Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich makes an argument based on evolutionary theory, that humans evolved over millions of years into “small-group animals”.

This includes what he calls strong evidence that “unique features of our brains evolved in large part to solve the problem of living and communicating in small communities…”

Ehrlich is concerned by the decline of the “geographic community.”  These communities were comprised of “tight and usually stable cultural rules for dealing with one another” where “each person knows the environment intimately…” and “everyone knows where her or his food comes from and what the major environmental dangers are.”  It is a powerful way to understand why the destruction of small communities, has such a devastating impact on people, and leads to the loss of what we now call social capital.

Much in Ehrlich’s analysis is not new. He points out that large metropolises have exponentially increased the number of people the average human interacts with on a daily basis.  Modern technological advances, such as transportation systems, e-mail, and television, have further expanded our circle of acquaintances, or “pseudo-kin,”  etc.

Happily, he calls not for some return to pre-modern times, but for finding a way to achieve a balance or as he puts it, to “seek strategies to restore the more stable and interactive communities into which we have evolved biologically and culturally to fit” (p. 303).

People and families who do well in schools and other situations of modern learning seem to be those who (whether they agree theoretically with Ehrlich or not) have accomplished this balance. They interact successfully with modern technology and also belong to strong interactive families that build social capital.

Ehrlich concludes:  “it took about fifty years of deliberately designing the United States around the automobile to destroy communities; with another fifty years of continuous effort…these communities might be restored” (p. 303).



Ehrlich, P. R. (2000). Human natures: Genes, cultures, and the human prospect. (p. 300-304).