Sunday, May 31, 2020

Herd Humanity (Flockhumanitet)

I read the news today, oh boy”. Flipping through the newspaper is an exploration journey, and weekend mornings are one of the good times for such excursions.
This weekend I found a nugget. Embedded in yesterday paper was an opinion piece, and in the opinion piece this nugget was present two times.
Herd humanity. Flockhumanitet in Swedish.
Let’s carefully detach this little nugget, and bring it into the light for a closer look.
Before we look at the term as such, let us briefly look at the context in which is was found. The opinion piece. The text brings forward the situation of the elderly in the corona context, how 70+ year old individuals in a higher-than-usual-rate are dying in caretaker homes. And are in no or little contact with relatives. A very urgent topic, with no simple solution. (and — this is also the topic for an article in today’s paper).

The opinion piece approached the topic from the role of the Church of Sweden. Also “relevant”, but perhaps not the most useful viewpoint for untangling the underlying wicked problem. (Or actually “system of interlinked wicked problems”, I think.)
Possibly with the exception of “herd humanity”.

I got the feeling that this simple term might open up for a new view on the “wicked problems” and help us find an “even better” approach. Almost like a “silver bullet”, but not in the Mencken way, but simple as in the “simple rulez” way.

Now, let’s have a closer look at “herd humanity” as a term.

It is obvious that “herd humanity” relates to “herd immunity”, which is an often used, and also (likely) an often misused, term in these times.

Incidentally, besides the term “herd humanity” yesterday’s paper also had a good example of “misuse of herd immunity”. In an article an individual states himself to be “herd immune” on his own (“Jag är redan flockimmun”).

I do believe that “herd immunity” is a collective state, not an individual state. Furthermore, it is not a “final state”, but a state you can enter and leave as a collective depending on a number of factors. If there’s any formal definition of herd immunity I think it starts from looking at the measured R of the disease. R is a metric that relates to the spread, not as in “spread speed”, but perhaps like in “spread width”. It can be partly understood as “the number of individuals each person that carries the virus transmits it to” and “R being sustainable below one” might be an approximation of a definition of “herd immunity”. Also part of the scope is that “R” can be different in different clusters.

This is a very rough starting point for the explanation and I will not even try that here… However, I do not think “herd immunity” is in any way an individual state. (Also, “herd immunity” is not a “strategy” in itself — but that’s a parallel potential post.)

This is the context the term herd humanity (flockimmunitet) should be explored. So, here, comes my take:

  • Herd humanity is a collective state of mind. A complex behavior of a network of humans.
  • Herd humanity is an emergent characteristic, and cannot be “decided” or “created”.
  • Herd humanity has not “one single definition”.
  • I frame herd humanity as a positive thing.
  • Herd humanity can be observed. Some metrics can likely also be defined and observed. The usable metrics are likely possible both on “herd humanity” as such, and potentially on activities that can increase “herd humanity”.
One such potential metric might be derived from the “pay it forward”-type of behavior. Like “if someone do you a favor, to who many do you pay it forward”. A measurement of reciprocity. The similarity to the R number is somewhat striking. However, in the “herd humanity” case you want an R above 1, while in the “herd immunity” case you want the R to be below 1.

Along this line of thought it might be that “herd humanity” is one potential outcome of the golden rule. And hence, the nugget discovered in the opinion piece might be a “golden nugget”.

Anyway, this is what I read into the term spontaneously. I am probably wrong, especially as in “not the only possible way of framing herd humanity”.

But the term struck a chord with me.

What about you? Any thoughts or ideas?

See the worst thing about doing this
Doing something like this
Is I think that at first people sort of are a bit suspicious
‘You know, come on, what are you up to?’”

When doing some due diligence research on the term I found nothing except references to the opinion piece when searching for flockhumanitet. When searching for herd humanity there’s some reference to the work of Nietzsche, who seems to view the term as not so positive in his book “Human, All Too Human”. I also found a number of cases where herd humanity was apparently mistakenly used instead of herd immunity. Finally, I also realized that “herd” in “herd humanity” can also be a verb.


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