Crowd-Sourcing the Future

“Madness is rare in individuals, but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule. ” Friedrich Nietzsche

This text appears on a refrigerator magnet on our major appliance.

It happens to be sitting on my desk just now because I wanted to quote it accurately in an ongoing email discussion with a neighbor.  He has spoken encouragingly of the “group mind” of humanity that surely will eventually do the right thing, and, along with a last-minute technological fix, save the day.

Related, I’ve read some of the early reviews of E O Wilson’s new book, the modestly-titled “The Meaning of Life.” He holds up as a primary threat to our future the notion of “tribalism” and in this way, agrees with Neitzche.

I am of two minds on this. On the one hand, the incestuous group-think of some of the vast  political tribes that wield power today (such as Wilson must intend) give me pause. They have become sequestered anti-rational anti-science self-aggrandizing aggregates that appear to have gone mad.

On the other hand, if the tribe is sufficiently small–some anthropologists suggest not more than a few hundred people–the group coheres, the group tends to work cooperatively, and things get done.

So somewhere between the autonomous self and the maddening crowd is a group-scale that works better than either extreme. There is a level of scale of human togetherness that seems best to fit our tendencies towards self and our needs of belonging.

That matter of scale is one of the things that is still possible in a community as isolated, small, and “poor” as Floyd County. Our “poorness” as someone mentioned recently, makes us less prone to excessive demands from the earth for happiness, and fosters an economy where creativity, slow pace, and small scale contribute to a healthy “sense of place.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. The small scale you mention reminds me of Stephen Gaskin’s “The Farm” commune he started in Tennessee around 1970. He recently died and I read old interviews with him, etc. in a recent “The Sun” magazine. The Farm functions still, and apparently well, with a few hundred folks.