Social Distance: An Anthropological Perspective

Daniel Cring | February 2, 2021 | Leave a Comment

Earth from the moon

With the current pandemic of Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) there has  been a lot of discussion about Social Distancing in order to slow the transmission  rate between people. And in fact this particular virus may have originated from  humans being in close contact with animals like bats or the Pangolin (zoonoses).  These viral diseases including the common coronaviruses (alpha coronaviruses) are  known as Density Dependent Diseases (DDD). 

We’re being advised to avoid crowds, but nobody (to the best of our knowledge) is  advising us to avoid “making” crowds. We need to “think outside the pyramid”  and recognize the singular most important problem facing humankind – the  common dominator is global human overpopulation.

The Human Species is a paradox – we evolved to be the most social mammal (the  evolution of language qualifies that statement). Our social cooperation kept our  ancestors from becoming extinct in the East African woodlands like the  australopithecines. We have a Social Imperative* to make and live in social  groups, but these were small groups where every individual was known cooperation was the norm while competition was not, because it could be  potentially disruptive to the group. 

However, after the development of plant domestication around 10,000 years ago,  human population densities increased to the extent that humans had to adapt by  creating social, religious, and political structures in order to minimize competition  and disruptions. Social competition became the “new normal” creating ranking  within the group, and stratification between groups. Nonetheless, over the past  millennia, disruptions and violence have been increasing. These  include xenophobia* in all of its manifestations, and of course violence in all of its  manifestations. 

Humans are not naturally competitive and violent, and it’s not natural for humans  to harm other humans. So humans try to avoid stress by using “social distancing”  which has been, and is still being used when it’s employed in war and genocide  (dehumanization). And of course that helps us to understand the phenomenon of polarization including political and economic polarization. The human world  has become so crowded that we actively seek “social distancing” from others – even  to the point of fictionalizing differences (aka stereotyping). Crowding stress is a  perception tailored by culture and personality. So while we voluntarily congregate  in incredibly large crowds, in other situations where we feel a loss of control,  crowding stress may ensue. 

The phenomenon known as “tribalism” can be explained as A.F.C. Wallace’s  “revitalization movement”, an effort by a people when confronted with stressful  situations, try to go back in time in order to distance themselves from stress.  Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again” could  be understood in this context. 

Machiavelli understood how crowding stress and negative emotions can be used  for political gain. And today we see many of the world’s leaders use hate, fear, and  loathing in order to motivate their political base. This phenomenon is seen in the “populist” and nationalist movements worldwide. And they are increasing across  the political spectrum.

Global human overpopulation is a genuine pandemic. It is the factor in anthropogenic  climate change, density dependent diseases (DDD), and Density Dependent  Social Pathologies (DDSP*). The meaning of life is reproduction, so it would be difficult to limit it, but we do have a choice: either voluntary limits or let Nature do  it. The current CoV-19 pandemic will fade, new viral pandemics will emerge, and  social competition, xenophobia, and violence will continue to increase, unless we  as a species recognize the common denominator: global human overpopulation. 

*Our hypothesis, The Social Imperative and the social consequences of human  overpopulation.

*Xenophobias– social discrimination based on sex, gender, age, religion, ethnicity,  Language and dialects, sexual orientation, political worldview, sports, “race”, etc. 

* DDSP including social competition (ranking and stratification) and increasing  xenophobias.

Daniel Cring is a retired anthropologist after studying, researching, and teaching the four-field approach of Boasian Anthropology for the last 27 years at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Daniel has taught 15 different preparations at UL-Lafayette including “Race” and Racism, Forensic Anthropology, Primatology, Medical Anthropology, and Human Ecology. American Anthropology’s four-field approach offers a holistic perspective on the human experience.

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