First Sunny Day … Here come the Human Beings

Warm yesterday.  Up to what, maybe sixty degrees.  And sunny.  And a friday.

So I go sit down on Church street, and the place is packed.  People everywhere, enjoying the sun.  That first sunny day, stepping out without a coat, without that subconcious cringe bracing for the cold, for the shock of a chill.  I sit and have a smoke, and watch everyone strolling about watching everyone.

Who are all these people? Was reading in ‘Guns, Gems and Steel’ that a tribe can get up to a hundred or so people before you have to have a more formal social orginization, some kind of structure.  The ‘big man’ can’t remember everyone’s name.  From somewhere else, I remember that city-states cannot get bigger than say, a thousand or so, before direct governanace dosen’t work.  A thousand being about the number of people you can gather in a stadium, or on a senate floor, and have the conversation be workable.

There are definitly more than a hundred people here.  Maybe more than a thousand, if you take all of downtown.  I feel like I ‘know everyone’ cause I wave to S. walking down the street with his son, B. comes up and asks me if I want to get a burrito with him, I see G. on a bench and tease her about how she’s been sitting there since lunch.  I feel like I know everyone, but most of these people are background. 

I bring them into focus, really look at these people, curious.  Who are they?  Where did they come from?  My mind empties, the sun or something, sitting on this bench, sprawled and open to the day, and the clothes start to become strange costumes, then, somehow dissapear.  Little groups appear within the tribe, the young males with their strut and their mateing plumage of backwards baseball hats, tee-shirts and baggy shorts.  The answering twitter from small bands of young females, swirling around mature pair-bonded units, carrying or chasing their offspring.  Driven alpha males from the upper strata, dressed in a constricting uniform that belies the warmth of the day.

When did there get to be so many of us that most became strangers, background, part of the scenery?  What was it like in the days when you felt you knew everybody because you did know everybody?

And I wonder, here we are, wired by thousands of years of evolution to live in a band of a couple of hundred other primates.  What happens when we live in a society larger than that by unimaginable orders of magnitude?  How do we adapt?  What bends … and what breaks?

About William Robb

William Robb, AKA OtherWill - no not the Will you are thinking of just now, that other one - is the main contributor to this blog
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