City of North Las Vegas is in financial trouble and so is now using the County Jail to hold suspects for trial or whatever. There is talk of consolidating Fire Departments, also. As Calhoun points out, England and Scotland became the United Kingdom when their population was right, although that’s not obvious in a historical reading. In the same manner, Southern Nevada is having a crisis of government, where consolidation seems like the key to saving money all around. It is (gasp) another layer of government, but it also is being, mostly, welcomed. In the business world, all of us are eagerly awaiting the full consolidation of licensing. It isn’t fun paying a fee here, a fee there, another one over somewhere. What is being put together is a method to pay all license fees at the same time, and to one entity. Whee-doggie. Dang, biological destiny at work!
And, what if your population has recently exceeded 301,989,888? Like, say, the population of the United States of America did in recent years? Would you expect that things might be up in the air? Maybe a fairly significant number of people wouldn’t be happy with the way things are going? Maybe even that some people would simply go into denial about what’s happening and, oh I don’t know, say that they want to “Take Back The Country?” Why yes, you would expect that. And so, here we are. The problem for the super-conservative crowd is that there is no going back. They can learn to accept what the country has become, or they can fade into historical insignificance. That, friends, is why “Current Politics” is in the title. The question now isn’t whether we let all the immigrants vote or whatever, the question is whether we use their skills to keep America great. That’s what we’ve always done during past similar crises, and I’m pretty sure that is what we will do this time. Of course, I have been wrong before, but I’m pretty confident that we’ll come through the current crisis (which may get worse before it gets better) just fine.
*****Aside about creativity.*****
I said that getting an article from John C. Calhoun involved a hand-written postcard. That’s because he also discovered that people who move through a group quickly interact with a lot more other people during the day, while people who move through a group slowly interact with a lot fewer other people during the day. And, further, that “high velocity” people, meeting lots of other people, tend to be influential but not creative, whereas “low velocity” people, much more solitary (in general) tend to be creative but not influential. (This is Â true in most species, not just humans.) Calhoun chose to be creative, which is why only an old-fashioned slow means of communication worked. Today, if any form of art is done by committee, no matter how much brainstorming and cross-checking they do, it’s going to more or less suck. Real art is the result of real creativity, and that, my friends, requires a passle of alone time. Which explains why nerdy folks like Jobs, Gates, and Zukerberg stomped all over corporate giants like Xerox and IBM in building the modern Internet. Bottom line: if you want to construct something that basically is a known quality, like a skyscraper or city hall, form a committee. If you want good art and innovation, be alone, be very alone.