But if I ask for salt and citing the ideal of oneness you give me pepper, you would seem to need a little talking to. On the other hand merger of distinctions is not always bad.
My PhD adviser Mark Liberman taught me that the discovery that two or more things thought to be different are actually instances of the same thing, is a great day in science. His teaching can be seen as a celebration of oneness. This is Ockham's Razor, Chomsky's Minimalism, Kolmogorov's Complexity, Shannon's Minimum Entropy, the path of science, the goal of thought: insight as simplicity. At least some of the noise can be reduced to signal. This is all good.
Karl Marx merged, made one of, human nature, human action, and the human ideal in his basic philosophy, aiming to an ideal society of creative (that's the human nature part), self-actualized (that's the human ideal part) workmanship (that's the human action part).
Obviously to the contrary, taking each pair of these: First, part of human nature is non-action, stillness and rest. Second, humanity's ideals also include plenty of inactivity at end of day or week, not to mention transcendent stillness: more non-action. And third, plenty of human action is not ideal, do I need to exemplify? Yet generalizations need not be perfect to be useful, and Marx's merger remains a guide for the communist utopia of the future, asserting that humans be provided with (2) action or work corresponding to their (1) actual nature and which also represents (3) their ideal. Who would really argue? Not even Marx-haters. If your ideal is what you naturally do, that would seem to be a low energy system state. Notice that an inclusive free market of interesting and socially constructive labor would seem to satisfy Marx's requirements, without exactly requiring a Leninist/Stalinist revolution on the way.
Similarly that popular anti-Marxist, Jordan Peterson, merges things that seem quite different: hierarchies of dominance, admiration, and skill or competence, along with the biology of human emotion. Thus at the societal level, the interpersonal level, the individual level, the emotional level, a metric of value enables all to live peaceably together despite differences. Socially, it enables any connected two or few to compete constructively with one another (more as an information gathering and personal development exercise than as a mutual killing opportunity), to establish fair and mutually accepted hierarchical relationships based on the shared acceptance of that metric of value, then to engage as constructive competitors, as friends, as practice partners, or as teacher and student, and to do so in a way that maximizes peace, personal development, competence, and respectful connection. At the individual level a metric of value helps one to prioritize one's actions in life. And at the emotional level it helps us to know how we are doing in order to know how to feel about things and about ourselves.
If the same idea shows up at all these levels, if it exists in the biological response to evolutionarily ancient hormonal factors, and it also organizes survival-enhancing work, interpersonal relationships, and society in general, then first maybe it would seem to be actually a true idea, and second, we can thereby understand how those complexities evolved, how they combined in a way advantageous to the species, and third, we can see how they support the life of each individual, including ourselves.
Is this a message only for boys, to therefore get up and go, to develop your skills and competences, to climb your own most appealing hierarchies in order to find a place in society and to refine your values and your knowledge? No, not only for boys. Even the most feminine of anti-competitive, nurturing homebodies has a definite metric of value and a deep, intent, even constant focus on the monitoring of one's group, and making sure that its needs are met. This may be elaborated to a high level of competence, and it generates an admiration and value hierarchy that may be simple and of only a few levels, but nevertheless is definitive and society-structuring. It establishes fair and accepted hierarchical relationships like Grandmother to Mother to Child.
Has Peterson in this way asserted the same merger of nature, action, and ideal, that Marx did? Human nature according to Peterson is to participate in dominance hierarchies, which is nothing else but to have an ideal and put it into action. Human nature, human action, human ideal, wasn't that Marx's philosophy? It appears friend Peterson is actually Marxist in basic philosophy. LOL!
In my thinking, "merger", besides this other kind, is a (to me) new, emotionally-driven process of human psychology. Observe that merger of emotional distinctions occurs during and is triggered by the changing of motivational framing which undergirds a perceived scene. When the frame changes the scene has to be reconstructed and before it can be reconstructed its previously-asserted characteristics have to be deleted, or you might say, merged, into a state of oneness or non-distinction, so that frame-compatible perception and re-understanding of the situation, loaded by frame-compatible distinctions, can (or might not) be carried out. This concept of merger has its own essay, Emotional Merger. Check it out; I think it's important.
One speculates, Could even plants use some similarly effective communication mechanism to mediate group survival, since population spread even of plants seems to require some shared negotiation of resource sharing and what tree might have to die in order to let the other reach the sun. My essay, Populating, wonders if an old growth forest of well-spaced mature trees had to arise from what looks like a negotiation, or at least a mutual adaptation, of that type. That is, there certainly exist population pressures within the species, and mechanisms at various levels have evolved, and successful evolved species must successfully have established, ways of surviving with those pressures.
If competition to the death detracts from the success even of the winner, then a species would benefit by losers stepping down a little sooner. Suicide of a smaller tree in the shadow of a larger tree for the benefit of the forest, like apoptosis, the programmed cell death of a mere cell surrounded by its shared-lineage fellows, which collectively benefits the lineage from its death: this seems like an evolutionary strategy about equal to (achieveable with) the intelligence of cells or perhaps of trees, rooted immoveably in their surrounding environment. Examples include not just apoptosis or programmed cell death but even the pruning of neural interconnections at a subcellular level, or the death of deselected naive T cells. This is similar to but different from mutual inhibition among neurons at polycellular signalling level, since these involve mutual destruction, not merely mutual inhibition. All have this logic where better group functioning results if sacrifices are made of individual members. So we see that death is certainly an option, to manage group success for the benefit, somehow, of at least some survivors. Indeed, Pambios, that which comprises all evolving life, itself shares some of this logic: inter-species competition may result in the extinction of one species, but the continuation, perhaps refinement and growth, of life itself.
Within animal species, on the other hand, we often see a solution that is more sophisticated: the dominance hierarchy. The prototypical dominance hierarchy says, Let's fight! And the winner will be the dominant one, perhaps because I'm bigger, or perhaps I'm just more willing to put it on the line. Hegel himself in 1807 described this in Phänomenologie des Geistes, the Phenomenology of the Spirit, a popular vision of (psycho)history based on the Master and the Slave, long before the discovery of serotonin. Now that I'm dominant, you can hunch over and walk around subordinate, and I'll stand up taller and walk around dominant, but I won't kill you even though, as our fight just proved, I could. (Later when the competition is about production rather than fighting, Hegel's Slave becomes master of the unproductive, now incompetent Master: a metaphor for history after feudalism.)
Dogs at play provide a fountain of examples: once dominance is established, and the non-dominant submits whether by feet in air, or presenting a neck which could be bitten, or as with puppies piddling on the floor, the dominant dog typically immediately ceases serious attacks. The purpose of domination supercedes and obviates killing.
Yes, the basic point of the dominance hierarchy is compassion and inclusion: it actually to provide more of us a way to live and let live. If A doesn't have to kill B, or if B, the smaller "tree" in our species community, doesn't have to die, nor kill itelf, then both A and B can live, and then probably our community will have more offspring who are more survivable. Yes, even in environments of population pressure, even if we can get away, being more mobile than trees or cells or dendrites, and can spread across the landscape far and wide, because eventually we will overpopulate our island or continent or ecosystem and be forced to face each other and then again through the serotonin mediated system which governs humans and lobsters quite analogously, we will be saved from murder or suicide by the dominance hierarchy system. THAT is compassionate inclusiveness, compared with the true alternative.
What's perhaps most surprising about this self-deceptive, self-detrimental game is how people seem to actually sign up for it and engage in it seriously. It's not really pretty, exactly, but it does let us all survive, which is the point. In a species where even the non-dominant members can contribute to the survival of others, the let-live aspect of dominance hierarchy structured society is optimal.
Even the mere fact of being admired, itself, would seem to dramatically reduce the bloodthirstiness of the dominant. Doesn't your anxiety level fall a lot when you find out you are admired? There are two correlated behaviors, the submission of the non-dominant, and the mercy of the dominant. Are both the result of serotonin? I think so.
So the alternative to dominance hierarchy is death for the losers individually. Applied strictly at the species level the result would be a population of isolates, that is, members that exert no population pressure on one another. So maybe we should be glad for dominance hierarchies.
I read recently that Neanderthal groups supposedly maxed out at 50, while human groups maxed out at 150 in early-human evolutionary times. A proliferation of dominance hierarchies is one way to allow more conspecifics to live together without killing each other. Not that we are far from killing each other; recall the result of the Mutiny on the Bounty, where the 16 mutineers sailed first to Tahiti for wives, then to Pitcairn Island to live out their idyllic tropical island lives, with the result that when the survivors were finally discovered 24 years later, there was only one single man left alive. The dominance hierarchy system had failed, except in preserving the women and children, and the men had all killed one another until hardly any were left. This is our species in the wild. We are beastlier than beasts.
But if we have a society that can at least get off the island to reduce the social pressures a bit, then we can also develop a variety of skills that we can all appreciate. The best of warriors can appreciate the best of swordsmiths, for example, and so that both may survive in a more complex society together. Although combat is surely the prototypical, primary, the Ur dominance hierarchy, even prior to (if correlated with) hunting, the multiplicity of things humans do has itself spawned a multiplicity of things humans can do better and worse, and thus a multiplicity of hierarchies.
My recent, simpler view was quite different, that the stupidity and passivity of the crowd leads to the success of larger groups. If everyone falls into line beneath the biggest bully, then the group can indeed be bigger.
I'm sorry I lost my photo of an electronic traffic sign that I took three or four years ago on the 405 passing Kirkland heading toward Bellevue, Seattle, and Redmond, which are incidentally among the centers of innovation in the world, in which three lanes of tightly packed and nearly parked vehicles on the freeway stared unresponsively (unblinkingly? unmovingly!) at a great blinking sign saying "Accident in right lanes, use the carpool/toll lanes for free", and I was the only one I could see moving to the left. Up and down, I could see, say 50 cars, in the zone that I could personally see, which certainly faced the choice I made, but did nothing. So call it a random sample in which, 1/50 or 2% of people are actually eyes-open and willing to change behavior based on changed circumstances.
Anyone that thinks social change is possible will have to come to grips with this fact and the principle it exemplifies: We are, more or less, as a species, blind stupid followers, moles in our holes, unable to look around and find an obviously superior alternative path, unable to not follow the herd, unable to think or be awake or open at all. Good luck thinking otherwise.
Most people who want to make changes therefore disguise their innovation in the guise of tradition. Thus strict constructionism as a legal theory, fundamentalist literalism as an approach to interpretation of selected scriptures, et cetera. Novelty wrapped in pretended traditionality is the path to widespread social acceptance.
So maybe the theory of stupid masses would allow for larger human communities, but I'd still like to believe that multiplicity of value hierarchies leads to specialization into skill hierarchies and thereby into high functioning larger communities. But probably the truth includes both, so that we do get, one the one hand, a blacksmith and a carpenter, a monk, some stonemasons and a traveling merchant amongst our masses of farmers and herders, each admired and admiring within their trade and tolerated and supported within the wider society, but yet on the other hand we also get everyone keeping their heads down and otherwise sucking up to the murderous, truly frightening, killer-dominant, local military nobility. Our conformity and submissiveness is perhaps not less a mass-survival instinct than our (correlated) variation in temperament, skills, and values.
To combine conformity with difference, our species benefits from its unique tool, language, which brings conformity to a higher level, conformity at an abstract level. Cooperation.
So mathematically, what do hierarchies look like?
Apparently chicken groups sort into dominance hierarchies, the "pecking order", which break down when there are more than 30 chickens, because the sorting is so finely graded and chickens will keep fighting their near-equals. Since farmers want all the chickens to survive to become meat, they can't tolerate groups with any unsortable pair, so they should keep the groups under 30, is the principle I infer. That would be called a full sort. And if you need a full sort, that leads to smaller groups than if dominance just needs to keep the weak, stupid, or passive down, when they, being down at shared levels, won't themselves kill each other.
If, then, you just need to sort into definite levels, then instead of an ordering you get a branching or tree structure, where the branching factor can be greater than one (an ordering is a degenerate tree, with branching factor one). The dominant one at a higher level can dominate that branching factor number of less-dominant ones at the next level down.
The branching factor number was 10 for Genghis Khan's armies, organized on the decimal system: each military command unit included 10 of the next smaller down level of units. Britain dominated India for generations with an enormous branching factor, what was it? Tens of thousands versus hundreds of millions? That would imply a branching factor of 104.
The branching factor, and the number of levels, are parameters of a society.
So I tell people who come in, Don't worry that you just got hammered by the oldest creakiest old man or the thimble-sized little girl over there, even though you thought you were the best player you yourself ever met in your life. Pingpong is a highly, highly stratified sport, and size and age don't make as much of a difference as in other sports. We have a rating system borrowed from the chess rating system, where everyone gets some rating or other, the average of club players is supposed to be 1500, and if you beat someone your level you both get your rating adjusted by 8 points, and if you're 200 points apart and it's an upset, you get a 50 point adjustment, or 2 points change if it's not an upset. Over time this results in players spreading out across the rating scale system and after not many years it turns out there are players legitimately rated maybe as low as 300, and others above 3300, after Ma Lin and the Chinese, and Joo Se Hyuk and the Koreans, came to the US Open and blew the top off our highest recorded levels.
It turns out that when opponents are 100 points different in rating, the frequency of upsets is only 12.5%, or exactly 1/8. If you're 100 points down, you'll win only once in eight times, on average. Let's call that a distinct level: you can play someone 100 points higher and they'll beat you seven out of eight times, yeah, they're a different level. Since (3300-300)/100 = 30, we have about 30 levels in pingpong. Just like the chickens.
So yes, outcomes are highly predictable, surprises are few, even with everybody doing their best. But it's worse than that. Suppose the levels are independent, then what would 3 levels mean? (1/8) * (1/8) * (1/8) = 1/512. This is relevant because most people coming into the pingpong club are 800 or below, and most people in the pingpong club are 1100 or above, which means 300 points apart, which, under the model of independent levels, suggests that the probability of an upset, when a newby comes in and wins might be (1/8)^3 = 1/512. You see what I mean? No chance.
And yes, quite often people do come in, get hammered, even though they, being on average about 800 in rating, are 200 points above their sister or their Mom or the next best player they ever encountered at home or ever in their entire life and they never met anyone close to their level, and they STILL have 1/512 chance of winning at the pingpong club against the worst player in the house.
This is quite a shock, and a lot of people can't get over it; they walk out a bit quickly, trying to forget, or thinking, this sport is definitely not for me. Unless there's a friendly encouraging voice near the door watching for the disoriented bully boys, saying, No, Dude, it's just that we have 30 levels! So calm down and enjoy the process of learning, you will be able to do it, eventually. That was my job.
Okay, the point of that is that pingpong players may have 30 levels just like chickens, and actually the analogy goes farther than we might like because we actually prefer to fight others that are about at our level (so perhaps humans are more socially functional than chickens). But we don't have to make a complete sort in order for the social hierarchy to apply, to provide an orientation towards value or merit, to give us positive emotion connected to fitting in somewhere and climbing up the skill hierarchy over time. Humans find learning meaningful, particularly if it is learning a skill that is the sorting metric on a valued hierarchy. Self-identification plays its role, we all share that valuation metric in valuing others, we also accept that valuation metric in valuing ourselves, and we accept our own position in the hierarchy as measured by that metric. Dopaminergic pleasure comes with climbing up the hierarchy. Yes. Peterson's logic certainly applies.
So one of Genghis Khan's decimal-organized armies of 100,000 had 5 levels of management. The US Army has seven nominal levels: general, colonel, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, private, but each of those has its own various sub-levels. The Catholic Church with pope, cardinal, archbishop, bishop, priest, deacon, layperson seems to have about seven levels.
Small geometric descriptions handle plenty of social complexity. A branching factor of only 10, with a number of levels equal to only 10, specifies a hierarchical system more than big enough to encompass (at just the bottom level) our entire world population of less than 10^10 = 10 Billion humans, assuming it is tree structured, that is, Genghis Khan style, without overlapping subordinates. (Did you notice that base and exponent are the same as branching factor and depth? Is it general? Numbers are so convenient!) On the other hand a lattice structure like the US pingpong rating system, where each level might dominate or be dominated by levels with something like the same number of players, and with free association within and across levels unlike a command hierarchy, can still have the complexity of 30 levels, way more than the Catholic church and Genghis Khan's army stacked on top of each other, even within the tiny population of pingpong lovers that go to tournaments. For that matter, 30 chickens which you might order delivered in a box in the springtime, already might comprise such a lattice.
How? It combines three elements: (1) our counting neurobiological mechanisms combined with (2) self attribution combined with (3) the metric of value associated with the hierarchy. That is, we track or (1) count (2) our own position in (3) the valuation hierarchy, and use this as the basis to modulate our emotions.
Through the human need for society, and the ancient organization of dominance or competence and the natural flow in and through hierarchies via maturation and achievement, hierachies structure and control our emotions, our goals in life, our social relationships, our survival and reproduction. Of course survival and reproduction are obviously at the root of it, but by interacting with this organizing, widely-distributed mechanism, we seem to regulate how we feel about everything. Having values and joining a hierarchy is perhaps the same thing, and is perhaps the basis of the sense of meaningfulness in life. If we can't find some values to internalize, or quite generally, some hierarchy to join, we may as well have a Darwinian-ly meaningless life, and fail to survive or reproduce. We live in a socially-dependent world with quite high general intelligence that has developed a richly structured society, becoming specialization-driven, and therefore, multi-skilled and multi-polar, with many valuation hierarchies. It is through interacting with our own chosen valuation hierarchies that people typically (1) discover their own values, (2) find a sense of meaningfulness, (3) acquire a place in the world including the resources to survive in a society-dependent world and (4) (more so if male) prove themselves worthy for siring children to females exercising reproductive choice. In this way survival and reproduction are mediated by social hierarchies. Die alone, loser! is the background chorus all must defeat. Emotions, which fundamentally tie us to, are justified by, and are evolutionarily brought to us in order to achieve, survival and reproduction, must therefore operate in tight coordination with the values or dominance hierarchy system. And so it does.
The emotional self-management system keeps track of position and relative movements within our identified-with hierarchies, and gives us pleasure and bitterness when we move up and down. Hierarchies themselves are like motivational frames, as they do provide socially organized metrics of value, shared valuation of skillsets and achievements, idealization of those above, paternal (that is, inclusive) encouragement and teaching toward those below. Competition is also present in hierarchies, but less than you might think.
Logically basic, (you might say, "archetypal") roles and dimensions used in counting or transactional calculations by an organism in a dominance hierarchy must certainly include:
|Self||Failure||Past||Internal||sadness, depression, guilt, self esteem loss|
|Self||Failure||Past||External||shame, embarrassment, disgrace|
|Self||Success||Future||Internal||hope, motivation, aspiration, inner expectation|
|Self||Success||Future||External||respect received, others' high expectations|
|Self||Failure||Future||Internal||fear, worry, insecurity|
|Self||Failure||Future||External||disrespect, others' low expectations|
|Other||Success||Past or Future||Internal or External||admiration, respect given|
|Other||Failure||Past or Future||Internal or External||Loser! Disrespect.|
Similarly indexable are: Envy, jealousy, sense of loss failure or inadequacy, glee, celebration of victory or success, competitive feeling, supportiveness to teammates including shared victory and sadness, frustration, or devastation of defeat. Determination, urgency, focusedness as toward working toward climbing the hierarchy. Aspiration and ambition as toward the ideal or the value itself. Positive appreciation for, if mature, or hatred toward, if immature, one's opponents. Desire for a strong opponent in order to improve your own abilities in competition with them. Desire to dominate the opponents.
It seems to me these are logically defineable and perhaps biologically implemented, by an inner calculus of social hierarchy.
You may have heard Jordan Peterson lecturing on the serotonergic hormone system, which operates to monitor one's place in one's local reference hierarchy and which controls one's global emotional state based on that positional assessment. Serotonin is an evolutionarily ancient hormone and it mediates dominance behaviors in both lobsters and humans analogously, and SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which enhance serotonin) buck up lobsters and humans equally after social defeats. Lose: anxiety, worry, shrinking away. Win: happiness, expansion, courage to face new challenges. This is the result of plus and minus serotonin. Yep.