Social business: the new Stone Age?

The future is often in the past.

Thomas Hobbes, the daddy of all modern political philosophy, was the first of many to hypothesise a “state of nature” as a base point for considering how best to organise modern civil society. In his Leviathan of 1651 he famously considered the life of flint-wielding man to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Rousseau’s response to this in his Discourse on Inequality of 1754 – in direct contrast – depicts the era as a golden age of innocence. He asserts that all modern ills stem from the first man to enclose a piece of land and claim “this is mine,” and that thereafter “all the subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decay of the species.”

These works set the practice of considering where we came from, how we got here, and where we are going next as standard philosophical fare. Given what we know today, as opposed what was known at the time the English Civil War was still kindling, it may be that Rousseau was more the anthropologist than Hobbes.

Now consider, whether as aspiration or ideal – it matters little for now –a future of organisational culture and functionality, and therefore work, that embodies some or all of the following:

  • Communities, or strong bands formed from need and numbering thirty to fifty, with up to a hundred as times require them – a richer, more effective and flexible Dunbar’s Number
  • Informal, non-designated leadership, gently steering deliberately weak and flexible structures
  • Territory and effects belonging to all, and owned by no-one
  • An absence of laws or coercive behaviour, with personal grievances resolved with a minimum of force or displays of aggression
  • No sexual division of labour in any form
  • An egalitarianism requiring minimal physical resources given the need to remain mobile, nimble and flexible
  • A reduced workload, due to the ability of the band to meet its members’ needs in more simple ways
  • A natural assumption of abundance, rather than scarcity
  • An open-source gift economy, facilitating distribution governed by social norms and custom, serving to build societal ties and obligations

They appear to be many of the cherished ingredients of the social organisation, and the wider interconnected, supportive and engaged social business community. You may therefore be forgiven for thinking it is a manifesto for London’s Silcon Roundabout, or the published philosophy of another new co-working centre.

It is in fact a sample of some of the known characteristics of the Upper Paleolithic era (or Late Stone Age), some 50,000-10,000 BC, latterly at the dawn of behavioural modernity.

At this point, it is worthy of a pause for reflection. The future is often in the past.

Back to Rousseau for a final thought. He claims in Inequality that our personal integrity has been steadily eroded by our desire to have value in the eyes of others.

What, therefore, might that say about blogging?

4 thoughts on “Social business: the new Stone Age?

  1. Superb commentary Neil. This hit many chords of the truth many willfly ignore in the creation of harmonious effective workplaces.

  2. Neil, prescient as ever. In this case, by reminding us that nothing much is new, just a constant reframing of what we want. The ‘natural assumption of abundance’ you mention applies to blogging. I’m confident that within the blogging abundance and amidst the problem-focused pundits, we will more consciously embrace the abundance in our lives, e.g., Matt Ridley on Africa

  3. Pingback: If | workessence

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