Is Society Overscaled?

2 posts


Salo is gay.

Bob Dylan Roof

I've read the cabinet article but my journal access doesn't reach far enough back in time to the era of overpopulation hysteria where Calhoun's articles reside, so it's hard to evaluate the thesis.

The obvious criticism is that Calhoun only experimented on mice and rats, so the social pathologies he observed could have been emergent traits specific to the rodent genotype and the effects of scale on other species could be negligible. Another criticism is that the behaviors aren't really maladaptive social pathologies but rather economically and selectively efficient behaviors for that environment. This last criticism, if true, defangs the traditionalist-sociobiological normative conclusions that can be drawn from the experiment because it implies that a certain level of biological fitness is nevertheless being preserved in our society of social decay.

On the other hand, I don't think we should discount the role of space in human conceptual existence. In an abstract sense, space marks out the boundaries of our social conceptual horizon by delimiting the possibilities of physical movement and power, which ultimately form the substance of our systems of morality and law. This might seem like a trivial observation, but it appears to have non-trivial effects that tend to catch humans off guard in the course of history. For example, Anglo-American property interests in land originally extended vertically from the center of the earth to the extreme reaches of the heavens, but with the invention of the airplane this norm had to be scrapped because it generated too many conflicts; spatial contiguity between spheres of influence is also another obvious example in international law. The insight in relation to law normally depends on the evolution of technology and the way it facilitates our capacity to project power.

Given these general observations from law, I can see how the physical effects, in the sense of less living space, and conceptual-behavior effects, in the sense of hyper- competition for mates, jobs, preftige etc., of scale could generate insurmountable conflicts with our old social conventions. I think it would be interesting if attempts were made at modeling these effects.