Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dunbar's number and murder

What would it take to eliminate murder in a society? Since we have societies on Earth in which there is zero murder, that is a tantalizing question for all who are interested in achieving or promoting nonviolence.

Anthropologist Douglas Fry (2006) points out, for example, that there are no recorded homicides amongst the Hutterites, a sect of pacifist Christians who have colonies in the northern US and western Canada totaling some 42,000 or more. Part of their secret is their belief system, which is that not only is violence to other humans forbidden, all property should be in common and colonies need to be small enough so that everyone knows everyone, which falls generally in the 150 population range, consonant with Dunbar's Number, an optimal village size.

Many are interested in the research around Dunbar's Number, including business and the military, so there is no relationship between the optimal social cohesion of societies that seem to operate within that population range and willingness to be aggressive or even murderous, but a fundamental belief in a nonviolent mandate and a communal property norm, added to the socially cohesive potential of a manageable societal size, just might hold hope for humankind.

Is this possible? It seems so, since it exists. Is it likely in our pluralistic urban war culture? Only if we can begin to raise children with new values and a new allegiance to a way of life that makes those values livable and enjoyable. Only if we can promote those values successfully and persistently. In our atomized war system, that is a tall, tall order. I hope parents of young children, teachers of children, and forward-thinking members of our society can begin what the World Social Forum proclaims: Another world is possible.


Fry, D. P. (2005). The human potential for peace: An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

No comments: