In 2005, Dan Buettner wrote “The Secrets of a Long Life,” a National Geographic cover story about long-lived populations in “blue zones” around the world. Among other determinants such as diet and exercise, social cohesion stood out as a common contributing factor in their longevity.
Meanwhile, a recent study concluded that lifespans in America declined for the third straight year—an alarming trend attributed in part to a rise of suicides and addictive behaviors, especially in rural white communities. Disease prevention expert Dr. William Dietz notes that such behaviors may occur among people “less connected to each other in communities” and are tied to a “sense of hopelessness, which in turn could lead to an increase in rates of suicide and certainly addictive behaviors.”
Today, with the exception of nuclear families, we largely live in communities of genetic strangers. Without mutual kin skin in the game to protect against self-dealing, the social cohesion of kin tribes has increasingly been replaced with an everybody-for-themselves culture. Fake news, fake foods and fake politicians are all exacerbated by the same underlying phenomenon of low genetic alignment.
In a way, click-bait news and high-fructose corn syrup are really the same phenomenon: the inevitable outcome of a race to the bottom line, when malalignment meets capitalism.
Furthermore, when malalignment is combined with competition, a race to the bottom line ensues. If we force one media company to use less clickbait, another will use more in order to pick up the other’s market share. If we force one food company to use less sugar, another will use more to fill the void in the market. In a way, click-bait news and high-fructose corn syrup are really the same phenomenon: the inevitable outcome of a race to the bottom line, when malalignment meets capitalism. For those on the receiving end of extractive practices, depression and addictive behaviors are mounting.
But it’s not just institutions against people. It’s also people against each other. Deep fractures seem to appear daily along every tribal element of human identity including gender, race and politics. As in some apocalyptic action movies, we hardly know where to step in day-to-day conversation without fear of falling into some crevasse of bubbling hate that just opened up.
The tragedy is that these tribal hurrahs might prove as phony as Spam when it first appeared as a poor replacement for meat, and later, as an even worse replacement for a friend’s handwritten letter. If loyalty is a fleeting and tradable commodity, is it still loyalty? Without the kin skin in the game that existed in our tribal origins, true loyalty within today’s “tribes” will remain as elusive as it has been since the beginning of the human diaspora a hundred thousand years ago. Rather than healing the wounds of alienation, today’s tribalism throws salt in them.
To address this, the Yun Family Foundation has proposed a framework to understand social cohesion through the lens of our evolutionary history. For most of our species’ history, we all lived in kin tribes. We took care of each other according to our degrees of relatedness—something evolutionary biologists call “inclusive fitness.” We were fed, informed and governed by those who had our best interest at heart.
No doubt the long arc of the human diaspora over the past hundred thousand years—leaving our respective kin villages to participate in the global village—has enabled the exchange of ideas that sparked enormous progress including innovations that promote healthier longevity. But the price paid has not been insignificant. Without developing social algorithms to replace the bioalgorithms of interdependence, mutually vested genetic interests and goal congruence in our kin tribes, self-dealing has proliferated not only in our social, political and economic institutions but also in neighborhoods and communities. Opium has become a religion for the masses.
Social cohesion has eroded accordingly, and the sense of alienation we all feel has been devouring our sense of well-being and eating into our longevity gains, contributing to suicides and unhealthy addictive behaviors, including the obesity epidemic. Opium has become a religion for the masses.
To turn the tide, my family and I have announced a $1 million Grand Challenge on Interdependence—an incentive prize on incentives—to nurture social innovations that promote mutually-vested interests, goal congruence and inclusive stakeholding. Imagine health insurers having vested interest, through smart contracts on the Blockchain, in people’s health savings 10 years down the road. Imagine students rewarding their teachers through smart contracts on the Blockchain with tokens of appreciation—in both senses of the word—10 years down the road. Imagine neighbors having mutual skin in the game in each other’s success.
Seen through a wider lens, world history has been nothing more than an epiphenomenon of failing to replace the inclusive fitness of the kin village with an inclusive stakeholding of the global village. We hope that the Grand Challenge will not only help society develop healthier social, political and economic institutions based on interdependent incentives but also promote the kind of social cohesion in communities that enables healthy longevity.
This story was originally published on Worth.com