Gonna be hard to put it to words, especially because of the rather broad scope of my question, but I think it can be a proper submission here.

Here on Earth, regardless of the period and location, in the majority of occasions, the most fundamental unit of society was somehow related to bloodline. Most obviously, family is such a bond, but certain cultures also preferred a larger scope of family (15-20 people rather than the current average of 4-7), and after all, a nation can also be considered a grand (though also more vague) definition of "blood relations".

Postmodernism, both as an idea, and as a period (manifesting in genres like post-apocalyptic or cyberpunk settings) deconstructs and often rejects these old values, as they are steadily becoming less valuable in these new, often survivalist environments.

Partially as a result of this, in my own fictions, I tend to focus on the meeting of characters with little to no bonds to anyone else, often wandering, rather than living in a fixed place.

Is it possible that up to a point, this phenomena become so widespread in a world that people would accept "drifting" and always being with strangers a basic and even expected way of social interactions?

Or the need for companionship, unity, and an actually viable society is strong enough to never diminish from the human nature?

You may use exact examples if you desire.

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    $\begingroup$ There has never been an advanced civilization on Earth where family bonds were not important or very important. (Advanced civilization meaning that it had writing or at least some sort of functional state structure.) What exactly counted for "family bonds" may have varied a little, but always the bond between parents and children, between siblings and between a man and his wife / wives have been universally important in any civilization advanced enough to have a history. What you are proposing has never been observed, possibly with the exception of a very few cultures with very low technology. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 13 '17 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'd argue that the husband-wife bond only partially related to this. Sure, they found their own family, but before that, they are often strangers at first. In a post-modern world, this is what may have become more important, maybe, but otherwise you're most likely right: I can only expect assumptions here. The reason I used the tag is that I wanted to avoid the risk of getting inaccurate answers $\endgroup$ – Zoltán Schmidt Jun 13 '17 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ More likely to be the other way round: survival groups will be tightly knit, built around loyalty (primarily blood, but not exculsively). The further you get from the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, the easier it is to be bondless. John Brunner's novels do a good job of exploring this (e.g. Stand on Zanzibar) $\endgroup$ – pjc50 Jun 14 '17 at 9:06

I'd say your premise is flawed, and the way it is flawed shows exactly what your answer should be.

You start from the premise that "the most fundamental unit of society was somehow related to bloodline." However, this is true only in the most superficial of senses. From the perspective of a deconstruction of society, this superficial connection should be one of the first to strip.

A nation is not in any way shape or form a "grand (though also more vague) definition of 'blood relations'." If it were, the concept of the US being "a nation of immigrants" would be a non sequitur. Many aristocracies maintain the concept of a royal bloodline, but the connection between individuals in a nation is far more cultural than genetic. Genetics accounts for a wee sliver of a percent.

Likewise, the idea of family and blood is not quite right. It's certainly much more correct; we do typically associate family with blood relations. However, consider the case of adoption. You adopt someone into your family, not into your genetics. In such cases, we choose to recognize adopted children as "just as much our children as our blood children."

These demonstrate that what matters is not the bloodline, but the connection. It's the shared history and empathy that comes from being close to someone. Blood happens to be one example of such a connection, but it is one of many. When deconstructing, it's these connections that really matter, not the blood.

From this, its easy to see why drifting would not be accepted in most societies. There's a dramatic disadvantage to not forming bonds. Those bonds help us predict whether someone will help or hurt us, and they do so far more efficiently than we could do without those bonds.

This also helps define what you would need for a drifter society to occur. You would need to make it so that these bonds are not valuable. In a society where everybody double-crosses everybody, and where any familiy-like unit is quickly obliterated by people who are afraid of the power that family might provide, drifters would fit in far more naturally.

Of course, a test I'd use in any of those situations is, if such human-to-human bonds are not desirable, can I prove that the bond between me and my limbs is desirable? Usually the environments which prevent human-to-human bonding also have great impacts on other scales as well. One such scale is within the human body itself. You may find that your drifter society naturally lends itself to cybernetics, allowing ones limbs other body parts to drift just like the people.

So perhaps I can turn this around. In a world where multiple personalities is the norm, you might find that drifters are much more common than they are here.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, with the "definition" of the nation, I mostly meant the European view, where it used to happen to be true in the past. But you're right, in general, I tried to emphasize that it's very, very loose connection on a genetic level, even in a city, let alone in a country. $\endgroup$ – Zoltán Schmidt Jun 14 '17 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ The bloodline=adoption equivalence only exists because there was no strong enough selective pressure to make the distinction relevant. Hypothetically, if widespread adoption carried on long enough, there would be selective pressure for the species to form a distinction. This isn’t hypothetical: such mechanisms did evolve many times, e.g. in songbirds faced with cuckoos. Human evolution may be slower than bird evolution but it nevertheless carries on. $\endgroup$ – Konrad Rudolph Jun 14 '17 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KonradRudolph Your example is a bit different; in general, human adoptions are done willingly, by people who do not want to or cannot have children themselves. Cuckoos replace songbird eggs with their own, a forced "adoption". $\endgroup$ – JAB Jul 21 '17 at 19:06

As humans, we are hardwired, to a degree, to certain patterns of behavior.

One of these is a strong parent/child relationship during the extended care that juvenile primates require, which tends to evolve into a strong family relationship.

There are exceptions to this, but they are rare. (my sister is a complete b...) For the most part, humans tend to maintain strong family ties, because that's what they do.

In fiction, which is fantasy and escapism, the 'lone wolf' is a popular theme. Han Solo, or if you're into Asimov, Hober Mallow, the narrative being told with no reference to existing family, simply because it wouldn't add to the story. Doesn't mean they didn't have family, or that they didn't maintain ties to their family, just that it wasn't part of the story.

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    $\begingroup$ Other hardwired behavior is that we are pack animals. Closely related to parent/child connection. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 14 '17 at 6:02

Historically, persistent groups were families because groups that did not have any children did not last more than a generation. On account of the people died and there were no kids to replace them. So there is selection for the groups with kids because these groups can sustain themselves.

But there are plenty of groups of strangers that are together by circumstance. Prisoners. Slaves. Soldiers. Refugees. Students. Neighbors. Young elephants driven out by the old elephant, and so they hang out together and torment the rhinos.

Back to humans. The thing about companionship is that humans do best as a team. And if you are not in a team, some team is going to find you and take your stuff. So in these populations of strangers, people tend to group up. A thing about the lone wolf narrative: it is rare that he stays a lone wolf through the entire story, and that is where the energy comes from.


I think, in order to plausibly eliminate the family as the accepted norm for ordering a society, you would have to posit a society in which its members care nothing about what Plato called the futile attempt at immortality: descendants. Such a society, as others have pointed out, wouldn't exist, at least for long--see, e.g., The (now defunct) Shakers.

Race is, in effect, a very large extended slightly inbred family. I was in a bar in Beijing once during the (not Beijing) Olympics. On the TV, they were showing the games; at the moment, a Japanese athlete was competing against a German. I noticed the Chinese patrons all cheering for the Japanese guy, so I asked my Chinese friend, "What gives? I thought the Chinese hated the Japanese."

"Oh, we do," he assured me. "But against a German, we are for the Japanese because he is closer to Chinese."


From an evolutionary perspective it would not make sense for individuals to consistently and continually hop from one social relationship to another. On the genetic level, a genes intention is to be able to make copies of itself that can make copies of itself that can make copies of itself, and so on and so on. This is called fitness. The ability to successfully reproduce genes that will be successfully reproduced. More complex organisms with multiple genes will be more successful reproducing those genes that are advantageous to their environment.

Now the question of familial relationships comes into play. It can be argued that altruism is an advantageous genetic trait because it promotes other people who also carry your genes to exist, thrive, and pass on their genes. Since we share more genes with those closely related to us, it makes sense that biologically we are going to be more inclined to look out for their survival more than others.

We can see this trait develop socially as well. People are more inclined to help a family member, and the closer those family members are (sisters/brothers vs cousins, second cousins, third cousins, etc.) the more beneficial their survival is to the passing along of our genes.

Of course, we no longer live in a world like this. We have Facebook and other social media to help us develop our social lives and make connections with vastly larger networks. And of course, there are those people who are estranged from their families and find better support networks in local communities or interest groups. This brings up the question of the utilitarian aspect of social relationships. Like I said before, altruism is a adaptive trait. However, too much altruism can be disadvantageous too.

Let's say, for a moment, that humans have altruism batteries. These can be charged by support from other people, or reciprocity. This is essentially the concept of tit-for-tat. If for every altruistic act you lose 10% battery life, then you need to ensure you are having acts reciprocated to keep your battery charged. If not, at some point your battery will drain, you'll die, and then your body will be dumped in a river or something. Now, having a firm social unit, a group which is tied together by like minded traits, culture, rituals, and behavioral standards, is what will ultimately guarantee this battery is regularly recharged.

Think of the act of gift giving on Christmas. The expectation that we receive gifts in return on Christmas is usually based on the creation of a long standing relationship with another human being. We have cultural expectations that I give you a gift, you give me a gift. If you do not give me a gift, you usually receive some kind of social repercussion. Let's say in the situation where a sibling does not get you a gift in return, the sibling usually gets treated like shit for the next few weeks or some other kind of mild repercussion.

So, to your question. Strong bonds with people take years, decades even, to develop. Knowing you can trust someone to be there to support you when you need it, and they know the same, requires energy and time. This is also a biologically supported behavior. You know those close to you share similar genes and their success is your success. In a society where new relationships are more the norm, this assurance goes out the window and has the potential to be extremely disadvantageous. A world where people are completely disconnected and continually jump from relationship to relationship could exist but it would start to look less human and more, I dunno, reptilian.


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