I’ve been asked by a couple of LGF friends to expound on one of my social hypotheses.

Since I’m in the middle of three rather time consuming projects at work and won’t have an opportunity for a couple of more weeks to start the write up, I thought I would simply re-post a short version, just to give a taste.

There is an unspoken agreement within social groups that can be summarized as ‘you watch my back and I’ll watch yours but if you fail to watch my back or just happen to put a knife into it, I or my kin will take revenge, not just on you but your family. I will also keep a tally of how well you hold up your end of the bargain and I expect you will do the same, so as long as the ratio of favours asked to favours performed stays balanced, we’ll live together with a modicum of friction.

Our current social groups are too large for this kind of personal bookkeeping, so we write laws and develop systems, like governments, NGOs, charities and such to keep track of the ‘who owes who’ and to try to balance inequities.

In the small groups we developed in, usually less than ~100 members and most likely around ~40, any breaking of the contract resulted in almost instantaneous and frequently violent, or costly in some other way, resolution. In large groups the resolution can be so slow, it is almost non-existent, so many ignore it and believe the contract doesn’t exist. Unfortunately for some, even though it can take a long time, it still ends in costly outcomes, just ask Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and the Russian Tsarist autocracy.

BTW, we still deal with small groups which we tend to matryoshka doll, one group nests within a larger group, so our bookkeeping is made simpler. We deal with our immediate family directly, but in the larger neighbourhood we deal with other family groups rather than the individuals. It just expands outward, with each layer being slightly more removed and less important to us. We protect our family against all others, even close friends. We protect our close friends against all others, except our family. And so on.

Anyway, that is the very short and simple version of my hypotheses. Sort of.

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