Global                     -                    Local
Machine                  -                    Tool
Complex                  -                   Simple
Large                        -                   Small
Fragile                     -                   Resilient

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'

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'

Small-scale operations, no matter how numerous, are always less likely to be harmful to the natural environment than large-scale ones, simply because their individual force is small in relation to the recuperative forces of nature. 

There is wisdom in smallness if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than on understanding. The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge such as we are currently witnessing in the application of nuclear energy, of the new chemistry in agriculture, of transportation technology, and countless other things.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 29

'The craftsman himself,' says Ananda Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the modern west as the ancient east, 'can always, if allowed to, draw the delicate distinction between the machine and the tool. 

The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them by the craftsmen's fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the essentially human part of the work.' 

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 46

Behaviourism was a philosophy very much under the influence of modern science. As such, it focused on commonalities across individuals, assuming that the particular subject's uniquely individuated dynamics could be safely ignored.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.220

Like most one-size-fits-all approaches, Behaviourism was designed to suit the needs of society at scale. 

The therapist does not, for the most part, have the time to get to know the patient in all of their splendid uniqueness. Instead of this they have a schematic approach, a general plan. 

A traditional approach would, perhaps, focus more on the whole person, including what is unique about them - in spite of the fact that the inevitable errant data points would lead the therapist away from the clear air of general theory and into the thickets of case history. 

This wouldn't pose such a challenge for a therapist that was embedded in the same community as the patient, and so knew most of the case history already.

Yayayi's gradual devolution suggests how the organizational problems of a large, permanent community remain beyond the reach of traditional Pintupi means of resolution.

The very basis of integration limits the numbers it can manage. 

The expectation among Pintupi coresidents is that they are "one countrymen," that they should help each other. When the number of people is large, however, too many claims are made on one's relatedness.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.260

With each century of development, and especially with the growth of industry, both the powers and the desires of men increased.

Those powers and desires gave rise to new habits, and those habits began to be experienced as needs. Since industry encourages the emergence of new needs, and democracy encourages industry, the needs of modern democratic societies are destined to diversify and multiply continually.

Thus it is that in America, an unprecedented level of social energy goes into the invention of new ways to meet social needs. And yet “new needs arise every day.”

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.452

Nisbet assumes that Roman and Christian philosophers shared our high opinion of material comforts.

But although they admired the ingenuity that produced those comforts, they believed that moral wisdom lay in the limitation rather than in the multiplication of needs and desires. 

The modern conception of progress depends on a positive assessment of the proliferation of wants. Ancient authors, however, saw no moral or social value in the transformation of luxuries into necessities.

Now we can see what was so novel about the eighteenth-century idea of progress […] Its original appeal and its continuing plausibility derived from the more specific assumption that insatiable appetites, formerly condemned as a source of social instability and personal unhappiness, could drive the economic machine - just as man's insatiable curiosity drove the scientific project - and thus ensure a never-ending expansion of productive forces.

The moral rehabilitation of desire, even more than a change in the perception of time as such, generated a new sense of possibility, which announced itself most characteristically not in the vague utopianism of the French Enlightenment but in the hardheaded new science of political economy.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.45, 52

Complexity is best characterised as arising through large-scale, non-linear interaction.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.37

Maybe a type of industrial society could be developed which was organized in much smaller units, with an almost infinite decentralization of authority and responsibility.

From the point of view of the Gospels, a hierarchical structure, i.e., authority as such, is not an evil. But it must be of a size compatible, so to say, with the size of the human being.

Structures made up of, say, a hundred people can still be fully democratic without falling into disorder. But structures employing many hundreds or even thousands of people cannot possibly preserve order without authoritarianism, no matter how great the wish for democracy might be.

[...] Its authoritarian character, owing to organization in excessively large units.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Good Work, p. 29

[...] when we look at economics in terms of evolving extraction, abstraction, and accumulation, all economic systems to date (communism, fascism, socialism, and capitalism) have been different instanciations of this same core principle.

Capitalism has been the most effective overall, but they have all been part of the search space exploited by the evolutionary dynamics arising from surplus, win-lose game dynamics, and this ring of power.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'New Economics Series: Part 4', Explorations on the Future of Civilisation

With certain exceptions the wars of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had been struggles of limited resources for limited objectives. The growth of political democracy, the rise of nationalism, and the industrialization of war led to total war with total mobilization and unlimited objectives.

In the eighteenth century, when rulers were relatively free from popular influences, they could wage wars for limited objectives and could negotiate peace on a compromise basis when these were objectives were attained or appeared unattainable. Using a mercenary army which fought for pay, they could put that army into war or out of war, as seemed necessary, without vitally affecting its morale or its fighting qualities.

The arrival of democracy and of the mass army required that the great body of the citizens give wholehearted support for any war effort, and made it impossible to wage wars for limited objectives.

Such popular support could be won only in behalf of great moral goals or universal philosophic values or, at the very least, for survival. At the same time the growing industrialization and economic integration of modern society made it impossible to mobilize for war except on a very extensive basis which approached total mobilization. This mobilization could not be directed toward limited objectives.

From these factors came total war with total mobilization and unlimited objectives, including the total destruction or unconditional surrender of the enemy.

Having adopted such grandiose goals and such gigantic plans, it became almost impossible to allow the continued existence of noncombatants within the belligerent countries or neutrals outside them. It became almost axiomatic that “who is not with me is against me.” At the same time, it became almost impossible to compromise sufficiently to obtain the much more limited goals which would permit a negotiated peace.

As Charles Seymour put it: “Each side had promised itself a peace of victory. The very phrase ‘negotiated peace’ became synonymous with treachery.”

Moreover, the popular basis of modern war required a high morale which might easily be lowered if the news leaked out that the government was negotiating peace in the middle of the fighting. As a consequence of these conditions, efforts to negotiate peace during the First World War were generally very secret and very unsuccessful.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.149

Related posts:-
The Pyramid
Individual v Environment
Close To Extraordinary
The Earth's the Limit 
Masters of the Universe
Making a Difference
Small Mind/Large Mind
Everything is Connected 
One to One 
Concentrate / Decentrate
Short Cuts
Global / Local