(updated 2009-10-11)
I have a silly pet name for that part of our survival instinct that has been annealed through eons of ‘belong-or-perish’ regimes. I call it ‘Savannah Thinking’.

Figuring out what the group consensus is, and and then acting accordingly has worked since we, as is now generally accepted, got down from the trees and struck out onto the plains. Being ostracized by the group probably greatly reduced one’s chances of survival, and nobody wanted to be the chimp on the bottom rung of the social ladder (punching bag with no grooming or mating rights? no thanks!).

But we’re not on the poxy Savannah anymore, are we? Life within the cushty confines of legal, economic and governmental systems has meant that the issue of raw survival is almost moot. At worst, you could end up in a cardboard box under a bridge. Still beats being eaten alive by a sabre-toothed tiger or being stepped on by a mammoth.

So why are we still *so* worried about being part of society? The alternative gets less and less dreary every century that goes by, but we still can’t seem to shake the inherent need to “belong”.

Belonging = easy access to resources

This much hardwiring for a trait suggests a life-and-death significance for the species as a whole. Being connected with an immediate social network provided access to resources like manpower, food, shelter, fire(-making), tools and so on – not to mention the mental stimulation (also a resource) gained through communication with other intelligent beings.

easy access to resources (life-long problem) => jobs / employment (short term solutions)

We probably very quickly evolved our short-term solution to the long-term problem of acquiring resources: We now buy our resources (instead of making, sharing or swapping them… or simply talking people into giving us them). The invention of currency as a medium was more efficient, and we were very pleased with ourselves.

But resource-brokering based on purchasing power means jobs.

It became more possible, and more sensible, for more people to take jobs, instead of taking (for example) the skilled craftsman path through life. Jobs have become the single most popular means of acquiring resources. But:

Jobs do not decouple acquisition of resources from social structures and the ‘need to belong’.

If we had evolved a way of acquiring resources that was not social in nature, we might already have evolved a post-scarcity economy on planet earth. But we didn’t. The short-term solution of acquiring money by going to work is an entirely social phenomenon.

Going to work happens to be a social event (simply put, there are several other instances of H. Sapiens milling about the average workplace) which means that jobs fail to (completely) supplant immediate social networks as a means to access resources. Which isn’t to say that that’s what jobs were meant to do / should do. It’s simply a statement of an outcome.

As a result of still relying on social networks as a means to access resources, individuals must maintain the set of accultured behaviours that ensure their survival (or at least their sense of one – that’s a whole other ball game). In fact if anything, several workplaces have been known to heighten the ‘Savannah’ sensibilities of their staff.

So? What’s wrong with Savannah Thinking?

True, you can’t knock it too much. We probably none of us would be here were it not for some of the positive side effects of Savannah Thinking (cooperation, sharing, knowledge transfer). But the downsides (coercion, peer pressure, bullying, stifling of ideas) could definitely be swapped out for better paradigms. We need to get to a place where people are a bit more willing to challenge societal norms. Especially the ones grounded in FUD, or now-irrelevant logic.

I started to wonder along those lines. If we were to change our individual responses to society, would it be possible to restructure society so that it becomes a more positive environment? Would it be possible to change the role of social networks as the sole vehicle for acquiring resources, and if so, what would the remaining social network look like? Would it even continue to exist? Would it be a positive environment or would it become a completely soulless and pointless thing once its core component is thus excised?

I like to think that what would be left would be a positive thing, un-tethered and un-shackled from the ungainly weight of routines for stroking peoples egos or re-assuring their sense of place (and ultimately, sense of survival).

Since Savannah Thinking is still part and parcel of our current economy, would getting rid of it foster post-scarcity economics?

What I’m talking about is a complete shift in how we ‘process’ interactions with others. We wouldn’t be able to assign roles to each other so readily, and we would have to accept that all our presumptions are temporary, ready and willing to be shattered based on the responses of the other(s) in any human interaction.

We would have to invest time in getting to know what modes of behaviour or interaction each person requires. We would have to be willing to shed connections and gain new ones on the basis of synchronicity alone, not simply on the basis of social constructs / familial linkages that have shaped our sense of self up until now.

Our sense of place within social structures (I am a cousin, I am a teacher, I am your Doctor etc) become less sufficient. Behavioural indicators or preferences (I am visually-oriented, I’m an empath, I’m bitchy – be warned) become more useful. Connections could be based on a sort of real-time assessment of values, preferences, moods and goals. Specifically, it would allow people to determine cases of ‘non-belonging’, entered into (or I should say exited) without penalty… maybe even for mutual benefit.

This does not mean that social norms would disappear. New ones would evolve. Even if only as a means of arbitrating between all the new social protocol brokerages, so to speak. For example, non-obvious compatibilities as well as incompatibilities would have to be efficiently (automatically?) assessed in order to allow for more relevant connections; we would no longer have the veneer of pretend friendliness and roleplaying that accompanies Savannah Thinking to iron out the kinks in our relationships.

But I’ve digressed. How will a more flexible set of social norms pave the way for the future everyone seems to want?

Evolving toward post-scarcity thinking.

For starters, children will not be herded through our educational systems and into job silos. Parents who have evolved beyond Savannah Thinking will let their children reach constructive potentials, without letting opinions from their peers (other parents) or their immediate families… or their own need to live vicariously through their children (yeuchhh)… dominate the parenting process.  The children of such parents will be grounded in a better sense of self, and more willing to consider, fearlessly, a wider range of paths through life. Obviously (and thankfully) the planet is peppered with such examples – I’m just saying we need more of them.

More people will spend more time in more relevant social networks, more time in more meaningful activities/vocations, and this exactly what is need to get the prosumption / co-production ball rolling. I would also bet on the following: more meaningful lives (supported by more flexible/evolved social norms) require less resources… So it’s not just that resources become less scarce, it is that we hopelly get to a point where we don’t need so bloody much of ’em all the time.

Which brings me to my final idea: given that ‘need’ is largely an accultured, societal factor in most people’s lives (any marketer/advertiser will tell you that) then it makes sense that reconfiguring social interation could have a strong impact on our perceived needs. If you want to hit planetary resource issues where it hurts, you hit perceived needs.

As a parting note, here’s some Savannah Thinking traits that we could all do with ditching:

  1. Expecting things from people. ‘please’,’thank you’,’good morning’,’hi’, gifts, sympathy, reverence, return phone calls, compliments, concern… the list goes on.
  2. Pigeon-holing people: Elevating presumptions based on agegroup, race, ethnicity, creed, profession, etc to the level of “fact”…  even when those presumptions are challenged.
  3. Judgment of people along a failure-success continuum.
  4. Roleplaying: I’ll be the mother, you be the daughter. I’ll be the bad cop, you be the good cop. You’re supposed to be my friend. They’re supposed to be my enemy.
  5. Collective habitude: “People have always done it this way, so that’s the way we should all do it, forever”.
  6. Keeping up with those darned Jones-es.

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