Explaining Pandemic Disbelief, Racism, Online Bullying and More: the Monkeysphere

Okay no, I cannot fully explain all of those things for every single person. But I can explain why they're so prevalent and why it seems like people don't care about (or even deny) scientific facts. I literally never talk about all the things I just listed in that subject line, but the humorous monkeysphere* theory based on Dunbar's Number from way back in 2007 makes a lot of sense and it's the best way to for people to grasp what's going on around them. 

Throughout the last year, I've had a lot of friends express things like 'I can't believe these people won't wear a mask/get vaccinated', 'why aren't people up in arms over anti-Asian hate?', 'why are people still traveling?' or my favorite, 'Florida.' I cannot explain Florida, but to the rest I always answer 'monkey sphere' and every time I'm met with 'what the fuck is a monkey sphere.' So, here I am to explain. (Also, I have an upcoming post on the black pit of doom that is uncontrolled social media usage and it will be easier to refer back to this post.)

It boils down to this: you cannot truly care about anyone outside of your monkey sphere.

So what is the definition of monkey sphere? Well, it's the number of people that your brain is actually capable of seeing as human beings worthy of empathy. Dunbar's number. Every person is going to have a different number, but it's around 150. That's it, that's the number that scientists theorize that your brain is able to see as real people. You've got your family, your friends, your neighbors, the bus driver you see every day - the live, well-rounded individuals to you who, if they died, you would feel it. They are your sphere, your bubble.

Then you have all the other thousands and millions of people all pressing in on your monkey sphere because of the internet and the world getting bigger. And that explains why people are so nasty online, because you just don't have room in your monkey sphere to see these random people online as real people, even if you see them all the time in their videos or instagram photos. There's simply no more room for them in your monkey sphere. The same principle applies when psychologists ask 'would you save your mom from the car in front of the speeding train or a bus full of kids?' Your mom (assuming a positive relationship between you two) because as good of a person as you think you are, you still have a monkey sphere and those random kids are not in it.

My favorite quote from the article: 
"So I'm supposed to suddenly start worrying about six billion strangers? That's not even possible!" That's right, it isn't possible. That's the point. What is hard to understand is that it's also impossible for them to care about you.
And this has what to do with anti-maskers and mass shootings? Because one person's death is a tragedy and 1 million deaths is a statistic. The same way most Americans couldn't fully comprehend genocide in Rwanda. Or why there are still people that exist that think the Holocaust didn't happen. If we didn't have someone in our monkey sphere in the tragedy, we do not feel it the same way. We can't. Anti-maskers? Haven't had anyone in their sphere die from the virus. Holocaust deniers? No Jewish friends. Racism ignorers? Asian-free bubble. I guarantee every single one of those scenarios. Sure, there's a level of intentional ignorance but they also don't see people outside their sphere as real human beings. Not on an emotional level.

We're all guilty of this, we all treat people as disposable because we think 'oh I have hundreds of friends'. We're just not all psychopaths who respond to this phenomenon with bullets. I'm certainly not saying this gives people an excuse to ignore mask mandates, but I am saying this is why they try to.

I understand this, but I'm not compassionate about it. Clearly I'm not suggesting you be either. I simply like being informed because then I don't stress and rage about every moron not following the rules or take every stupid comment left on a YouTube video personally.

How's that for an uplifting post-Easter blog post? I will be touching back on this topic in future posts though, because it really applies to social media and loneliness, and also on the flip side how to create the community your brain is actually looking for.

Have you ever heard of the monkey sphere?

*The original Monkeysphere article, which is still a super funny but interesting read.

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