Visualizing the Fabric of Society

Margaret Thatcher famously once said:

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

For which she was not forgiven by a lot of people.

I think that what she meant was that there was no such thing as society, separate and apart from the individual people in it. Take away the individual people in it, and you’ll not be left with an “empty society” like an empty box: you’ll be left with nothing at all. For the people are the society.

Trained as a chemist, Margaret Thatcher probably saw society as composed of atomic individuals. But as a chemist she would also have known that atoms bond with other atoms to form compounds. Atoms become tied together in all sorts of ways. And so do the atomic humans in human society, when they form friendships, are joined in marriage, volunteer for military service, and so on. Coming up on 5 years ago, in Our Broken Society I wrote:

a community is really nothing but the sum of the connections between its individual members.

I still think this way. And recently I’ve been thinking about it a bit more. And thinking that, if the ties between people are drawn as lines on a map, a little village with about 250 people in it might look something like:


Each node in this grid represents an individual person, and the ties each has with others are drawn as blue lines. And in this little village, everyone has ties with 6 other people, except for the people at the edges of the village, who may only have ties to 3 other people. The ties may be ties of kinship or friendship or business partnership. So this particular little village might be thought of as a fairly cohesive community. And it would be even more cohesive if everyone had 20 or 30 friends or family in the village.

The blue ties represent bonds of attraction. But you might notice that, dotted around the edge of the village there are a few red ties. These might be thought of as a repulsion between two people who don’t much like each other.

In fact, the entire network of ties within the village is in dynamic motion, with people moving apart or coming together, and being pulled this way and that by multiple ties of attraction and repulsion.

And this sort of community network of ties also acts to keep people in their place, so that if anyone “gets out of line”, they’ll soon get pulled back into line by everyone else, particularly in a small and cohesive community like a little village.

society0But periodically, there may be events that tear communities apart. When I was in Spain a few years ago, staying in a little village not much bigger than the one above, I asked how Spain had become divided  in 1936 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, and was told that not only communities but also families had been torn apart.

On the right I show how an initially cohesive community might be torn apart, as firstly the community is strongly agitated, and then torn apart as half the community goes one way, and half the other way, and ties of friendship or kinship are stretched to breaking point.

And I think that smoking bans act in the same fashion, breaking the bonds that bind people together, as smokers are “exiled to the outdoors.” It’s not only that it’s been my personal experience, but also that there’s some further evidence of the divisive effect of smoking bans.

I’m not claiming that societies are explosively torn apart by smoking bans. Clearly they’re not. But I am claiming that the entire fabric of society is weakened by them (and in this approach, the “fabric of society” becomes visible). For all too often, as history teaches, wars start when societies become divided.

Smokers and nonsmokers will end up hating each other.

Earlier this week, a professor caught me smoking near the bike racks between two East Bank buildings. He shook his head at me. I shook mine back. He ran down an entire flight of stairs and through two sets of double doors to inform me that I could not smoke on campus. Duh, I knew that. Why else would I be hiding by the bike racks? I looked him in the eyes, put my cigarette out on my bike frame, and cycled away, butt-hurt and vengeful.

The university has put the responsibility of enforcing the smoking ban in the hands of students and faculty, which means we’ve got a bunch of wannabe dictators running around campus, getting off on the opportunity to yell at people for breaking rules. If the U administrators had a sit-down chat with the history department, they might remember that this is how wars start — docile wars, in which ammo consists of cigarette butts and snide remarks, but wars nonetheless.

P.S. You may wonder how I managed to produce the images above. Well, I used my orbital simulation model to build “communities” of point masses in space, tied together with springs, and then spun and pulled them until they flew apart. The blue springs are those in tension, and the red springs are the ones in compression. It only took me an afternoon to get it all working. And I’m now wondering how far this analogue model can be usefully extended. Might people’s political orientation be modelled as the direction and speed of their motion? So that a society in which some people are right wing are those heading rightward, and people who are left wing are those heading leftward?  And might cults be described as people being strongly attracted towards charismatic gurus (or rock stars)?




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15 Responses to Visualizing the Fabric of Society

  1. Tony says:

    Nigel Farage is not happy with the modern puritans:
    Around 16:38 into the video.

    • Frank Davis says:

      That was interesting.

      For those who haven’t seen it, it’s Nigel Farage angry after being told to stop smoking on some outside terrace.

      I know that Nigel Farage hates smoking bans. But he doesn’t speak up about them very often. And when he does, as on this occasion, he’s slightly apologetic about smoking. “We’re not saying that smoking is good,” he says, as he taps his cigarette out of the car window (presumably because there are no ashtrays inside).

      He’s pretty well focused on Europe, but he hasn’t really quite focused on smoking bans yet, it seems to me.

      • carol2000 says:

        It was just after a banquet, and they stepped outside for fresh air. He retorted, “What’s wrong, isn’t the ceiling high enough?” And about the smoking bans: “It’s a symbol of getting the state off our back.” He doesn’t get that they’ve been committing scientific fraud, big time.

    • carol2000 says:

      Here’s a quote from before 16:38: “You can’t put a cigarette paper between the two main parties.”

  2. Some French bloke says:

    “And might cults be described as people being strongly attracted towards charismatic gurus?”

    If this proposition be true, then the TC cult has to be a major exception to the rule: according to most of the comments they’ve been attracting here, its most prominent exponents strike as being exceptionally un-charismatic : “her default expression is what anthropologists call ‘chewing on a wasp'”, “A face you’d never tire of slapping”, “If only she could get rid of that ‘I just trod in some dog shit while I was sucking a lemon expression'”, or Carol’s recent remark about one ‘Zorba the Quack’: “People mistake him for a woman all the time, and he goes “honk, honk, honk” like a silly goose when he laughs.”

  3. waltc says:

    Over here in the not-so-United States, we are balkanizing ourselves in countless ways, left v right, rich v poor, once again race v race, PC v non-PC, and yes of course, smokers v …come to think of it v Almost Everyone else, That, because you don’t know who you’re dealing with till the moment you pull out a cigarette, and even the nons who aren’t ants are likely to eye you as someone vaguely beyond the pale while you’re forever newly forced into “May I…” and “Do you mind…?” which loosely translates into ” May I be ” and ” Do you mind if I’m myself?” while the inner voice mutters “If you do, fuck you.” No, there’s no explosion; it’s more like the effect of constant low grade earthquake tremors that weaken the ground that everyone stands on till one day–cave-in.

    The comments on the war story link –aside from the contributions of Harley and our friend of many names (herein History 32) — are presumably from college students and their knee jerk brainwashed spoutings jar me deeply and surely do prove Emily’s point about incited hated.

  4. When I look back 20-30 years, society appeared to be like your first diagram. Even during my seven years of living in Harrow, which has a huge Indian population and three years in Catford, S.E. London where there are many of Afro-Caribbean ‘heritage’!

    Nowadays, society feels to me like somewhere between the second and third diagram; possibly nearer to the third. The smoking ban’s just one part. To work with children in any capacity at the church I used to attend – and all churches now – and everywhere else now – you have to be CRB-checked (it’s called something else in Scotland, of course). Everyone is a suspected paedophile.

    As you’ll know, the ‘fabric’ of society has been stretched to the point that adults are often afraid to be alone with a child or teenager or give them a lift home without another adult present as a witness should any accusation follow.

    As for neighbours! What happened to them?

    “And might cults be described as people being strongly attracted towards charismatic gurus (or rock stars)?”

    Sometimes. Take Richard Dawkins. Before I was banned from his blog, it was obviously deeply disrespectful to say anything negative about him. He’s their Dalai Lama. Apparently, it’s the same on David Icke’s blog or anywhere he’s being discussed. These people talk about ‘free-thinking’ and living Godless lives, yet have cult followings and are treated as gods by many who simply cannot think for themselves.

    Actually, talking to the Dawkins’ devotees as an adversary, you quickly experience the intense hatred from a great many of them. They dare to rabbit away about religions fomenting intolerance. After years on the internet and arguing with just about everyone, there is nobody more hateful and arrogant than these people. There’s the odd nice one, usually patronising towards the poor fellow who doesn’t understand that evolution can make immensely complex biological machinery given enough time.

    Generally, I think cults develop because people are desperately looking for the truth and for meaning in their lives. Most cults are probably deliberate con tricks to start with, like the Mormons, which I joined because I believed it to be true rather than the devious Masonic heresy that I discovered it to be. I think that the more society breaks down, the more cults and cliques we’ll see as divide and conquer becomes more ingrained and moral relativity increases the confusion and therefore the need for some sort of order for individuals to help them feel sane, even if it means joining an insane cult which has a fabulously wealthy leader.

    Of course, that’s why it’s all being done. To break the world to re-order it under a socialist global government, like on the Fabian Society’s stained glass window I linked to a few weeks ago.

    Your diagram might look a lot more complex these days with a pulling apart into many groups and subsets as there are so many fronts being fought. Like the fake patriot groups who deal almost exclusively with inciting hatred against Muslims. Cults now aren’t into peace and love, but hatred. That’s how it seems. The hatred of the Anti-smoker; the ones calling for criminalising those of us who don’t believe the manmade climate change myth; even anti-Semitism is back because idiots in ‘Truth’ cults think Jews run the ‘New World Order’. Here in Scotland there could be lasting damage over the referendum, but I doubt too many people are that committed/obsessed on either side, especially when there are so many other people to hate!

    The diagram of society in my head is a mixed up soup of blue and red lines like some weird piece of ‘art’ nominated for the Turner Prize. A complete mess, held loosely together by the socialised institutions and laws and ripe for imploding at the time of choosing by the powers that be.

    Have a nice day anyway!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Of course, that’s why it’s all being done.

      That’s the simplest explanation. It’s all part of a vast, satanic plot. Like out of some Dennis Wheatley novel.

      But I don’t think there’s an “of course” to it. I’m more inclined to think that it’s an unfolding process, in which people are tugged this way and that, just like in my pictures of the torn “fabric of society”. We’re all getting more and more pushed and shoved, elbowed and “nudged”.

      And the worse it gets, the harder it becomes for “socialised institutions” to take control. What we’re looking at, I think, is a loss of control. The sort of loss of control that you get when a novice pilot takes over the controls of an airliner. Because novices is what these people seem to me to be. They don’t know what they’re doing. They haven’t a clue.

      • I disagree. They know exactly what they’re doing. It would be impossible to be so incompetent. Everyone is being pushed and shoved in exactly the same direction all over the world, so it is obviously being orchestrated.

        • waltc says:

          Actually, I think it’s Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” –Monkey See, Monkey Do. A fashion trend. Dutch tulips. Contagious hysteria. Then, too, those who are most receptive to it appear to be hyper-educated boomers, the western equivalent of the New Class, with exaggerated notions of their own superiority, the people who consider themselves the We as opposed to us They’s, the self-entitled Nudgers. But when I read things like the college kids’ comments on the article Frank linked to yesterday, I fear their engineering has been far too successful and that the future is one of those sci-fi dystopias managed by their clones.

        • nisakiman says:

          I’m inclined to agree with you Walt, but I do sense that there are some puppet masters up there pulling strings to nudge people / governments in the ‘right’ direction.

        • RdM says:

          A decades old influence agency, agents, campaigns, wildly successful. Directorate ? KGB Soviet…
          Let the West, Commonwealth, break themselves apart, extend it everywhere, come late & pretend.
          And demonstrate the results as a test;- they still don’t realise! Big Pharma funds, ideology extant.

  5. Cookie says:

    Why not read the whole interview where Maggie said this,

  6. Pingback: Internalised Force | Frank Davis

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