The Human Swarm Book Summary By Mark W. Moffett

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The Human Swarm (2019) is an extraordinary exploration of the human species.

Authored by renowned scientist Mark W.

Moffett, this book delves into the psychological, natural and sociological aspects of us as a species and how, over time,have managed to successfully construct vast complex societies unlike any other in the animal kingdom.

In this eye-opening book, mark brings together a variety of experts to examine everything that makes up a society: from its origins, to in-depth investigations on brain activity and its implications on social behaviours.

He warmly guides us through ideas such as tribalism which has been fuelled by our own evolution, space between interactions and how linguistics shape teamwork abilities.

That's not all though; Mark also touches on topics such as how the expansion of size influences society too!

Put away your textbooks– The Human Swarm (2019) gives you an insider's look at what truly makes us part of a collective species.

The Human Swarm Book Summary By Mark W. Moffett

Book Name: The Human Swarm (How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall)

Author(s): Mark W. Moffett

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 26 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Mark W.

Moffett is an incredible scientist, real-life adventurer, and entomologist (the study of insects) from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

His unique understanding of bugs, animals, and people's behavior have earned him the nickname of "the Indiana Jones of entomology" and has also granted him a place on popular television shows like The Colbert Report and Late Night with Conan O'Brien to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with viewers.

With his new book, “The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall”, Mark offers readers yet another look into how our world works.

The Impact Of Society On Human Behavior: Exploring How We Belong To Groups And Why We Act As We Do

Human Behavior

Humans have organized themselves into societies for thousands of years, and this has had a profound impact on our behavior and the beliefs we hold.

In The Human Swarm, readers will discover just how societies shape our world.

They’ll learn why three-month-old babies display signs of racial discrimination, how ants work in anonymous harmony with one another, and why immigration separates us humans from chimpanzees.

The book also explores the power of societies and looks at how they’ve influenced our sense of pride and emotion when it comes to national flags or anthems.

It teaches us that beyond family there are other groups to which we give loyalty, showing us why we’re often willing to fight or die for them.

This book helps shed light on these larger concepts while also filling in some of the smaller details about humanity’s organization into societies over the centuries.

Humans And Animals Alike Benefit From Living In Socially Organized Groups

When it comes to living in societies, animals have a few advantages.

For one, the more members you have in your group, the better chance you have of spotting rivals and threats, since there are more eyes and ears for this purpose.

This is true for many species such as elephants, wolves and even horses – they all rely on cooperation from their fellow members to protect and secure each other against potential dangers.

But while having more members also means that there are greater benefits due to increased security and protection, it can also be limiting as well.

That’s because individual recognition is paramount in most animal societies – being able to recognize and know each member in the tribe goes a long way towards fostering cooperation.

But this overlooks the fact that the animals’ brains are scientifically unable to recognize all individuals at once once the group size gets too big, which is why we’ll never see ape tribes exceeding 200 members or prides of lions with hundreds of members hunting together on Africa’s plains.

Humans however, don’t have these limits thanks to our advanced cognitive abilities which enables us form large societies without requiring us to know each member individually.

That’s what really sets us apart from other animals when it comes to living together in cohesion.

Ants Show Us The Benefits Of Investing In Clean Air And Recycling

Ants are often underestimated, but their societies are surprisingly huge and sophisticated.

In fact, they can achieve levels of organization and productivity that we humans would be envious of.

Take leafcutter ants for example.

Within their massive nests, they create gardens that can be as large as a baseball or even a soccer ball, using leaves to create a pulp used to grow the fungus which serves as their food source.

These settlements can get incredibly big; in one excavation in Brazil, the author uncovered hundreds of gardens connected by meters of tunnels reaching up to six metres below ground!

And it doesn’t stop there – these insects also organize within their societies with a division of labor any modern business owner would be proud of.

Soldier ants guard nest entrances and act as heavy-duty workers.

The medium-sized ants cut the leaves into smaller pieces so they can be transported along pre-existing highways while the smaller ants carry them to the nest where they turn them into a paste before others take on the responsibility of planting and weeding the garden.

But interestingly enough, just like us humans, leafcutter ants understand the importance of waste management and air circulation in their nests to keep clean air flowing.

It’s these impressive aspects that allow them to live peacefully in anonymous societies at such a huge scale – something our primate cousins cannot achieve with their need for individual recognition when living in groups – making these tiny creatures even more remarkable than most realise!

How Humans Use Smell To Maintain An Anonymous, Peaceable Society


In “The Human Swarm,” the author paints a vivid portrait of how ant societies have more in common with our own societies than we might care to imagine.

In busy coffee shops or on crowded buses, for example, we are surrounded by strangers and yet nothing bad occurs.

This is not so for chimpanzees; if one were to encounter a single stranger let alone a crowd, he or she would have to fight rather than peacefully co-exist.

Argentine ants provide similar examples of peaceable societies.

These ants swarm around each other in California without incident until they run into the borders of another supercolony, at which point they fight and die by the millions – this is because ants identify non-members through odor markers unique to a given group.

Human beings use similar markers that indicate genetic codes and family lineage to identify outsiders – think language, accent and dress code as some possible examples.

Overall, it’s clear that there are many parallels between human society and ant society, from recognizing others when we meet them in public places to protecting our boundaries from invaders with distinct markers of identity.

How Markers Of Identity Help Us Differentiate Between Friends And Foes

Humans have developed a variety of markers to signify who belongs in their society and who is an outsider.

These markers can be obvious, like carrying a passport or wearing your favorite sports team’s jersey, or more covert, like subtle hand gestures that indicate the emotional state of the speaker.

They have evolved for one clear reason – to help us make quick decisions about the safety of ourselves and our communities.

In The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall, author Mark Moffett dives deep into this concept of cultural identity markers as a means to identify fellow members of a society from outsiders.

He explains how elephants in Kenya have learned to tell apart Maasai people (who carry spears and have harmed them) from Kamba people (who are harmless) by singling out their red cloth attire.

In the same way, we trust those who look and act similarly to ourselves.

We subconsciously evaluate others based on visuals cues like dress, walk, and gestures – even tiny nuances can be part of what identifies someone as “one of us” or “not one of us”.

These markers allow us to live in larger societies without constantly feeling threatened by outsiders.

As humans continue to expand our social circles past family and immediate neighbors, it becomes increasingly important for us all familiarity with visual markers that indicate when someone does not belong in order for us to protect ourselves from harm.

Markers Help Humans Distinguish Each Other And Influence Our Feelings Towards Others

The power of markers and their ability to differentiate between us and those from other societies is hardwired deeply into the human mind.

Even infants are able to make use of them, distinguishing faces of the same race as their parents from those different, while research has revealed that one-year olds will assume people speaking their language like foods different to those they like.

Since we can usually ascertain whether or not someone is a stranger, through identifying markers like skin color and language, this even influences how we feel about these people.

In fact, it appears our fear of the unknown was born thousands of years ago when it would have been wise to be wary when encountering an outsider.

Evidence suggests that this mentality is still active today too; people are more likely to remember strangers accurately if they are of the same race and there’s less empathy shown towards outsiders in comparison to members of one’s own community.

This looks to be true even for animals such as chimpanzees who, researchers demonstrated, respond more to the yawns of already familiar monkeys than unfamiliar ones.

Evidently our recognition and use of markers remains hardwired within us – suggesting powerful forces at work influencing how we view each other even centuries after they were first introduced by our ancestors all those years ago.

Hunter-Gatherers Had Clear Markers Of Identity And Their Own Sense Of Societal Superiority

Societal Superiority

Despite their simpler lifestyle, hunter-gatherers were far from living in a socially primitive state.

They lived in established societies which were known as band societies.

These small groups typically consisted of three-generational, unrelated families that moved around according to the availability of food and water.

While members may have identified with their own band first and foremost, there is evidence that they had strong feelings of connection to the wider group to which they belonged.

For example, descriptions of the few Hunter – Gatherer societies still in existence report their members feeling a sense of security while with their ‘own kind’.

Furthermore, ask them who they are and they could name the society to which they belong instead of just a single band.

The clear distinction between tribe members and outsiders was also extensively seen across all hunter gatherer societies.

Holdouts could easily pick an individual’s exact group by looking at something as distinct as moccasins or warpaint patterns.

An observational study conducted by anthropologist Mervyn Meggitt further attests this distinct sense of superiority often felt towards those belonging to one’s own society versus those outside it..

The Human Tendency To See Outgroups As Inferior: From Self-Love To Prejudice

It’s an undeniable trait of human societies: they make sure that their own beliefs and ways of life are supremely valuable.

Individuals may be inclined to think they are the smartest, bravest, or most gifted on earth, but when it comes to the collective community they belong to it is celebrated as being superior in many ways.

Words like ‘Dutch’ or ‘Deutsch’ merely signify belonging to an ethnic group – ‘real people’.

Different cultures have varying characteristics; the Jahai hunter-gatherers of Malaysia refer to themselves as “menra” whereas Canadian Beaver Indians call themselves “Dane-Zaa” and the Kusunda people of Nepal say “mihhaq”.

These traits can even appear seemingly ridiculous in nature, such as when a population views its own society as from top to bottom.

As Aristotle also observed this hierarchy within societies with other humans at its base rated no better than animals according to some onlookers.

At worst these misguided values lead untold suffering and misunderstanding; recent European attitudes towards Roma are rife with prejudiced behaviors due largely by ignorance about cultural differences.

Even more disturbingly Rwandan genocide was enabled in part by the Hutu people’s systematic dehumanization of rival Tutsi populations equating them instead to animals such as cockroaches.

But one thing remains certain – every culture has its own distinct features that upon knowledge of outsiders is meant only positively.

Americans boast individualism while Chinese cherish their strength in numbers; societies feeling they can trust or rely upon their members simply due their confident understanding that they’re better collectively without any genuine comparison made against other entities outside them still beyond this day.

Accepting Outsiders: How Societies Learn To Co-Exist Despite Prejudice

Human societies are unique in their ability to successfully assimilate large numbers of outsiders.

This is accomplished through a few key conditions that must be met for successful integration.

The first condition is for the outsider to find a way to contribute valuable skills or services that would otherwise be lacking.

For example, if certain jobs are in short supply, immigrants can fill those positions and become an asset to society.

The second condition is that the outsider must accept a certain amount of loss of identity, being seen more as a generic “outsider” than anything else.

The opposite can also happen, as with Italian immigrants in America who chose to change some of their cultural behavior in order to be viewed as “more American” and thus receive less discrimination.

Finally, successful integration also requires flexibility on the part of society’s insiders.

Sometimes this may allow them to maintain their dominant position while still allowing outsiders access into the group.

Through these conditions it is remarkable how human societies have been able to manage assimilation so successfully with such rising numbers year after year.

We Need Society To Define Ourselves: The Eternal Cycle Of Societal Rise And Fall

Societal Rise

It’s no secret that modern state societies haven’t been built to last – they have a finite lifespan that can range anywhere from two to five hundred years.

This has been proven time and time again throughout history, with the dramatic collapse of Mayapan or the fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia being prime examples.

It’s clear then, that whatever society we live in, one day it will cease to exist.

However, while each individual society may not last forever, the human need for societies – plural – is evident in even our ancient histories as well as our modern times.

Take Futuna island for example: For centuries it was host to two distinct societal groups in perpetual conflict – yet neither society ever fully merged or took over the other.

This suggests that humans not only desire societies, but also need more than one; we require another against which to contrast ourselves in order to form unique identities within our own respective cultures.

Ultimately, while modern state societies are indeed fleeting and temporary, their effects on human mentality are unmistakable and deep-rooted enough that they will continue to leave an indelible impression on us throughout time.

Wrap Up

The Human Swarm by Mark Moffett serves as a reminder to us all that human societies are vital for our existence.

These important relationships bind us together on multiple levels – emotionally, culturally, and psychologically.

We have evolved to use identity markers as a way of distinguishing between strangers, and these markers allow us to quickly recognize outsiders in an environment.

Ultimately, The Human Swarm has demonstrated just how necessary societies are for the human condition.

Our understanding of our own behavior and the way we interact with each other is essential if we want our world to thrive.

We are all part of the same human swarm and should strive to create a better future for ourselves and those around us.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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