"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Beginnings of Human Social Organization in the Group Exchange of Small Talk Information: A Positive Look at Mainstream News Media as the Gossip Experts ala Yuval Noah Harari

We have been very critical of mainstream news media in our past postings, especially in their choice and treatment of "news" items, many of which we would put into the category of "small talk" or "gossip", an interactive form of communication that some say accounts for as much as 75% of daily human speech.

We quote Horst Müller in Spektrum der Wissenschaft 10/1998, page 108 in "Klatsch und Tratsch. Wie der Mensch zur Sprache fand.", a book review of  Sebastian Vogel's translation of Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language.:
"Nach Dunbar handeln etwa 75 Prozent des täglichen Gesprächs-aufkommens eines Menschen von "Klatsch und Tratsch", also Inhalten, die sich im wesentlichen mit der sozialen Interaktion von echten oder vermeintlichen Gruppenmitgliedern beschäftigen."
 Translation of that phrase by Google Translate:
"According to Dunbar, about 75 percent of a person's daily conversations are about 'gossip,' [viz. "small talk"] meaning content that essentially deals with the social interaction of real or supposed group members." [text in brackets added by LawPundit]
Up to now, we have been of the opinion that the mass of humans prefers also to read banal "blah blah" material. Indeed, we still think that to be the case, but there may be a reason for humankind's preferences.

We have been reconsidering the matter in view of a very interesting journalistic piece by Peter Reinhart, deputy editor-in-chief of the Trierischer Volksfreund titled "Der Anfang von allem" in German.

Reinart's remarks in the Volksfround Forum focus on the presumed beginnings of complex human social organization. Such beginnings are arguably found in interactive communication via the group exchange of information, especially news of the general "goings-on" of fellow humanity, i.e. who is doing what, where, and with whom.  In short, the banal "news" of everyday life. This can be in the form of daily conversation, and, of course, via written material.

Reinhart writes that people are most interested in the doings of other people, especially those not too close to home and in higher social strata, i.e. "out there" in the bigger world. That interest has to do with survival optimization. Knowing "what is doing" is essential knowledge.

The focus is essentially on what has traditionally been called "gossip" (German "Klatsch und Tratsch") and "small talk", an information exchange that in earlier days took place on e.g. the market square, and, according to Reinhart, is an active form of communication that is at the root of modern societal organization in all of its forms. This is definitely a hypothesis worth thinking about.

Reinhart writes at  the Volksfreund Forum as excerpted below (one can translate the quoted text into English or another language of choice at Google Translate):
"Nichts interessiert den Menschen so sehr wie der Mensch. Was der nette Nachbar treibt, ist und bleibt privat. Öffentlich verhandelt werden von alters her die Heldentaten der Reichen, Schönen und Berühmten, ihr Leben, ihr Sterben. Die Irrungen und Wirrungen, die Höhenflüge und Abstürze, die Eskapaden und Skandale. Geld. Macht. Sex.
...
Nachrichten aus der Abteilung Klatsch und Tratsch. Die einen mögen sie, die anderen mögen sie nicht. Aber wir brauchen sie, erstaunlich genug, alle. Wie kommt’s?

Rückblende, vor siebzigtausend Jahren: Der Homo sapiens ist ein Herdentier und die Kooperation in der Gruppe entscheidend für das Überleben und die Fortpflanzung, sagt der bestsellernde Universalhistoriker Yuval Noah Harari. Dazu reicht es nicht aus, zu wissen, wo sich Löwen und Büffel aufhalten. Es ist viel wichtiger zu wissen, wer in der Gruppe wen nicht leiden kann, wer mit wem schläft, wer ehrlich ist und wer andere beklaut. [link added by LawPundit]

Mit Hilfe von verlässlichen Informationen über zuverlässige Mitmenschen konnten die Sapiens ihre Gruppen stark erweitern, enger miteinander zusammenarbeiten und komplexere Formen der Zusammenarbeit entwickeln, bis hin zu modernen Staaten."
Is Harari right in his fundamental hypothesis? Was interactive "small talk" group communication a significant factor in the evolution of human society and is it integral to developing modern complex forms of interaction and cooperation?

We are still thinking about it.