More On Groups

Continuing the thread from my last post, this week I’ve got a few more (hopefully, more coherent) thoughts on small groups. A lot of the wording here is from various Wikipedia articles; I think I’ve got enough commentary to make it “mine”.

When we talk about small groups, particularly for our (survivalist) purposes, we’re talking about small-ish “social units”. Social psychologists define these as “a number of individuals interacting with each other,” with five characteristics:

  1. Common motives and goals. For us, this would be survival–making it past the next trial or tribulation to come down the line, ideally in as good a shape as possible.
  2. An accepted division of labor/roles. Let’s face it: some folks are better at some things than others. My wife is far better with the emergency medical–she’s got the training. I’m a fair hand at construction/manufacturing. Some people are born leaders. Everybody should know their purpose in the group, and (ideally) everybody should have a backup, or two.
  3. Established status relationships/rank/dominance. I talked about this last week. A hierarchy is a must, otherwise you end up as a squabbling mob. It doesn’t have to be permanent–in fact, I recommend determining a method of changing the hierarchy as the need arises–but you do need one.
  4. Accepted norms and values, with regard to matters relevant to the group. In essence, you’ve got to have a coherent “reason to be a group.” You also need a goal, or a set of them–and a list (even a largely unwritten one) of things you are and aren’t willing to do to accomplish them.
  5. Development of accepted sanctions (punishment–or praise) if and when the norms are violated (or respected). You’ve got your “moral code;” what do you do if one of the group breaks it? How do you react if someone goes off the reservation, so to speak?

They also list a trio of sources for “intragroup conflict”–what we laypeople would call “infighting”:

  1. Task conflict.
  2. Process conflict.
  3. Personal conflict.

In order, these are essentially: disagreement on the goals, disagreement on the means to achieve the goals, and disagreements between individuals in the group for other reasons. Unfortunately, there’s no one “magic bullet” for solving any of them. Being the liberal that I am, I prefer peaceably talking them through and coming to consensus; being the realist, I understand that now and then, problems need to be solved by fiat, as they arise.  There are books and articles on this by the boatload; a little research would certainly not be amiss.

Another thing to think about when looking at groups is the size of the group. Different people here are going to have different ideas. Look at the “mainstream” preppers out there–you’ve got everything from individualists, to the folks with the luxury underground condos for them, their families, and a hundred or so of their closest (richest?) friends.

I believe I’ve mentioned Dunbar’s Number before: the maximum number of social relationships that an individual can keep track of; it’s generally cited as “about 150,” or the size of a village. Any more than this, and we humans tend to self-segregate into smaller “villages”. It’s also been postulated that we can only maintain a cohesive group that size if we’re under a substantial threat–i.e., subsistence survival.  We’ll call that the upper limit, then, and consider it a bit extreme.

At the other end, there’s a number associated with human memory and territoriality: Seven, plus or minus three. In essence, this is the maximum number of things the average person can put into short-term memory; this is why phone numbers are the way they are (seven digits, with a three-digit area code). Seven to ten is a pretty good small group size; too much more, and you again start developing sub-groups, and the whole thing falls apart. This is also a pretty robust number of people in terms of spreading out the “load” of learning the things needed for survival… No one person will end up needing to know it all.

All of this speaks to doing your planning well before calamity strikes. Find or form yourself a group of like-minded people, and discuss how you’ll do various things. Much of the above also imagines a TEOTWAWKI-type scenario, which (in my world-view) is a bit of an exceptional case; think about what you’ll need individually/as a family/as a group-subset, in the event of something more likely (localized disaster, etc.). But in all cases, think things through, plan things out, and get yourself at least mentally prepared.


Okay, that’s my thinking on the topic for this week.  I’ll probably come back to this again in future, as more things occur to me.  This was fun, and an interesting thought problem; does anybody else have a direction they’d like to see the discussion here go?

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About leftwingsurvivalist

I'm a survivalist and prepper with a difference!
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4 Responses to More On Groups

  1. William says:

    So glad to have found a prepper site that is not total right wing conspiracy-a-thon. Heck, even most of the apolitical sites end up getting taken over, in the comments, by the right. That kind of thing can be fun when I want to poke a bear, (I mean when they say that everyone must be individually self reliant, but that the way things are going is everyone else’s fault how can you not point out their logic lapse) but it gets tiresome too.

    With your five characteristics, I agree with them to a point, but to me they can be consolidated to just two. I mean if you do not have number 1, then you will not have 4 and 4 is going to be pretty deterministic when it comes to number 5. Also, 2 and 3 are very intertwined and then pull in 4. What I like about all of this is that it shows that nothing is fully apart or separate from anything in life. On hierarchies, it sounds like you are still trying to figure out what you want and truly think there. I feel that is a great thing. If we do not continue to think we become static, do not evolve and end up becoming only useful as fertilizer.

    One thing that I think your entire post speaks to, although not explicitly, is the difference between existing and surviving. The solo “survivalists” to me are not trying to really live, but just not die (which admittedly is a very human response) which is ultimately shortsighted. In this post, and the previous one as well, you are showing that true survival must exist in a community setting.

    I cannot remember if it is in one of his books or on his radio show, but several years ago Thom Hartmann spoke at length regarding the sizes of social groups and how it related to top down oppression by the dominator class. It turns out that with humans and chickens the size of the group that can exist in super close cooperation with a generally low level of violence is somewhere in the 100-150 range. As I recall in the same vein the maximum number of people that a person can truly know in a close/intimate/familial sense was around 25 (I think).

    • Oh, I agree with you as to compressing the “rules”–I was quoting “eminent thinkers” on group mechanics. 🙂
      Your point about “survivalists” just existing, versus thriving in a community, is one that I’ve made here–albeit, not in those words–a number of times. It’s a belief of mine that I hold quite firmly. Granted, now and again even I want everybody to “just go away”–but that’s usually temporary. Overall, we *need* others, otherwise we’re not surviving, but “just not dying”.
      I read just this week (after I posted) a good description of group sizes: Immediate family goes up to my 7 +/- 3; extended family goes out to about 25-ish; the largest group where everyone knows everyone else well enough to gossip about them is about 150 (Dunbar’s Number). Lots of different research pointing to those limits, or thereabouts.
      (Welcome, by the way!)

  2. Spencer says:

    Good to finally read something from a left leaning perspective. While I read a number of sites of “mainstream survivalists” because while I completely agree with their worldview they can be helpful in particular areas of expertise. But yeah it’s great to read about preparing for the future without reference to FEMA camps, how “those people” (read “brown people”) will cause the apocalypse.

    One thing that I keep coming back to in my thoughts of the future and how it differs from many typical preppers is they seem to mostly view themselves as one family castles, where as I see the future as one of communities sharing work.

    When I look out on my property I have 7 reasonable farming acres and 6 acres of woods and scrub. There is no way I could utilize that entire area without help without fuel and machinery. Across the road there are hundreds of acres of land currently in production for grass seed that would likely lie fallow once the need for urban lawns diminished. But in order to take advantage of these resources a lot of labor would be required. Not just the farming. Think of the horse care, blacksmiths, wood cutters, not to mention health workers, teachers, and so on. I remember reading somewhere that human beings need a minimum of 20 workers to survive as a cohesive group. This allows for specialized workers to perform crafts; below that number everyone is just trying to get enough to eat all the time.

    I think a lot of the “survivalist ” mindset is based on the myth of the frontier farmer; those rugged individuals who made due at the edge of the wilderness. But those farmers were heavily supported by the cities they left behind. From pillows to guns to barbed wire and nails the depended on equipment they could not hope to produce themselves. I think that what I like to call the “New England” model is more sustainable. Small village surrounded by farms where farmers can trade/sell excess production for specialized tools and services provided by people who do not have to be full time farmers.

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