Thanksgiving is the day you default to family. At least it was when I was growing up. People just show up out of the blue and when you’re only eight years old and you only just met these people its really hard to keep track of them. I have no idea what half of my relatives’ names are now and I’m 33.
So you just default to assuming everyone you meet on Thanksgiving is family. Everyone I see on the train is in my family.
But you don’t need to know your relatives’ names or your friends names because you can get all that information from the internet. Just keep browsing your friends list until you find their face, then you have their name.
I know you’ve all done that.
People used to have to memorize that stuff. Think of how much brain space is freed up now to have imaginary relationships with movie stars and politicians.
Because that’s what we’re doing. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that people can only keep track of around 150 people. That is, you know how 150 different people will interact with you and with each other. Later studies upped this number to 231, but that’s not as sexy and round a number, so 150 is still the common wisdom.
That’s the level of community we evolved at. We were once only tribes, numbering a maximum of 150 or 231. When we got bigger than that, some of us split off and formed a new tribe.
150 doesn’t sound all that big, but you are constantly keeping track of how those people would all interact with each other. Think of it: you can probably easily imagine how your aunt and your college roommate, who have never met each other, would interact if they met. The number of relationships you are tracking is actually 150 to the 150th, which is a VERY large number of interpersonal combinations.
But, you say, “I have more than 150 friends on Facebook right now.” Right. What you’re doing is sharing out friend slots. Four people can share a slot as long as you only think about them one-quarter of the usual time.
That’s what my distant relatives were like for me: one-fourth of a person each. They were obviously important, my parents acted as if they were, but I never, ever saw them. It was hard to reserve space in my brain for them, especially when I had to memorize every comic book hero and villain and imagine how they would all interact with each other and with me, when I got my superpowers.
Now its the real world. We all have personal relationships with Obama and Bush, for example. We probably all hate one and like the other, but they take up slots. You can imagine how each person you know would interact with both Obama and Bush. I sure as hell know what all of my friends and family think of each of them, because now, they are part of our tribe.
We’re all one tribe on Thanksgiving.
And yet, and yet, we can’t quite get our tiny ape heads around accepting everyone in the world as part of the tribe. I’m telling you now that they are. That’s the inevitable destination we’ve been wading towards since we left the trees.
The secret to world peace is to realize that we’re all in the same tribe. We just need to share out our friend slots on a greater scale.
Take 6 of your 150 friend slots and sub-divide them out around the world. You can still reserve 144 for your friends and family.
There are roughly 6 billion people you don’t know. Give each of those people one one-billionth of a friend slot. They can share.
The dying people in Somalia and Afghanistan and Detroit are all in the tribe. The rich people in New York and London and New Delhi are all in the tribe.
We’re all in the tribe. Stop killing us, everyone. Everyone, stop killing us.
Each of us is now responsible for the life of everyone. Be a responsible adult. No more war for us, us eager murderers of aliens with different skin colors or ideas.
End it all now. I’m talking to everyone. We are directly responsible for all the people your government kills. I’m a murderer. So are you. End it. Stop killing with war and pollution and greed.
It’s Thanksgiving. Default to family.
Part three will be cheerier.