Human beings are the ultimate social animals, what cost comes along with that? How does sociability expose us to vulnerability? The fabric of today’s society is held together by social association. How would a civilization look like if its most intelligent creatures were far way less sociable than humans?

Note that this question doesn't resemble this one for they are neither asking nor answering the same thing. The linked question talks about a chaotic evil society where the species are, for example "sadists taking pleasure in the suffering of others" etc. My question is about a society in which the species aren't violent or evil, but don't value social connection/interaction. i.e they are innately inclined to not form social groups or fall in love.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello, while very interesting question, I am afraid that correct answer would be in length of a book. Also, you are packing more than one question in this question. Please edit this question and narrow it down to one question you need answering $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Aug 16 '18 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus Edited . The question isn't at all a duplicate of your linked ones. $\endgroup$ – ray syoka Aug 16 '18 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Would creatures like Vulcans qualify? It's not so much that they don't associate with others, but that they would remain dispassionate while working together, and might break off any partnership as soon as it was no longer useful. Or are you looking for creatures that don't even work together in a utilitarian way? $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Aug 16 '18 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ I think your premise is somewhat flawed. 1. One could argue that being social is, in large part, what requires the development of this kind of intelligence. 2. begin social is actually a strength, so the quest would rather be, why would a species be anti-social despite being intelligent. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Aug 16 '18 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ The biggest cost is that I have to go out and meet people $\endgroup$ – Demigan Aug 16 '18 at 15:00

Being a social animal is in a class of fascinating things where their greatest strength is their greatest weakness. In the case of being a social animal, the greatest strengths are found in connections between individuals, which let them rise up above what they could do themselves. The greatest weakness of social animals is the connection between individuals, which can pin down and crush an individual who could do better without them.

I like to treat being a social animal as part of a continuum, rather than a discrete jump from asocial to social. I find this is more realistic. It also lets me draw from prior art found in other jumps, such as the jump from single celled to multi-celled organisms. When you really think about it, being a social animal is almost an identical step to becoming multi-celled.

The fundamental weakness of these decisions deals with size. Large things move slower, as a general rule. We spend a lot of time trying to make them move faster, but in practice, a single cell can respond faster than a body can. A single individual can respond faster than entire government can. Almost everything you see in a multicelled organism or in a social animal is trying to combat this general trend.

Consider a punch to the face. Fortunately, for those who are visual, this is the internet, so it's not easy to find examples. If you get punched in the face, you tend to bruise because your blood vessels burst. Now those blood vessels, on their own, were more than capable of rolling with the punch, and swinging out of the way. They didn't need to burst on their own. But, they aren't on their own. They're connected. They're connected to a skull and a brain. This brain has kept the face blood vessels alive, well, and fed, for many years. But now it's a liability, because it's harder to accelerate a whole brain than it is a few blood vessels. And so, under the strain of this connection, they burst.

Obviously we find this to be a beneficial trade. We like our brain protecting our blood vessels, for the most part. But it was certainly a drawback. Those cells couldn't respond to the force of the punch as quickly as they could have on their own.

We see this in cultures too. People are made better by the connections they have to others. We transfer lessons learned, respond to attacks, and do all sorts of useful things with our social connections. But they also slow us down. We can't act out of sync with our environment. To pick on a group that can't defend themselves in these forums (due to social pressures), consider a neo-Nazi who starts to ponder whether this way of life is really the correct way of life. They are surrounded by neo-Nazis and those connections prevent this individual from moving quickly on this topic. It takes time and persistence to leave your social group. Now if we move to more mainstream groups, consider what happens when a conservative starts to ponder the values of the liberals, or a liberal starts to ponder the values of the conservatives. In both cases, their social group will indeed slow them down.

Also related to this weakness is symbols. I would consider the use of symbols to be the greatest strength and greatest weakness that comes from having these social connections. This is language. Its's powerful. It's also very dangerous. It is easy to confuse the symbol for what it symbolizes for.

Consider the human body again. We have symbols throughout the body. The most noticeable are hormones. Consider adrenaline. This is a hormone which basically indicates that it's about to be "go time," because you're going to have to act really quickly. When cells sense this compound, they tend to stop trying to do long term things (like repairs) and start focusing on making sure they can respond in the short term. It's a great hormone. Its part of our body's solution to how slowly large objects move. But it's also easy to mistake the symbol for what it symbolizes. The body has evolved to treat adrenaline as "go time." It doesn't ask questions. If adrenaline hits your heart, your heartrate will go up, regardless of whether you are about to engage in hand to hand combat (which needs the elevated heart rate), or if you're nervous about asking out a girl (for which I really wish the heart rate would stay steady for me!), or if you have a tumor which is causing adrenaline to be produced unnecessarily.

Likewise, our words can be forged. If someone can use words to convey a meaning, they can elicit a response. If that someone doesn't have our best interests in mind, this can be undesirable. This is at the heart of propaganda. Propaganda works because we want the words they use to have meaning, because it's part of how we connect to others. Those words are important to us, and we can't let them go. So the propaganda gets to elicit an emotional response that it probably shouldn't.

For the most part, social animals appear to have an advantage. Or at least we like to think so. Its not all that surprising that we judge animals on metrics that make us look good. We tend not to measure species by things like biomass, because they make other species look superior. (ants monopolize something like 20% of the terrestrial biomass) We don't actually know whether these weaknesses of being social will eventually overwhelm the strengths, or if the strengths will make us prosper. It looks like the evidence suggests its a good evolutionary trait, but evolution plays a very long game. Far longer than it takes for new scientists to grow up and write papers on social animals.


For the most part being social creatures is a huge advantage, which is why humans are social creatures. Most likely we couldn't have evolved this far without being social.

In a world without social beings, it would take many times longer for an intelligent species to arise. Knowledge would be easily lost and technology levels would probably remain nearly nonexistent. Only the most important discoveries would be spread by the small interactions between nonsocial intelligent beings.

Any skill that takes a long amount of time to learn would be unfeasible for the self reliant nonsocial beings, and language and math would probably never be developed.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent and concise answer. To make it even shorter: civilization as we know it requires cooperation or at least interaction between individuals. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Aug 16 '18 at 14:24

Cost of being sociable:

  • Isolated individual will likely die
  • Vulnerable to disruptions opportunities for interaction. E.g. weather changes that make travel much harder.
  • Disfunctional society will slow down individuals

Building a civilization of non-social beings is much harder, though:

  • Would they trade? Trying to be self-sufficient means being a jack-of-all-trades, which means master of none. And a lot less time to develop new technology.
  • How will the knowledge spread? Let one lone-wolf hunter came up with a better spear. Would other hunters learn from him, or will he take knowledge to the grave with him?

There are a million points to address here, but the one that jumps out at me immediately is communication. Social settings provide a medium for the sharing of ideas, which is critical for the advancement of a species.

The lifespan of any one being is usually pretty finite. Since it takes so much knowledge to understand even the most basic facts of nature or to invent the most basic tools, it is very unlikely that a single organism would manage to get very far without using previously gained knowledge.

This is helped by specialization: some members of a society become hunters, providing food for the people who stay at home and make spears. If you have to do all of it yourself, you are too caught up in the daily struggle to make a significant advancement.

Another way knowledge is shared is through writing. Writing allows information to be passed down to future generations, allowing the species to truly grow, because you don't have to reinvent the spear every four generations- once you learn something, it's permanently in the knowledge of your society.

But specialization only happens if you have a social contract: I'll make you a spear if you give me meat. Otherwise, how would two members know if the other will uphold her promise and not just run off with the meat. And writing only gets invented if there's someone you're writing for. Cavemen didn't really get into keeping diaries as much as we do today.

Social structures are incredibly important for the advancement of a society. Either your species would have a pseudo-social hierarchy (like a telepathic hive-mind type deal) or they would have to be immortal or directly pass on their brains to their offspring, complete with all memories, in order to make it even into the late stone age.


One disadvantage to a social animal is that of infiltration, Red Scares, or "Pod People" by an outsider wishing to sow discontent. Social animals rely on some degree of a united goal, be it make honey, hunt prey together, or form a more perfect union of the people by the people and for the people. Societies will always ostracize those that do not work towards that goal and suspicion of those that disagree with widely accepted principles. In the works of fiction, alien invasions tend to explore the idea of dominance of outsiders controlling society. Early stories pre-WWI were of of overt invasions, which worked on the idea of a romanticized life under an invasive regime, and aliens would come down in flying saucers and blast everything apart... by and large this faded after the two world wars, where the actual lifestyle was not as romantic as reality... and also too soon to many leaders the world over. Rather, the traitorous aliens were favored. These aliens tended to favor tactics of Silent Invasions. They would infiltrate society and eventually some of their numbers were revealed to the public and spin society at large into a panic. These "Red Scare-like" incidents meant that now a bunch of panicked people who all want to prove they are not now nor have they ever been aliens and that one of them is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Works such as "The Pod People" and Twilight Zone's "The Monster's are due on Maple Street." explored these ideas... how do you a group of strangers work together if they know on of their number is a bad actor.

In the United States, this evolved into the "Lizard People" or invaders who have dispensed with getting their targets to do the dirty work of the invasion and rather infiltrate the ranks of society's power structure. Americans has a penchant for being distrustful of their own government and the Cold War historian is a treasure trove of government agents saying one thing and doing another. UFO myth in the United States is filled with associations between aliens and politicians... the two greatest threats to an Average American. This is evident in other stories like "Avatar the Last Airbender" where the Earth Kingdom was a loose stand in for the United States, and saw its fall not from an invading army, but from a bunch of infiltrators who said what the people wanted to hear. In the 2003 reboot of Twilight Zone, the Monsters are Due on Maple Street was remade, but the alien invaders were replaced by military officials testing the people's descent into paranoia after a hypothetical terrorist attack.

At risk of bringing up real life politics, much of today's political discourse is not working on common issues, but a quick descent into accusations of bad faith actions and malicious motivations that are against society. Every action by any politician is the purest motivate action to his or her supporters and further evidence that they want to destroy society to their opponents.


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