What do our nation’s Founders and monkeys have in common? An innate understanding about the value of community, small communities. Our Founders knew that people best governed themselves when they were in small groups. Hence their insistence that the governing power must generate from the small, thriving, communicative, socially interactive, self-governing nucleus.
The people within these groups knew best what they needed, knew best how to make it happen and knew best how to take care of one another. This was the America about which French historian Alexis de Tocqueville raved. He marveled about how the American people helped each other, that they built their own churches, schools, and community gathering places; they helped each other with their problems. To ask the federal government for assistance was a notion not even contemplated. In a nutshell, the small local communities were self-reliant, independent - free. The federal government? They were in Washington, D.C. They had enumerated powers; they were kept in check and balance.
A relatively new anthropological theory has revealed that the magic number for efficient communities is 150. This number has instinctively been utilized throughout history. Western military units have always numbered approximately 150 and ironically, under the last term of Washington’s presidency, when the United States Senate and House reached approximately 150 representatives, the nexus of the political body officially split into two definitive parties.
How do monkeys fit into this? It started with Robin Dunbar’s graduate research project in the 1970’s. He studied the social life of a type of Ethiopian monkey, the gelada. He found it curious that when the gelada herd reached a certain number, they would split in smaller groups. They inherently seemed to know that governing themselves in larger groups was not efficient. What dictated the number? Mr. Dunbar published his theory in 1992. It had to do with the size of the neocortex, the part of the brain that dictates conscious thought. The bigger the neocortex, the bigger the size of the group before it split. The size of the human neocortex warrants the number 150. According to the Bloomberg Business article, Mr. Dunbar wrote of his famous Number, “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us.”
The Dunbar Number legitimizes with scientific theory what our ancestors already knew. Big numbers of people, the masses, led to confusion, chaos, vulnerability and inefficiency. Our Founders established a system of government where the power generated from the small clan outward, not from the big, federated government inward. They knew that not only would it be impossible for the federal government to adequately and efficiently govern the communities but that by doing so it would squash the innate genius, capability and engine of the community, and consequentially, the ingenuity of America.
Ever wonder why you feel so powerless regarding your influence over your supposed self-governing republic? Do you feel that your voice means nothing? Do you feel that your efforts are powerless to affect change? This is because the federal government is simply too massive, regulating what is to be done and how to do it, better yet, that they should do it. As a result, communities that were once independent and flourishing are now neutered and dependent. The people have forgotten how to be self-efficient, relying on the government to do it. We the people have forgotten how to be a self-sustaining community. Our knee jerk reaction used to be, “We will do it or our churches will do it.” Now it is, “Let the federal government do it.” “Why isn’t the federal government doing it?” Our apathy and atrophy has proven that the federal government is not the answer, it is the problem, truly.
This is one of the reasons why the majority of Americans have lost their feeling of belonging, independence, vigor and empowerment. Most Americans don’t even realize that city and state governments should be more robust and more important than the federal government. That era is like a foggy remembrance of yesteryear.
The answer for restored liberty and self-reliance lies in the Dunbar Number. It is time to get back to basics, to get back to small groups, to assemble, petition, stand up and speak up. It is time to help our neighbors. It is time to help ourselves. It is time to reclaim our communities from the clutches of big government. It starts with small groups with a big conscience. Independence is depending on it.
Janine Turner is an actress, author, speaker and founder/co-chair of Constituting America, a charitable foundation to educate youth and adults about the Constitution by using the arts.