The Next Revolution

I think I'm starting to see the boundaries of the next social revolution. Let me lay out a little context of recent references that I believe are related.

First, I talked last year about the "monkeysphere" idea.  The basic idea is that our primate brains can only accept about 150 people who we consider part of our clan, tribe, or village, and beyond that, all the other people are equivalent to "things" in the world.

Next is related to things I've seen in discussions about Burning Man and the idea of "community".  To me, the notion of "community" is like a lot of words: they are there to provide a spectrum upon which to measure.  So when one says, "the community", that is a reference to a specific group of people with traits that tie them together.  The thing that is important is that being "in the community" means you have the traits of the community — it does not mean that you must adapt your behavior because of your physical location.  In other words, actions cause description; description does not cause action.

Related to that, I recently found a new term: POSIWID.  According to Wikipedia at least, Stafford Beer coined the term as an acronym for "[the] purpose of [a] system is what it does".  The underlying principle is that the intended function of a system is irrelevant: its purpose (or function) is solely defined by what it does.  If, for instance, you set out to create a community of people who share art and resources, you might end up with a big party in the desert: the purpose of that system is a big party in the desert, no matter what your intentions were.

I have observed (especially in the last 10 years) that people I encounter are much more polarized by political party or political views than ever before.  It is probably most attributable to whom I hang out with, but I also believe there is a trend.  What I mean, specifically, is that I was finding prejudice in myself concerning politics: that I would judge someone favorably or unfavorably solely based on their political party affiliation.  I thought this was interesting to observe, and generally not good.

I also see the strong opinions of people concerning socialized health care. Although there many facets to it, the one I find most interesting is the debate on whether an arbitrary stranger should be cared for.  I'm neglecting any specifics because you can create straw men to support either side (i.e. abusers of a taxpayer-funded system versus a hard worker who circumstantially loses access to care).  The question is: will you help someone you don't know anything about?

So finally, what's this next revolution?: it's how we treat strangers.

I see people lining up along a spectrum.  On one side are people who are only willing to help those people they know personally (i.e. who are within their "monkeysphere") at the expense of the well-being of people they don't.  On the other are people who willing to support everyone equally, even if that means they may not have resources to help people they know personally.

I think it is more noble to lean toward helping everyone, and a testament to the superiority of humankind.  However, I also know that such civility is frail: a small percentage of people working to their own advantage can poison the whole system.  All societies have blind-spots and points of leverage for the advantage-seeker, but civility is maintained by the unspoken agreement among people that they not take advantage at those points.  And in America, there are socially-acceptable points to find advantage: that permission is specifically what allows capitalism to work.

Anyway, I find myself playing both sides of the fence for the time-being.  I have a network of friends who I help freely (with my time, skills, money, and resources) and who will do likewise for me.  I also strive for a better solution that is more inclusive because I feel better when my behavior also helps other people.

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Frostburn at Cooper's Lake Campground

Ali and I headed to Cooper's Lake Campground (205 Currie Rd., Slippery Rock, PA) to go to FrostBurn this weekend. It actually started yesterday but the early population was mostly from around Pittsburgh or from places farther away … or, I guess, mostly just not us and a few other stragglers. In all there were about 120 people who showed up so it was just the right size to get a chance to say hi to everyone.

The event was excellent. Although not an official Burning Man regional event, it was run by people who had gone to Burning Man and generally held the same vibe. Well, the part of the vibe that I personally liked: the part where it a group of people who got things done and worked together and wanted to have a good time. It was also winter camping (and Cooper's Lake had winterized their facilities so there weren't showers or bathrooms — just port-a-potties) so the element of "physical difficulty" was also present — something that's difficult to achieve when you can see a major highway and your cell phone has "full-bars" all the time.

We stayed until Monday and met lots of nice people. We got to see the iconic snowman-man burn, had hot chocolate at Camp Total Fucking Armageddon, had hot buttered rum in the sauna-like steam shed, participated in the Naked Mr. Rogers Sing-A-Long, and otherwise dance, dance, danced until the morning sun.

It's actually the first time I wanted something like a "decompression" — a time to recollect with friends and otherwise relax before jumping back into the daily grind. I came back and had to catch up on work but I really wanted to just chill out for a couple days — and the friction between the two ideologies wreaked havoc with my state-of-mind.

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