Group Survival June 2019 • 2 minutes

One of my pet theories is that group survival is not well understood by science and further that the dynamics of group survival significantly impact daily life. My assertion is that group survival is the main source of respect, conflict, deference, dominance and success in groups of people. Much more so than other factors people seem to attribute success to. And that people, without realizing it in most cases, will upgrade who they respect and defer to when someone that offers superior abilities to the group comes along. It’s a rather strange concept considering our social nature. In practice, we may not be that social, favouring a marketplace of competence instead.

Group survival means skills that contribute to the sustainability of a group. If someone can protect, nourish, support, educate and provide for you, you’re more likely to want to defer to them. You might pay for their services, so to speak, in respect if you can’t in money. In a sense, one side is providing utility, and the other side is providing respect. And in that sense, competence is really the most important character trait someone can have. It’s not how tall, or skinny, or rich you are. It’s purely a matter of how much you can offer the group. Groups of people seem endlessly forgiving of those who offer the group more. It’s the toxic employee you can’t afford to fire. It’s the harsh boss who keeps the company moving forward.

People will change who they respect and defer to rapidly in the face of someone who offers superior capabilities to the group. It happens all the time, in relationships, work, families and elsewhere. It’s cold and methodical, and it’s practiced by the full spectrum of people. All people, from all kinds of backgrounds, value group survival. What group survival means, varies wildly. But you can usually point to skills that will allow someone to thrive in a particular environment, and the group rewarding those people for possessing those skills in abundance. And further, rather darkly, punishing those who do not possess those skills to thrive in an environment.

What lesson does this offer the self aware individual? In my opinion, it means focus on becoming competent. Focus on being able to thrive in the environment you find yourself in. That differs tremendously from person to person, so it’s very hard to point to a particular skill and counsel focusing on that skill. But it is fairly consistent that by offering your group more, you will be able to increase your prestige status (sterile I know) which affords more respect, opportunities and success. It doesn’t just have to be about relationships either, it’s simply a proxy for future value to the group which could be leverage a multitude of ways.