Upsizing Social Friction: Energetic Considerations in Social Dynamics

How To Keep Yourself Together – Once More With (Semi) Formality!


This article is not based on scientific experiment. It contains diagrams and numbers meant only to illustrate general concepts, which are merely hypothesized as pertaining to the operation of human society. Ideas about how to test the hypotheses laid out here are welcome.


Hierarchical societal grouping is a stable configuration for resource-processing intelligent agents (such as human beings and other animals).


a. Hierarchical societal grouping results in reduction of “social friction” energy losses of individuals, through upsizing and outward movement of social friction to the boundary of the group, which leads to higher survival probability of individuals in the group.

b. Aggregated, co-ordinated, aligned and specialized effort allows invention of new complex, more energy efficient living processes within the group.

c. The hierarchical topology of the arrangement yields stable manageability of processes essential to the operation and continuation of the group.

Use of Energy By Individuals Without Society

Tribes protect members and conserve energy for survival

Kingdoms provide even more safety and energy conservation

(larger image)

At the next level of detail:

a. Hierarchical societal grouping reduces per-capita frictional losses of energy to social conflict, by aligning the activity of members of the group via enforced agreements on constraints on individual behaviour; that is, the rule of law, pressure to adhere to social conventions, and development of a shared ethos, within the group. Social friction, therefore, tends to be upsized in the sense that, in the ideally aligned group, it occurs only at the border of the social group, where the group impinges on other groups and may have interests that conflict with those of the other group.

b. Aggregation and co-ordination of effort of individuals within the group allows the invention of new efficient resource extraction and utilization processes, enabling the group and its members to more efficiently use their environment to ensure their survival and growth, to more efficiently defend against environmental threats and other groups, and to transform parts of the environment into subprocesses of the group as a living process.

As the number of individuals and co-operating sub-groups increases, the vocabulary (alphabet and grammar) of process combination increases. Complex processes use hierarchical co-ordination and constraint to corrall together process elements, leading to innovations like supply and distribution chains, scientific and technical process development, and specialized agricultural or manufacturing processes.

The result of innovative combinations of a large vocabulary of societal metabolic processes (i.e. economic activity) can be more efficient than any smaller simpler subsistence process could be.

c. Stable Manageability – Hierarchical social grouping is efficiently manageable (each manager manages only a relatively small and simple sub-domain of the whole complex system, requiring the manager to use only a simple network of communications, and making such management feasible). As well, hierarchical social group activity coordination accumulates surplus resources toward managers (more rewards going toward managers with responsibility over larger, higher-tier domains) yielding stability of the hierarchical co-ordination (management) regime if managers are self-interested.

The consequences of a. b. and c. combined:

Each individual group member must pay a group membership tax, in order to support the functioning of c. hierarchical management and policing of the group’s activities. This tax may be a real monetary payment toward the next levels up in the group control hierarchy, as in modern human societies, or it may be only a metaphor for the opportunity cost the individual pays by constraining their behaviour to conform to the group’s norms and laws. Outlaws can make a good living, for a time, but the law eventually “gets its man”.

But in a successful form of society, a. (friction reduction on survival activity), and b. (emergent efficient complex regulated economic processes), combine to produce a tamed, secure, and “edible”, “shoppable” environment for the individual member; an environment in which they can achieve increments of increased survival probability at considerably less marginal energy expenditure than if they were not cocooned within the society.

Hierarchical groups are stable when Energy Savings (a. + b.) are greater than Energy Tax(c. flow of energy in central direction for group maintenance)

If this is the case, then being in the hierarchically organized group conserves the individual member’s energy so they will have more to use for basic survival, health, welfare, reproduction, and guardianship of offspring. Being in the hierarchical group is beneficial, in terms of survival probability, to each conforming member. From an evolutionary perspective, belonging to the group, and acting according to its constraints, is adaptive.

Explore posts in the same categories: philosophy, sociology

One Comment on “Upsizing Social Friction: Energetic Considerations in Social Dynamics”

  1. Jude Abrams Says:

    Hi Eric
    I’ve been re-reading your essays. I like the way you have broken down social relationships and superimposed hypothetical mathematical measurements which clarify the dynamics. Good work.Very useful.

    Are you compiling these essays into a book form?

    Jude in Powell River

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