In another blog post I mentioned how cooperation initiated the rise of humans approximately 70,000 years ago. What triggered this quantum leap in cooperation? Monkeys form social groups and cooperate like us, but they are limited to a total group size of about 50. Each monkey has to manage a personal relationship with every other monkey. As the group size grows the number of one-on-one relationships increases exponentially. Somewhere around 50 the monkey shit starts flying, and the group implodes.
It turns out we humans are also limited to an effective group size - about 150. When you go past that number it becomes too difficult to manage all the relationships and emotional baggage that goes along with it. So how did we develop civilizations that require the cooperation of millions of people? Well, we have something that no other animal has. We have the gift of myth. We can makes stuff up and believe it. More importantly, we can get others to believe it. Collective myth is what allows humans to cooperate in groups far larger than 150 people.
What are some of our myths? Governments, companies, nations, laws - these are all myths. They are completely made up by our imagination... but they have real power because collectively we believe in them. And because of this collective belief we are able to cooperate as a nation of 300 million people. Some days we cooperate better than others, but any day where 300 million people aren't slinging their feces at each other is a good day... and we owe it all to our ability to make stuff up. How funny is that?