Scale



Global                            -                          Local




Natural limits keep us in harmony with our environment (i.e. the larger system). When these limits are surpassed we become cancerous for the larger system.




[...] the more time I spent in Ladakh, the more I came to realize the importance of scale. 

At first, I sought to explain the Ladakhis' laughter and absence of anger or stress in terms of their values and religion. These did, no doubt, play an important role.

But gradually I became aware that the external structures shaping the society, scale in particular, were just as important. They had a profound effect on the individual and in turn reinforced his or her beliefs and values.

Since villages are rarely larger than a hundred houses, the scale of life is such that people can directly experience their mutual interdependence.

They have an overview and can comprehend the structures and networks of which they are a part, seeing the effects of their actions and thus feeling a sense of responsibility. And because their actions are more visible to others, they are more easily held accountable.

Economic and political interactions are almost always face to face; buyer and seller have a personal connection, a connection that discourages carelessness or deceit. As a result, corruption or abuse of power is very rare.

Smaller scale also limits the amount of power vested in one individual. What a difference between the president of a nation-state and the goba in a Ladakhi village; one has power over several millions of people whom he will never meet and who will never have the opportunity to speak to him; the other coordinates the affairs of a few hundred people whom he knows intimately, and who interact with him on a daily basis.

In the traditional Ladakhi village, people have much control over their own lives. To a very great extent they make their own decisions rather than being at the mercy of faraway, inflexible bureaucracies and fluctuating markets.

The human scale allows for spontaneous decision making and action based on the needs of the particular context. There is no need for rigid legislation; instead, each situation brings forth a new response.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.50-1



Is it that towering individuals (the artist-genius, the rock-star, etc) are a psychological necessity (a manifestation of the hero-archetype)?

If this is the case, then perhaps we need to think carefully about how we create our towering individuals.

A local hero is accessible and understandable (and implicitly supersedable in a way that the global hero is not). The ultimate local hero is the parent or, in Buddhism, the lama (mentor). Global heroes are often unattainable, and by their distance appear unearthly and perfect. We have a sense that we will never reach them, let alone supersede them; in this sense they exert a tyranny over us.

We are currently saturated with global heroes, but are these - and should they be - balanced with local heroes?




The cultural centralization that occurs through the media is also contributing to a growing insecurity as well as passivity. Traditionally, there was lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined in. In a group sitting around the fire, even toddlers would dance, with the help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, to act, to play music.

Now that radio has come to Ladakh, you do not need to sing your own songs or tell your own stories. You can sit and listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. But the result is that people become inhibited and self-conscious. You are no longer comparing yourself to neighbors and friends, who are real people - some better than you at singing, but perhaps less good at dancing - and you are never as good as the stars on the radio.

Community ties are also broken when people sit passively listening to the very best rather than making music or dancing together.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.123-4




They have a turtle pond in front of the museum that everyone has to walk by to get in. It looks like a nothing kind of pond with water lilies in it. We decided to do an underwater video. In a really klunky way, we put on waders, got an aquarium, put a video camera in the aquarium, submerged it part way and walked around. The images that were shot that way wound up looking beautiful.

We projected them as three big video projections inside the museum. It felt like you had entered inside the water. It was like uncovering the beauty of a place that's already there in the same way that we'd done with people.  

We were uncovering the inherent culture that exists within a place. Making that visible to people.

Valuing what is already there, rather than bringing something new in and saying, "This is what art is," or "This is what culture is. This is what's important." Instead, we were very subtly pointing to things and putting and highlighting various aspects of a community or place or person.

Several projects I have done have been about one individual who is local to the place where the show is going to be. Redefining what a celebrity might be. Taking control of that system.

Often when you go to a community and say, "I'm going to do something about this place," people will say "You should do it about the mayor." "You should do it about this person who is famous and who came from here." And I'll say, "No. I want to do it about regular people. Those people are important too." There will be this reluctance at first, but then they will be excited.

It's a shift in how you understand what is important or what history is. What an important person in the community is. It's trying to flip a lot of those things on their heads and value everyday things. Using things like a museum context, or gallery context, or media, inherently adds that to it. Making a movie about somebody. People are used to movies being made about famous people. It's reversing that. It's always been pretty positive.

[Harrell Fletcher]
"An interview with Harrell Fletcher: Merging art, functionality and education" from In Motion Magazine




When my elder two children were young I was for several years a stay-at-home dad, immersed in a world of diapers and groceries while trying to write my first book. 

I often felt terribly frustrated, torturing myself with thoughts like “I have such important things to share with the world, and here I am changing diapers and cooking all day.” These thoughts distracted me from the gift at hand and made me less present with my children. 

I did not understand that those moments when I gave in to my situation, put down my writing, and fully engaged my children had just as powerful an effect on the universe as any book I would write. 

We don’t always have the eyes to see it, but everything has its karmic effect, or as the Western religions say, God sees everything.

[Charles Eisenstein]
 The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Chapter 11




One of the most important studies that we have on the effects of local business compared the impacts of $100 spent at a local book store versus $100 spent at a chain.

$100 spent at the local book store left $45 in the local economy. $100 spent at the chain left $13, so we get 3 times the income effects, 3 times the jobs, 3 times the tax proceeds for local governments.

The principle difference was that the local book store had a local high level management team; it used local lawyers and accountants; it advertised on local radio and TV. None of those things were true of the chain store.

Excerpt from 'The Economics of Happiness'




The Amish people maintain a human rather than an organizational scale in their daily lives. They resisted the large, consolidated school and the proposition that big schools (or farms) were better than smaller ones.

[...] The Amish appreciate thinking that makes the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. When human groups and units of work become too large for them, a sense of estrangement sets in.  

When this happens the world becomes unintelligible to them and they cease participating in what is meaningless.

Smallness in the Amish community is maintained by a functional unit no larger than a group of people who can know one another by name, by shared ceremonial activity, and by convention.

[...] the Amish community "is small, so small that either it itself is the unit of personal observation or else, being somewhat larger and yet homogenous, it provides in some part of it a unit of personal observation fully representative of the whole."

When Amish enterprises become large - successful by worldy standards - they also constitute a liability to the Amish way of life. The determination to maintain a small-scale operation dictates that if the business becomes "too large," it must be sold to an outside company.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 12-13, 138




When a thing reaches a certain size the bonds between its constituent parts begin to weaken. These bonds consist of the sorts of things that tie things - tie people - together; and imperative amongst them is 'trust.'

Because real trust does not function at larger scales, we must invent ways of simulating, or augmenting it. In much the same way that we augment the human eye with telescopes and microscopes in order to allow us to 'see' at non-human scales, we augment our human capacity for trust with bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is, amongst other things, a formalised simulation of 'trust.' It substitutes trust engendered through familiarity, with 'certification' by means of 'testing.' I do not need a DBS form in order to be around the children of friends or relatives, but I do need one in order to work with children in my community.

In modern societies we are asked to experience ourselves as a part of an increasingly large collective. Whereas once circle A would have defined the boundaries of our collective, now it is defined by D.

As the perimeters of our collectives widen, the need for simulated bonds increases. If human trust fails beyond the borders of A, then any level beyond this will require artificial trust. At these levels it is our red tape that binds us; and increasing levels of scale (i.e. complexity) require increasing amounts of red tape.

The fact that we often feel bogged down by red tape is a sign that we're operating at an unhealthy scale. I'm not saying that there are too many people, rather that the way we think of ourselves - and organize ourselves - is dysfunctional.

Inasmuch as we are imbalanced in favour of the large-scale, then our remedy must involved tipping the scales back toward the small-scale. In practical terms this involves, amongst other things, devolving power; splitting our over-grown structures into smaller pieces, and reducing the scale of things to a level in which artificial trust is manageable, and in which human trust can thrive.




The indicators that matter to the European Central Bank (ECB) [...] are those representing half a billion people.

The ECB is concerned with the inflation or unemployment rate across the eurozone as if it were a single homogeneous territory, at the same time as the economic fate of European citizens is splintering in different directions, depending on which region, city or neighbourhood they happen to live in.

Official knowledge becomes ever more abstracted from lived experience, until that knowledge simply ceases to be relevant or credible.

[William Davies]
'How statistics lost their power - and why we should fear what comes next'




Dunbar's number

Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.

This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships.

Dunbar explained it informally as "the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar"

Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150.

'Dunbar's number'
Wikipedia




Up to a tribal scale people could do a better job of accurate information sharing because there was less incentive to disinform each other, because it would probably get found out - and we depended on each other pretty significantly. The Dunbar limit seems to be a pretty hard limit on that kind of information sharing. 

Tribes never got beyond a certain scale within a certain kind of organisation, and if they started to they would cleave - if they were going to get larger they would have to have a different kind of organisation.

One thing that we commonly think about is a limit of care and tracking - up to [say] a hundred and fifty people I can actually know everybody pretty well, they can all know me, and if I were to hurt anybody I’m hurting the people that I’ve known for my whole life.

Something like universal interest of that group, or a communalist idea makes sense if there are no anonymous people, or very far spaces where I can externalise harm. I basically can’t externalise harm in the social commons when I know everybody well. I also can’t lie and have that be advantageous. 

There is a communication protocol that anyone who has information about something within that setting can inform a choice where that information would be relevant. They can actually communicate with everybody fairly easily. If there’s a really big choice to make everybody can sit around a tribal circle and actually be able to say something about it. As you get larger you just can’t do that.

I think there’s a strong cleaving basis in not wanting to be part of a group that would make decisions that I’ll be subjected to that I don’t get any say in - unless it’s really important. [For instance,] tribal warfare is starting to occur more often, and so having a larger group is really important. In which case the bonding energy exceeds the cleaving energy.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'Daniel Schmachtenberger on The Portal (with host Eric Weinstein), Ep. #027 - On Avoiding Apocalypses' (1:52:55)




There is actually a maximum size a state can get to - which about five to seven million (it varies a bit, depending on the number of cities) - before it loses cultural coherence.

The argument in Europe is that we need the European Union to provide financial defence and foreign policy, but then you want smaller states which do culture.

[Dave Snowden]




[…] Mother Nature does not like anything too big. 

The largest land animal is the elephant, and there is a reason for that. If I went on a rampage and shot an elephant, I might be put in jail, and get yelled at by my mother, but I would hardly disturb the ecology of Mother Nature. On the other hand […] one bank failure, that of Lehman Brothers, in September 2008, brought down the entire edifice.

Mother Nature does not limit the interactions between entities; it just limits the size of its units. 

(Hence my idea is not to stop globalisation and ban the Internet; as we will see, much more stability would be achieved by stopping governments from helping companies when they become too large and by giving back advantages to the small guy.)

[…] I realised that as they become larger, companies appear to be more “efficient,” but they are also much more vulnerable to outside contingencies, those contingencies commonly known as “Black Swans” […] All that under the illusion of more stability.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 314-5




One person, one vote evolved for small populations with a highly resilient ecosystem. It doesn’t work for large populations where there is too much manipulation.

One of the things we need to start to look at is smaller communities in which you actually know the people you are electing, and then those people elect the larger groups.

[Dave Snowden]
'Resilience in a Time of COVID w/ Dave Snowden'




The Crystal Palace project did not use computers, and the parts were built not far from the source, with a small number of businesses involved in the supply chain […] There were no consulting firms. The agency problem (which we defined as the divergence between the interests of the agent and that of his client) was not significant.

In other words, it was a much more linear economy - less complex - than today. And we have more nonlinearities - asymmetries, convexities - in today’s world.

Black Swan effects are necessarily increasing, as a result of complexity, interdependence between parts, globalisation, and the beastly thing called “efficiency” that makes people now sail too close to the wind. Add to that consultants and business schools. One problem somewhere can halt the entire project - so the projects tend to get as weak as the weakest link in their chain (an acute negative convexity effect).

The world is getting less and less predictable, and we rely more and more on technologies that have errors and interactions that are harder to estimate, let alone predict.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 285




Locke says in 1690, ‘well England’s full, so if you want some land just go to America, it’s empty. Maybe there’s a few savages there, just kill them.’ 

Melville does the same thing in Moby Dick, he thinks, will there ever come a time where we run out of whales - and he says no. But we have run out of whales. 

So Locke was right in 1690 that the world was large and had infinite resources [but] he’s certainly wrong today. 

[Sheldon Solomon]
'Sheldon Solomon: Death and Meaning | Lex Fridman Podcast #117'