The Human Swarm – Mark W. Moffett (Summary)

Societies are powerful things. We may never travel the full length of our home nations, nor meet a tiny minority of our fellow citizens. But we may still feel a powerful connection to our society, a sense of pride at the sight of our nation’s flag, and a rush of emotions at the opening of the national anthem. Outside of our family society are the primary groups to which we pledge our loyalty; we’re willing to fight and even die for them.

In day-to-day life, we give little thought to the societies of which we’re a part. But humankind’s organizations into societies over thousands of years has profoundly influenced our beliefs and the ways in which we behave.

In this summary we will cover:

  • Why three-months-old babies display signs of discriminating racially;
  • How ants works harmoniously and anonymously with each other;
  • Why immigration set us humans apart from our chimpanzee relatives

Knowing your neighbor is a big advantage for most animals, but it also limits how big societies can get

Ever taken a job as a babysitter? Then you’ve got something in common with meerkats. Meerkats care for infants outside their immediate families, too – and the even go the extra mile while doing it, tidying each other’s burrows and offering delicious insect snacks to the babies in their care.

Just like humans, meerkats live together in societies, where they benefit from mutual cooperation. Many other vertebrates do, too – societies such as those of wolves, or birds like the Florida scrub jay, are based entirely around cooperative child rearing. Cubs in a wolf pack even help their parents and other adults raise newborns.

Cooperation can also bring powerful benefits when it comes to protection and security. Living in a society means more eyes and ears for spotting rivals and threats, and more paws and claws for fighting back against them. Elephants for example, work together to safeguard their young by forming a shield to protect them against lions while horses encircle their foals and kick outward when wolves approach.

So society offers benefits to its members – but these benefits are offered only to that exclusive, bounded group, and its obvious to group members when an outsider is in their midst. Vervet monkeys in Africa, for example, can tell not only when individuals are foreign to their group – they can even tell to which tribe the foreigner belongs!

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