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302. Progress (VIII)

Alrenous, writing at Accepting Ignorance, notes that one reason why we face our current malaise is that large-scale societies are susceptible to take over by small highly-coordinated and determined fanatical groups. The pattern has been seen many times, from the Bolsheviks to the Nazis to the woke. Everybody knows that most people are not Bolsheviks, Nazis, or woke; and yet nobody is as passionate about “ideas” as these small groups, and so the minority rules. The minority gets its way, forces the society into a delusion and causes it to crash in flames.

This problem was non-existent or more easily controllable in hunter-gather bands, composed of about one hundred people, where such small determined groups could easily be noticed and squashed; possibly there were no incentives in small hunter-gatherer bands to form tightly coordinated priestly groups—perhaps agriculture and considerable surpluses were required for a priestly-type caste to arise and convince the gullible to steal other people’s stuff through delusional lies.

We cannot go back, but it strikes me that Elon Musk’s rocket to Mars carries one hundred people; it carries a hunter-gather band into space—it carries slightly less than the 150 Dunbar faces we are optimised to recognise. I am not sure how Mars will be colonised precisely, but since the new habitats will be built underground—or must be heavily shielded in some way—I presume that the initial habitats will be small and will accommodate about one hundred people; so there will have been a return to hunter-gatherer dynamics in a technological environment.

The early Mars colonists will live in an environment similar to small towns and villages and quite different from the megacities that seem set to dominate human habitation on Earth; and, in an odd way, despite their otherwise peculiar environment, this will be more “normal” than New York or London; it will be more like our archaic environment—and without the pathologies big cities breed. Indeed, I would not be surprised if psychological health on Mars will be excellent, contrary to the expectation that the unnatural environment would produce stress. To live in small bands exploring the environment and facing existential threats is probably closer to what we humans are adapted for than to live in a vast city on Earth.

Now, perhaps the plans to colonise Mars call for these habitations to quickly form together into large city-type units; perhaps the habitations will be nearby, loosely connected to each other—that would be ideal. However the plans are carried out, what will be certain is two points: firstly, for a time the people on Mars will be spread out and quite sparse—social relations will be more akin to hunter-gather relations; secondly, once it has been demonstrated that we can colonise Mars, the principle can be applied anywhere else (within technological feasibility) and the price to do so will drop.

Landian “exit” will be easier and will become cheaper as the transport and technology is demonstrated and replicated on a mass scale. These two conditions mean that it will be possible to create societies that reduce the potential for small priestly ideological groups to seize control. In the first place, if settlements are limited to about a hundred people—effectively villages—albeit closely linked to other villages, anti-fragile social dynamics will be preserved. In the second place, it will become easier and cheaper to flee delusional priests; not everyone will flee, but for those who wish to do so the possibility will be open. Given that space is a very big place, the possibilities for escape are effectively unlimited; and, indeed, even the entire planet Mars itself will initially provide opportunities to move away from malfunctional social groups, if such reestablish themselves on Mars. Mars colonisation, given the environmental toughness, will at first select against people with parasitic inclinations; and priestly manipulators are just that—they will not be among the first wave to Mars, although, if colonisation proceeds quickly, they may find their way there soon enough.


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