Law in the Internet Society

Three Phases of Human Sociality

Elliott Ash

A three-phase model of human social interaction is presented:

  • Phase 1: Prehistoric tribal/familial communities
  • Phase 2: Market economies
  • Phase 3: The internet

A key difference between the phases is how social environments are organized and how much control the individual has over his or her social environment.

In Phase 1, social networks are organized around genes. Interactions exist between relatives, close relatives, and mates. The individual has little to no control over his social environment.

In Phase 2, social networks are organized geographically. The emergence of civilized behavior allows economic and social transaction with the members of everyone in one's geographic community. The individual has significantly greater control over his social environment--especially in cities. But he is still restricted geographically, so finding and entering the optimal social environment is still very costly.

In Phase 3, social networks are organized conceptually. The internet enables unmediated social connection between any individual. Geography no longer meaningfully restricts the range of possible social partners, so communities organize around information: e.g., ideas, habits, and tastes. The costs faced by an individual of finding and entering the optimal social environment are reduced to almost nothing. Moreover, if the optimal social environment doesn't yet exist, creating it is possible at a trivial cost. Biological and other physical characteristics no longer influence the construction of relationships. Stereotyping individuals must be done by analyzing grammar and syntax rather than appearance and accent.

The instruments of social control change drastically between the different phases.

In Phase 1, the social order is maintained by reciprocal maintenance of social norms among small tribes through physical punishment or social banishment of deviants, triggered by evolutionarily conserved sociomoral-emotion mechanisms.

In Phase 2, legal systems develop, where a centralized state authority with a monopoly on violence ensures a cooperative social environment by deterring harmful behavior. This system is costly, but it is a small price compared to the economic benefits derived from peaceful coexistence and transaction with a large number of individuals.

In Phase 3, the legal system remains, but it is of reduced importance. Individuals have full control over the character of their social environments, so they no longer need state protection (especially from physical violence). Market actors and anarchistic groups develop effective technological safeguards to protect individuals from commercial crimes, including fraud. Widespread encryption technology makes government regulation of electronic transactions prohibitively expensive.

In the later phases, emotions increasingly lose their importance for enforcement of social norms and the punishment of deviance. As the range of social partners increases, deviance becomes normalized as subcommunities develop. In the cities of Phase 2, those subcommunities can develop around most deviant subcultures. In Phase 3, deviance no longer exists. We might not be invisible to the government? , but our online activities are usually invisible to those in our geographic community.

Conceptualizations of personhood evolve. In Phase 1, out-groups are dehumanized. In Phase 2, personhood is extended to all humans (and sometimes to pets). In Phase 3, physical indicia of humanness are no longer evident, reducing humanness to its cognitive and communicative components. In Phase 3, computer programs that can mimic these components are subjectively indistinguishable.




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r6 - 01 Dec 2008 - 23:58:57 - ElliottAsh
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