What the U.S. Political Crisis Illustrates

Jim Mason
5 min readSep 10

About how human institutions and supra-organisms operate

Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

The continuing crisis in the United States over the process of Presidential elections is a large-scale example of how we humans behave as a species of social animal. The crisis illustrates how collections of people (human supra-organisms), human cultural institutions, and human language operate together to constitute our collective behavior.

One part of our process of collective behavior — human cultural institutions, including but not limited to legal ones — relies on documents in written languages or memorized oral traditions to prescribe rules of individual and group behavior. Those rules can persist over periods of time that exceed individual human lifetimes. An example is provided by the United States Constitution and the many laws and other documents that prescribe how Presidents of the United States are to be elected. Established political parties are also examples of human cultural institutions with their own founding documents, by-laws, and written and oral traditions.

Another part of our process of collective behavior — human supra-organisms — consist of loosely or tightly coordinated collections of people whose individual actions each contribute in some way to the overall behavior of each supra-organism. Such supra-organisms can overlap, in that each individual person can contribute with their actions to more than one supra-organism. For example, a person may be a member of a particular political party and also a juror for a particular criminal case.

The people who are involved in a human supra-organism usually coordinate their actions by using spoken or written language, although they may also use gesture and other forms of “body language”, as well as visual images and other forms of artistic expression. Thus, language is involved in both aspects of our human process of collective behavior, by providing a mechanism of collective institutional memory (however imperfectly that may be understood) and a mechanism for coordination of supra-organism behavior.

Human supra-organisms constitute the living manifestations of human cultural institutions. For example, the people who vote for Republican Party candidates in the United States or otherwise participate in activities of that party…

Jim Mason

I study language, cognition, and humans as social animals. You can support me by joining Medium at https://jmason37-80878.medium.com/membership