How would the time-stream of humanity sort itself into coalitions?

Kevin Riste, a loyal MR reader, and perhaps a loyal Philip Jose Farmer reader, asks me:

…if all of the people in recent history (since, say, 10,000 BC or so?) through today were somehow gathered at a sort of “conference,” do you have any predictions for how they would align themselves over time? what distinctions would be most significant? assuming language barriers are overcome to an extent, since that seems most significant.. male/female? by decades? nerds/jocks?

Let’s assume that different eras send roughly equal numbers of people to the conference and let’s make the conference small enough to be manageable.  No one can bring weapons or iPhones.  I believe the most significant coalition would be “rulers vs. ruled.”  On one side of the banquet table would sit modern Americans, members of the Roman Senate and Imperium, Ghenghis Khan supporters, eighteenth century Brits, 15th century Nahuas, Song Dynasty fans, and so on.  They would commiserate over the plight of having to make all those tough militaristic decisions and how little they are appreciated for it.  They would have plenty of disagreements, but ultimately they could be unified if ever the other side threatened to take over.  The Albanians, Armenians, Angolans, Bolivians, the less powerful Native American groups, and others would show up on the other side and trade stories of commiseration.  They too would have plenty of disagreements, but with less underlying unity.

In fact there is a such a conference, in atemporal form, and it is called the United Nations.


In a similar vein: what if no one ever died?

But if the boundaries were on grounds of who were the aggressors/oppressors and who were the oppressed/defenders, the Song Dynasty would at one point become it, the Senate would initially and towards the end perhaps and etc. Maybe even lesser Native tribes being united against their tribal enemies(don't forget the Natives and the Brits, of whom the Brits were more powerful than the US at that time, had united during the war of 1812, likewise for the indigenous allies allying with the more powerful Spanish monarchy against revolutionary ferment.)

If history tells us something, the weak guys ally with the strong guys if given the chance to gain some power out of it. And the strong guys stack up against each other, such as the Khan vs the Song, late eighteenth century brits vs, early Modern Americans(there use to be real fear of a Canadian land war towards the end of the Victorian era).

Divisions among values doesn't exist because the big guys are almost always imperialistic. My idea would be that they would divide themselves among religion since that use to be how people identified themselves before the rise of nation-states and secularism.

How about along professional lines? Artists, warriors, mathematicians, theologicians etc.

PS. What ancient person(s) would feel least ancient? i.e. If I were a roman warrior I'd feel intimidated if I met a modern military general. But if I was a ancient pope maybe less so.

Two groups - the Son of God, and everyone else. The interesting question is how many people would claim to be in the first group.

If you look at people in a room, they tend to gravitate towards people they are like... Moaners mix with moaners and optimistic people talk with optimistic people.... what group would you be in?

Yeah, I'm going to go with "race".

No idea how race and ethnicity would wind up working with people over that much time without a language barrier.

I think this misses something. Why wouldn't familial lines also be a strong source of allegiance? While I am a Modern American, my ancestors would be in that room.

Why would I associate with the rulers in this situation and not the ruled? In this situation you cannot assume that current power structures are extant. Maybe I just don't get Dr. Cowen's assumptions here.

Indeed, my parents and grandparents are there, their grandparents are there, etc, we'd all have strong ties to people who had strong ties to other people, breaking down mostly along family lines

What if superheroes were invited to the conference also? You think Aquaman would hang out with the rulers? I don't think he would. All Aquaman was good for was communicating with fish.

I though Aquaman was some sort of undersea royalty. By the way, at the bottom of the ocean is... land.

"Rule vs. ruled" is not consistent throughout history, as someone above already pointed out. You need something that is constant or at least not as open to interpretation.

The correct answer is: Left handed vs right handed. Everyone knows southpaws have been the ones pulling the levers of power (pun intended) since time immemorial.

Disclaimer: Only part of this comment is serious.

I think its an interesting question, but wouldn't it make more sense to scale the number of people sent to the conference by population. And how the people are selected is important as well. I think the fairest way is a purely random approach.
So just 4400 some people every 100 years (let's say of those older than 5 to account for infant mortality), implant them with a communication device, and increase the number of people at a rate equal to the growth in world population.
Even if we do this scaling, the conference will be dominated by those in the past (for instance the population in 1900 was a little less than a third of the population in 2000 but the growth before that was slower). Most of these people will be with other people that they have no tribal or clan affiliation. However, there will still be skin differences and people from cities or regions even though of different times. I would also guess that the vast majority of these people would be uneducated and younger than the average age today.
Most of these people would behave as they did in their own societies. In general, I would expect them to not have much respect for the rights of women or others. I would guess that there would be more cliques formed by region/city than by time period (except for those taken most recently). If someone is from Rome in 0BC and another is from Rome in 1900AD, they might have something to talk about whereas the Indian in 0BC will have little in common with either. There are probably 20 other generalizations I could draw if I had the time.

We could gather everyone in the Mandelbox.

Who should be the speakers at the conference and what would be the topics? I suggest historians be the opening act. That should get everyone laughing.

The UN is nothing at all like the original conference we are asked to imagine. The UN only has attendees from the highest social stratus of each country.

The UN attendees are also almost universally in favor of a stronger central governments as opposed to increased individualism.

Wouldn't this all-world, all-time conference become dominated by the highest-status centralists anyway?

@Rahul: If I were Cicero or Augustus, I would be not at all intimidated by modern politicians.

The ancients would see them weak pathetic people, whose power comes from sophisticated religion and terrible technology.

If political, as always Optimates vs. Populares, Tories vs. Whigs, Catholic vs. Protestant.

The twentieth century's warped philosophies, and technological power, do confuse this distinction.

I suspect everyone would just stand around shyly like 8th graders at a dance. Sure Genghis Khan might hit on Wonder Woman... (I'm still going with my idea that superheroes should be invited.)

Seriously, race. It's not quite constant over time, but everyone can pick a side. We all know that it strongly conditions people's beliefs about other people to this day. Do we think Trajan and Frederick the Great will really hang out with Barack Obama, or will they view him as a provincial/inferior who has happened to capture an empire in the manner of Odoacer? (In fairness, Trajan probably won't think that.) No one group would be big and tolerant enough to form a dominant coalition that can set the agenda for everyone else. West African leaders from the start of the second millennium will debate the morality of the slave trade, when they compare the living standards of their descendants in the Americas and Africa and set it against essential liberty. Indian and Muslim leaders will be appalled by their relative stagnation compared to European barbarians.

If we want to get more sophisticated, we get awkward questions like the number of historical European and Asian leaders who would find Hitler a decent guy. Hitler has more strong friends than Barack Obama at this gathering, but more competition for leader of the skin colour group.

The problem with "rulers v ruled" is that technology conditions it, and presumably these guys aren't meeting on unequal terms, so the "ruled" have a massive numerical advantage.

"We all know that [race] strongly conditions people’s beliefs about other people to this day"

Are you sure these beliefs aren't conditioned into people today? The child who makes no racial distinctions is bombarded with anti-racism that builds up a knowledge of racial difference.

Do Italians in America believe as the Romans that the Germans are barbarians? Are the French hated because of ancient antipathy between Anglo-Saxons and Normans? Do Jews and Blacks not get along because of special biological characteristics?

We can fairly say that Augustus would associate with Frederick Douglas over Eminem.

Instead of our real leaders can we send Bill Murray and Groucho Marx and let them pretend to be our leaders? I'd feel more comfortable with that.

Coalitions? Funny term, usually takes a concerted individual or nation be it France in WWI, Britain in WWII or NATO (need americans to operate (and fund)).

the thought experiment is pointless without a point to the conference (once there's a goal of sorts, then the coalitions become pretty easy to identify).

I'm fairly certain that _is_ the point of the conference.

What a bunch of geeks!

The guys would start trying to hook up with the hottest babes, some fights would ensue, and all the whimps would run for cover.

When are people going to realize that humans haven't evolved much in the past 15,000 years and our intellect has advanced only slightly faster. Essentially, we are not far removed from our barbarous ancestors.

FINALLY an answer with some semblance of reason!

First, if the conference were smoothly-random sampled at the rate of 1/1,000,000 or so, expect that NO ONE YOU HAVE HEARD OF WILL BE THERE. Not even their bastard children.

If we go with the historic 51/49 male/female split, then yep, it's food, drink & sex. For the strong. Alliances will follow almost immediatly thereafter, as most of the intelligent are physically weak.

The almost 1,000 Americans would certainly join almost immediately, and I expect that they would form the core of the Britannia Alliance (assuming that they didn't take too long with their elections...). The 2,000 or so Chinese would immediately attack the Japanese with murderous intent, then turn on the Koreans. It would be interesting to see if the Slavs would likewise turn on the Germans or if the deeper history would tend to make them allies.

It would be really interesting to see if Muslim vs Christian would actually become a major flashpoint. The long history has been accomodative unless there is overt aggression, and neither group is likely to be united enough to want to risk having everyone turn on them.

Speaking of which, pity Egypt, Rome, and the Mongols. Empires tend not to be very popular.

Most of the intelligent are physically weak? I think you missed the part where intelligence was often a necessary component of strength before intelligence meant you sat in front of a computer or adding machine or abacus. Intelligence correlating to physical weakness is a mostly modern trap, and only because strength is no longer necessary for survival.

Agreed, in fact you disprove the contention by stating it. Analytical, mechanical, and intellectual advancement of humanity is proof of it's evolutionary "strength." It would not be present if early man had thrown a spear through it.

Most places, being smart means (in part) knowing how to get someone else to do the physically difficult things. (One of the ways that we know that women are smarter than men... :D) If you are smart you figure out ways to get along without having to exert yourself physically, in part because your ability to exert yourself physically is subject to a lot of sudden negative variability.

Furthermore, we have found that IQ is strongly linked to pre-K infections & nutrition. Historically, if you were dealing with a lot of infections and questionable nutrition, your society was brawn-driven.

Are you claiming that Plato was as physically strong as the average Greek stone mason? That the average Greek stone mason _prefered_ masonry to philosophy and politics? Or that Plato's prominence was merely a matter of luck?

There is no doubt that people group according to whom they relate to. The question is then how do they relate to each other. The proposition that they relate as ruled versus rulers is pretty strong as it is unlikely a peasant from the middle ages would relate to say a Donald Trump on any level. However; I would suggest that this is not the dynamics that would take place. Naturally gregarious people would search for and find topics to relate to people on. The real question I think is who would these gregarious people approach first (hence the grouping). I think it would be people who look like them so I would suggest the groupings would initially be by race (or alternatively by height).

Welcome to see :

The problem I have with the rulers vs ruled is that the same people are in both categories. Where would a Roman pelb sit? He's a Roman compared to the Germanic tribes but he can hardly feel he has much in common with Alexander the Great. Where would Montezuma be? 99% of his life he was an uncontested ruler of the greatest nation in his known world. Ruler or ruled seems to change based on perspective and doesn't seem very consistent across multiple generations.

People self sort based on many factors such as common upbringing (Europeans from the 14 century would seem to have trouble understanding anyone born before Christ), physical appearances or common interests (nerds/jocks).

It is worth noting that if this is a random sample, nearly everyone would be a subsistence farmer.

Race. Lowest energy level, least common denominator, least marginal cost, whatever you want to call it.

"Point of the conference": Are white people the proper rulers of the world, or are they vile imperialists? A Symposium.

How now brown cow?

This is a joke by the way. It's funny. Our brown peace prez is bombing brown folk, which means we are an equal opportunity tyranny.

Tyler--Mr. Riste said "people". You said "equal numbers of people ... I believe the most significant coalition would be “rulers vs. ruled."” But you then went on to describe a conference representing only ruling elites. You describe the UN as roughly such a conference. The UN represents national governments, i.e. the ruling elites. Possibly interesting, (well, not really) but is it the game Riste suggested?

People, if they had any sense, would of course line up as "rulers vs. ruled". But the rulers would then start shouting about religion and xenophobia (they would be, after all, Republicans) and war would shortly break out.

Right, the Stuarts will join the Republicans to free the slaves.

After a few months influenza and smallpox would eradicate almost the entire pre-18th century cohort. Leaving the United Nations.

I wonder where you think those infections came from

I doubt race would be a primary axis of coalition, if only because our ancestors likely constructed the concept of race differently than modern Americans do. How would a Roman citizen perceive the race of a North African Roman general? Different from or the same as a peasant farmer from Gaul? Different from or the same as Barack Obama?

It might be better to imagine this thought experiment as a party, rather than as a conference (since a party doesn't need to have a "point"). If I invited a random person from each of the last 100 centuries, who would hang out with whom?

I strongly suspect that the person from the last 100 years would find themselves a social outcast at such a get together - everyone else would think they were too weird.

Just like at contemporary parties, groups would be heavily sorted by gender and age. People with children would group together. Unattached people of roughly equivalent levels of attractiveness would pair up.

People who work in similar economic sectors would group together. In any given group, people from the society that had achieved a greater absolute level of technological and economic advancement would dominate discussion

I’m going to go with race

Identity yes, but race no, unless their concept of identity is racial. Certainly medieval Europeans wouldn't organize themselves by race. Ethiopians appeared at the Council of Florence. What was important to them was religion. They would be much more comfortable sitting down with a black Christian than they would a Spanish Muslim.

And as for others, how would the Romans of the various eras organize? A Roman citizen in 300 BC, 50 BC, AD 10, AD 200, AD 330, AD 476 (and if we include the Byzantines, AD 600, AD 900, AD 1150, and AD 1450) would be in very different levels of power/influence, and very different ideas of government. Would they see each other as being part of one unit? Would the liberty loving members of the Republic be horrified of the Dominate era? Could they understand the differences in religion, or language?

People align with one another usually based on how much they like each other, which depends on their concept of identity. As the previous poster said, it's important to know why they've been gathered. If it is to decide on some issue, then their political ideals would most likely determine the coalitions. If they show up on some deserted island and need to survive, than some more basic, primal factors like religion or race, an easy identifier of "who is us?" would drive the alignment. If it's a party, then the only criteria would be who would find each other interesting, in which case the cultural elites would talk about art and literature, the soldiers would discuss campagins with other soldiers.

People will always seek out people similar to them, but which similarities are important will be decided by the context by which they were brought together.

People would end up grouped according to personality type. You'd have the party people in one room drinking and cavorting; the intellectual types in another, exchanging ideas and experiences; another full of ordinary folk trying to make small talk; and a few huddled groups, couples and loners comprising artsy types, freaks and weirdos.

Also, given how distrusting most people are of outsiders, there would be a lot of ordinary folk looking for the exits.

OxvViB That's 2 clever by half and 2x2 clever 4 me. Thanks!

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