The Rapidly Declining Power Of Group Membership

Humans beings, as a species, are often defined by the ability to form and work together in groups. Therefore group membership has been extremely important throughout almost all of human history. I have previously written a few posts about the level of individual atomization seen today and possible reasons behind that trend- I have not written much (or anything at all) about the other side of the equation.

While most perks of group membership have faded away, the attitudes of those in such groups towards those on the periphery or outsiders have not changed.

To understand what I am talking about, one must first understand the effect of group membership on human behavior. Humans beings are such conformists precisely because group membership was linked to survival itself- for most of human history. Consequently seeking membership of, and maintaining status within, such groups have occupied a considerable part of our waking hours.

All that talk about being cool, popular and whatever else in school is linked to this urge to belong by conforming to some invented bullshit. So is the willingness to go through fraternity initiations or dress and act in a manner linked to your “profession”. Similarly the whole marriage, picket fence house, minivan and after-school soccer practice is due to nothing more than the need to conform to some arbitrary bullshit.

To keep it short, most people do a lot of stupid and self-destructive things to be accepted by a group.

They do so only because they believe that there is some value in group acceptance or membership. The human need to belong to a group is not driven by instincts like ants, bees, birds, dogs or wolves. The human desire to belong to a group is driven by the often unsaid expectation of future gain from membership in that group.

The desire to belong to a group has been used by people throughout human history as a means to exploit, indoctrinate, abuse and profit from people desperate to join groups- religion, activity or lifestyle based. They primarily preyed on the more vulnerable peripheral members or outsiders, did indeed work for a long time. However a set of events, some very recent and some not so recent, have altered the possibility matrix in ways that upset the ecosystem which allowed these scams to occur.

Those factors are-

1. The most obvious challenge to group acceptance scams is the continued survival of peripheral members and outcasts. For most of human history- the degree of group isolation, technological limitations of physical travel and information spread along with the nature of work meant that groups could enforce their membership by killing or isolating peripheral members and outcasts.

That is no longer the case today as the nature of society, work and the world itself allows a level of anonymity and independence from group members that was unthinkable even 30 years ago. Therefore disillusioned peripheral ex-members and outcasts will be around to warn everybody else of that groups true intentions and modus operandi. This hurts the operating style of groups who cannot get enough new and devoted peripheral members to con and exploit until they see the scam.

Today few people believe in loyalty to employers, religions, marriage and other causes because they have all seen too many ex-members who have been burnt by those groups. Which brings us the second issue..

2. The decrease in median fertility means that there are just not enough spare morons to abuse, exploit and kill without consequence. In many cases, there are not enough new recruits- period. Ponzi-type schemes always collapse when they run out of a constant supply of new naive members to abuse and exploit.

Now factor in the issues about meeting, seeing or hearing about disillusioned peripheral ex-members and outcasts. The result is that a whole bunch of naive newcomers are transformed into cynical insiders before they could be exploited. The net effect is a substantial decrease in the efficiency and productivity of the group membership scam.

It is not a surprise that war become far less popular when severely injured and often disfigured and traumatized war veterans started returning home instead of dying in or shortly after the wars- which brings us to the efficiency and ease of information search, retrieval and sharing..

3. The ubiquitous presence and availability of the internet has changed the way people voice their opinion, educate themselves and communicate with each other. It is now supremely hard for groups to keep their naive peripheral members in a state of ignorance. People can find out all the dirt about anything or anyone of consequence with ease. Even and especially stuff that would not be the topic of so-called polite conversation is freely discussed and dissected on the intertubes.

Furthermore the internet creates umpteen impromptu communities with varying degrees of permanence that allow knowledge and ideas to be pooled, shared and developed and cross-fertilized. It also provides the very group membership that many who were burned by the real life group seek- without making any demands or expecting much conformity. and that brings us to the synergistic effects of an ever-increasing fraction of society playing by its own rules.

4. Throughout human history, group membership was desirable because people saw at least a few others rise up in position through the ranks. It was that small to medium possibility of success which ultimately kept peripheral members striving for acceptance and willing to accept abuse and exploitation. In addition to that, the peripheral members often had no concept of living a worthwhile life other than as a member of that group.

The last 20-30 years have seen a massive change to that old choice matrix. The very obvious presence and increasing visibility of peripheral ex-members and outcasts have created a feedback loop causing even more peripheral members to dessert their group. This has made it even harder for the core members of those groups to sustain, let lone improve, their relative position.

What I have said in this post is true for every type of group from middle- and high-school cliques, college fraternities to corporations, communities and nations.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. P Ray
    February 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    A lot like the PUAs getting their fresh supply of AFCs cut off, because the MRAs got to them first to change them to MGTOWs.
    Sometimes, through the vagaries of fate, justice gets done.

  2. February 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    A very perceptive article, Dissention.
    However, I think you grossly underestimate the genetic component.

    After all, you yourself remark that “Humans beings are such conformists precisely because group membership was linked to survival itself- for most of human history.”
    Now, “survival itself” is quite strongly related to reproductive success and gene propagation, would you not agree? And provides the required evolutionary selection pressure.

    That is not to say that the remarkable and unique imaginatory capacity of our species plays no part.
    Indeed, imagination modulates all aspects of human behavior. Even such things as our unusual potential for such exquisite joy of mating. Ain’t we the lucky ones?

    Another consideration which can be added is the importance of warfare in group bonding.
    As the species has become less warlike, the reduced contribution of this component has also favored the dissolution or dispersion of the group and favored atomicity.

    For a wider take on such matters you might like to check out my last book, an informal and very broad take on evolutionary processes, “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?” It is a free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website

  3. February 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Just one query on something I just noticed towards the end of your article:

    Why do you think peripheral members of the group hand out puddings?

    :>)

  4. Matt Strictland
    February 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Healthy groups provide a variety of social benefits to their members company of like minded peers, status, and sometimes material benefits as well. This even applies to groups that we as modern people would regard as repulsive or coercive BTW, not just the voluntary associations that were so common in Americas past.

    Group membership is of course declining for many today

    Population demography and information and a certain cultural acceptance of non conformism certainly play their part however is mainly related to the loss of utility of groups more than anything else. Humans are not by any means economic animals but they do need fairness and all take and no give means, no reason to participate.

  5. Nestorius
    February 14, 2012 at 1:44 am

    “communities”

    It depends on which types of communities. Communities based on ideology will cease to exist once their ideologies disappear. Communities based on genealogy like families, tribes and real nations, will still exist as long as their names and genealogies are preserved, regardless of profit or internal loyalty which might not even exist.

    “nations”

    Modern nation-states are nothing but a group of persons binded by one government/empire. Let the empire fall or become fragmented and the nation will cease to exist. For example, Syria doesn’t exist now, because its original Asadite empire has become fragmented; Egypt still exists because its original Naserite empire still exists.
    No wonder ‘state’ is sometimes used in the same sense as ‘government’.

  1. February 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm
  2. February 19, 2012 at 2:02 am
  3. July 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm
  4. October 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm
  5. October 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm
  6. October 31, 2013 at 10:14 pm
  7. June 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

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