Serpent Rose Release

The Serpent Rose – Dave Migman’s New book

The island exists at the confluence of mythic space, where dreams and reality merge, where ancient gods awaken, to snatch the reins of human emotions and steer us into madness.

Wake up, it’s time to sleep once more. Sup up those flies and listen to the twittering of angelic mites. It’s all sex, sea and fun, until the depravity sets in.

Join us…

Release date – June 21st – Pre Order now  

The State of Modern Resistance

modern resistance

'THe State of Modern Resistance', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.

The State of Modern Resistance

Of all the displays or gestures of resistance in modern memory, I can think of none more insipid and embarrassing as ‘taking the knee’. But like that warm, sticky chewing gum on the sole of your shoe, it’s not going away. Just last week, the England football team announced their intention to take the knee at the opening of each of their Euro matches this month. Did I say ‘sticky’ already? But the ‘stickiness’ of the gesture is only the least of my problems with it. It offends me on a whole host of different levels.

Lest you’ve forgotten, the gesture was started by Colin Kaepernick, a pro American footballer. In protest at the state of civil rights in America, he had been sitting through the US national anthem at games. Had he left it there, I’d have respected him all the more. But the gesture evolved into something new when Kaepernick, in response to protests by those who found his actions offensive to current and former members of the US military, decided to take a knee instead of sitting through the anthem in order to ‘show more respect’. Leaving aside the question of why the US military is due any respect at all, given their sole function as a spearhead of mercenary capitalism, just how was this flim-flam gesture conceived of as a symbol of resistance? In the following months, I couldn’t see a picture of large groups of people taking the knee without feeling nauseated.

My feelings about the ‘delicate’ nature of the BLM movement were somewhat vindicated recently when it came out that the leader of the movement used her position at the head of the organisation to create a property portfolio spanning some three or more counties of the US. The self-described ‘Marxist’ had amassed some three million worth of real estate and was reportedly shopping for a beachfront pad in Belize. Marxism for who, we have to ask? The donors, perhaps.    

But to get back to ‘taking the knee’. Why am I so repulsed by it? Very simple: in what context can the act of kneeling be considered a symbol of resistance to power? Lying down in front of a tank, I can understand, as idiotic as it seems. At least it shows you’re willing to die for your beliefs. But one knee on the ground? Nah. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the turn-the-other-cheek school of resistance, another insipid fiction. I can say with almost near certainty that, if there was a historical figure called Christ, there is no way that he said, ‘Turn the other cheek’. This is the same guy that went into the temple and overturned the bankers’ tables, and the guy who was murdered for offending Rome, the foremost political power of the time. I’m calling horseshit. It was an invention by some church scribe to manufacture compliance among the poor devotees of the church.

No, there is no context in which getting on your knees can be considered ‘revolutionary’.

The Fist

Later, a raised fist was added to Kapaernick’s gesture. Fair enough, the clenched fist is a classic and practical symbol of resistance. It traces its modern origins to the Black Panthers but has roots going back to the early day of socialism. The fist, I admire. The fist is a universal symbol of resistance. The fist is, at its most basic, an expression of a person’s willingness to fight, to stand up for oneself, to use violence towards the end of oppression. I can get behind that. But not when it’s carried by some misguided police officer who thinks he or she is showing solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world by kneeling and raising a useless, clenched hand. I shouldn’t have to delineate the contradictions and insecurities present in this ridiculous combination of gestures.

Lest it’s not already clear, I am not a pacifist. I support the use of violence towards the ending of oppression. I mean, Gandhi’s stand against the British is the oft-quoted example of resistance using peaceful means. I’ll agree it has its merits. But if you look closely at any instance where the state and the populace come into conflict, more often than not, it’s the state that resorts to the use of violence. The sociologist Max Weber described the state as the “human community that claims the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” How often have you seen a peaceful protest met with water cannons and riot police? How are people supposed to respond to that? With violence, of course. Once attacked, the people come back with bricks and sticks and the state breaks out the tear gas and rubber bullets. When the people resort to petrol bombs, that’s when the state starts shooting and maybe rolls in the heavy armour. Escalation dominance is always with the state. That’s why, for me, all means of resistance are legitimate when fighting oppression. I can fully support the goals of Hezbollah, for example, since their very creation was in response to a system of oppression. In the same way, I can get behind the historical war of the IRA in the north of Ireland without agreeing with the massacres that they committed against civilians. Both movements, by the way, which were (and are) branded terrorists, perhaps with good reason. But by whom? By the state, of course. The state, the greatest of all terrorists, because state terrorism is ‘legitimate’ and wears the cloak of something altogether more benign, namely the restoration of ‘order’ or ‘peace’, politico-speak for suppressing dissent. Language, too, can be a form of terrorism.

The raised fist, incidentally, was a symbol that was adopted by the IRA as a motif of their campaign, the fist the unifying symbol of socialist resistance. There were interesting connections between Irish nationalism and the Black Panthers that transcended mere symbolism. In a famous incident in 1970, the civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was given the key to New York on a trip to the US. Devlin notoriously caused a furore when she handed the key over to the Panthers as “as a gesture of solidarity with the black liberation and revolutionary socialist movements in America.”

They were revolutionaries who excite me. MsAliskey was somewhat of a force of nature, which is why the British government attempted to assassinate her in 1981. So were the Panthers, and that’s why the American state slaughtered Fred Hampton. They had real backbone. And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, were they active today on the world stage, neither would be taking the knee.

You’ve all heard the saying, ‘Die on your feet or live on your knees’. Well, there is no revolution waged, now or in future times, that will succeed by a collective ‘taking the knee’. Resistance is made on one’s feet, ready to fight. Or run, as the case may be. Because tanks are fucking heavy.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The State of Modern Resistance’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Ash/Honey

dystopian poetics

'Dystopian poetics', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetry.

Ash/Honey

I owe nothing and take everything.

I am the shadow that strangulates,

the umbra and penumbra my rhyolitic husk;

my words a salt liquor that drowns the pores,

strychnine

to their sourpuss soliloquys.  

 

I lived once

and died a thousand times.

I ate the earth’s core and regurgitated scripture

and when the Pharisees came

they mistook my ash for honey.

Days yet, they mouth slag and cinder. 

 

Peddling oaths, I eat souls.

Days are not long as their saline song,

and just as the sea drowns,

so the last of them poisons me.

 

A spark, a pyre-light on the black ocean.

A howl in the fog-grey valley.

Bleeding words in the dark mine of the unspoken.

These things they say I am. I am no such.

Out there, an orbit, a periphery:

Where I drown is born the song without shadow.   

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Dystopian poetics’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Staking, a gonzo guide

staking

'Staking, a gonzo guide', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

Staking, a gonzo guide

Welcome back to gonzo crypto. Be warned: this is the idiot’s guide to all things blockchain, and if you are at all familiar with crypto, this will be of zero use to you. But, if you are as slack as me and still getting your toes wet, then you may find something of benefit in here. Let’s go.

Very simply, ‘staking’ is the process of submitting your tokens to be locked into a cryptocurrency wallet for a period of time in order the earn rewards.  So what kind of rewards for the coin holder are we talking here? Well, perhaps when you were wee, your ma or da opened an account with the building society for you and put a hundred quid in it. And do you remember being taken down there every couple of months with your bank book, and the lady behind the desk taking it off you and printing your interest in it? I do. She handed it back and you had a look inside, and wa-hey!… a free five quid out of nowhere had just appeared in your account. Ah, the days. Long gone the bank book. Also, who’s making interest on their savings now!? Forget it.   

Staking is a bit like that. You lodge your crypto in an account and don’t touch it for a while, and when you come back, you got some free money waiting for you. They even call it ‘APR’, an acronym which you may remember from those glory days in the building society, one which now does little more than recall that warm feeling of nostalgia.

So, let’s get technical. Where can you stake? Many, if not most, wallets offer staking as standard. So that I don’t err in my advice, I’ll stick to those I’m familiar with. I’m currently staking in three places. Firstly, I got a handful of ATOM staked through my Kraken account. Kraken is an exchange. What most cryptoheads will warn you about exchanges is that, while they are a good place to buy and sell coins, the cryptographic keys that protect the security of the coins in your account are theirs and not yours, so ultimately, it is still technically their money. Until your coins are offsite and in a private wallet, your money is not entirely safe. Remember Mt. Gox? The Japanese crypto exchange that collapsed (or was rug-pulled?) and billions disappeared? Theoretically, it can happen to any exchange. I’ve been with Kraken since 2016 and never had a problem, but I’ve recently started spreading my coins across various private wallets, the keys of which are held by me and me alone. So, back to the ATOM. I’ve a few coins staked in there at a return of 7 per cent APR, which is pretty slow, but it still brings in a little coin with zero effort on my part. I’m also staking my ADA holdings in a Daedalus wallet. Daedalus is built on the Cardano ecosystem, and the wallet downloads the entire Cardano blockchain and verifies every transaction that takes place on it, which means that, security wise, it’s second to none. Daedalus is available only for PC and not for Android. Finally, I’m staking what Harmony ONE I own in a Blits wallet. Harmony is an ecosystem built on the Ethereum blockchain, and is a system which is showing great promise. (I wrote a few articles a week or two ago detailing how Harmony can be used to mint and sell NFTs for artists.)

Those are three platforms on which I’m currently staking. What does it involve? It goes like this: you nominate a staking pool, which is basically a wallet held by a group of people who are pooling their resources in order to be able to validate the blockchain. Your crypto will go into this shared wallet for the length of time that you nominate, and when the returns come back in the form of shared ‘interest’ (APR), you get a slice of the pie (wa-hey!).

It’s that simple. Staking is done from a minimum of a week to ten days up to a year, or even five. Naturally, the longer the better.

So there you are. If you’ve read this article, well done. You have been inducted into the ways of gonzo crypto. Sit back and watch the pennies roll in.       

For more books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Staking, a gonzo guide’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Limited edition NFTs

limited edition NFTs

Limited edition artwork from Black Tarn. Indie publishing on the blockchain.

Limited edition NFTs

There are some new limited edition NFTs from Black Tarn Publishing  available out there in the ether. We have embraced the blockchain and are exporing the vast halls of crypto. Ultan Banan’s two novels are already available on the daVinci Gallery, and now he is releasing a few prints to complement the written works. Prints are limited to ten: five available on Cargo, five on daVinci. Previews and links available below.

dystopian fiction

Limited edition artwork from Ultan Banan:

Meathead, 40x55cm

Barbecued Meat, 44x61cm

For books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 Black Tarn Publishing on the blockchain. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Indie publishing on the blockchain

indie publishing on the blockchain

'Indie publishing on the blockchain', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

Indie publishing on the blockchain

Black Tarn has wandered into the ether and our books are popping up on the blockchain. Embrace it, it’s the future. So far, it’s mostly digital art out there, but we’ve ventured onto the crypto landscape and planted our flag. We’re waiting there now, wondering when the tea service begins…

dystopian fiction

Books available on the Harmony network:

For more books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Indie publishing on the blockchain’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

How to mint an ebook NFT

nfts for authors and writers

'How to mint an ebook NFT', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

How to mint an ebook NFT

First of all, you need Metamask. If you don’t know what it is, hop on the information ladder and start climbing. If you’re on Chrome, you might make use of the Harmony wallet, but I’m a Firefox user and it’s not available yet with Mozilla. Next, you need some ONE. Took me a while to figure this out, and I’m sure there are easier ways to do it, but I’ll tell you how I did it. Before you purchase the token, you need to set up a ‘Custom RPC’ in your wallet here:

NFTs for authors and writers

Follow the instructions on the Harmony Metamask how-to to fill in the required network details. Once that’s done, you need coin. I did it by transferring BNB into Metamask, converting BNB to bscBNB on the Harmony bridge, then swapping it for ONE on Mochiswap.

I’m not gonna go into the mechanics of all of the above. If you’re just getting started in crypto, I think it’s important you go out and learn it all yourself. Besides, I don’t want to post instructions here and then be the one responsible for you losing a couple of hundred euros or dollars of your hard-earned money to the ether when you try to make a transfer using my ramshackle instructions. So from here on, I’m gonna assume you have a wallet installed in your browser and you’ve been able to get the crypto in.

At this point, take a breath and have a cup of tea.

Now, you’re gonna go to daVinci Gallery. You need to hook up your wallet, and they’ll give you the choice of linking with Metamask or Harmony. I’m still with Metamask. Since you’re already set up on the Harmony network, you just hit ‘Connect’ and you’ll be prompted to link daVinci to your wallet (make sure you’re on the Harmony mainnet network in Metamask and not the Ethereum Mainnet).

Now, you’re ready to start creating. Hit ‘Create’, and it’s all signposted from there. As I mentioned, transaction fees on the Harmony network are peanuts, so it’s gonna cost only your time to set up this whole process. It’s new. It’s exciting. I’m not making any money yet, but if we all work to make books a thing on the blockchain, then maybe someday soon we will.

I should add that the platform is young and buggy. It looks like it’s gonna take a few months to get it running smoothly. But with patience, there may be a whole new marketplace out there for us self-publishers sometime soon.

I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the smartphone revolution. With crypto and NFTs, I’m leaping in with two feet.

If you want to see how books look on the blockchain, you can see mine here.

I’ve got some artwork up on Cargo, which is on the xDai chain. Check it out here and here.  

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘How to mint an ebook NFT’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

NFTs for Authors and Writers

nfts for authors and writers

'NFTs for authors and writers', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

NFTs for authors and writers

It’s a brave new world, peregrinos. Things are fast evolving, and you need to move sharpish to keep up with it all. The learning curve is steep. But I’m trying.

While by no means a technophobe, I had to be dragged into the smartphone age.  It was 2020 when I first buckled and bought a smartphone, and 2021 before I installed WhatsApp. Until around eight months ago, I was using a Samsung GE120T with minimum detrimental effect to my day-to-day life. I got some looks and sniggers, but fuck em, I just didn’t need a sweatshopped iPhone. The Samsung was indestructible, built to last. It’s still in my possession, just waiting to be redeployed.

My laptop, on the other hand, is like a third arm. Losing it would be like having a limb cleaved from my body. I own a tablet too, which serves multiple purposes, one of which is to house my crypto wallets. I dipped my feet into crypto in 2017, buying in for about five hundred euros and selling out for a couple of grand at the time of the big crash. I’ve since gotten back into it, and it excites the hell out of me. I like the gambling, the ups and downs, the selling, the transferring, the swapping. I’ve just discovered staking. Each new layer added to the crypto ecosystem, I have to dive in and have a go.

Just a few weeks ago, I first heard about NFTs. As a creator, this excited me greatly. So I started digging around and exploring the platforms, seeing how I might get my teeth into this new infrastructure. There is an abundance of platforms out there catering to digital creators, all of which make use of the Ethereum blockchain or some variation thereof. Now, I dig crypto, but I’m by no means a ‘crypto guy’. I’m a rank amateur and I’m the first to admit it. I have a working knowledge and no more. So, I’m gonna try and break down what I’ve discovered over the last few weeks of playing around, but if I err in my attempted explication of the blockchain ecosystem, then don’t twist my nuts. I’m far down the ladder in terms of crypto knowledge, and so this article is for those of you who are just getting started. For beginners, let’s say.

I write books and I’ve been researching ways of selling books on the blockchain. Now, it’s young days for NFTs and the infrastructure is still being built, and for the moment, it supports mostly digital art in image form: gifs, jpgs, and pngs, and sometimes mp3 and mp4. For an oldish guy like me, I look around on the marketplaces and see pixelated swords and avatars for sale, and I wonder what it’s all about – Minecraft collectibles? Legend of Zelda? I don’t get it. I’m not knocking it, but I find it difficult to comprehend why people pay for these things. Art, I can get behind. And I see plenty of good artwork there, too.

Perhaps because there’s no market for it yet, books seem to be mostly unavailable on the NFT marketplaces. The majority of them don’t yet support book formats. I have not found a single place that supports epub, and only one where you can upload pdfs. Why not? I dunno. It seems like a great place to sell books. One of the benefits of the NFT marketplace is that you can add a royalty for resale. This means that every time your work is sold on, you get a slice of the resale price. With hard copy books, you know that after that first sale, that’s it. It goes into the second-hand market and is gone forever. With NFTs, you get a cut forever. What’s not to like about that? 

Another prohibitive factor in the adaptation of NFTs is that diabolical thing called ‘gas fees’. So apparently Ethereum is a process that uses huge amounts of natural resources, and to utilise smart contracts you need to pay a fee to ‘upload’ your work to the blockchain. In marketplaces built on Ethereum, such as Rarible, Mintable, or OpenSea, the gas fees to upload a single item can be $180. If you’re charging $500–1000 for a single piece of art, then this is viable, otherwise there’s just no way. And if you want to open a ‘storefront’ on the market, it will cost you $600 or more. That was it for me, I checked out right there.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Stablecoins are cryptos that are pegged to regular currency such as the USD. One such stablecoin is xDai, and xDai is a crypto that is built on a ‘sidechain’ of the Ethereum blockchain. Transaction fees on the xDai chain are super low – we’re talking pennies here. (And for the ecologically-minded, I think that means the environmental effect of transactions on the xDai blockchain are a whole lot less stressful than those on the Ethereum networks, though I stand to be corrected on that, if I’m mistaken.)

So, can we get on with how to publish books as NFTs, please? Yes, we can. I’ve discovered an online marketplace that supports pdfs in the creation of NFTs. There are very few books on the site, but my hope is that if we get more self-published authors interested in promoting their work on the blockchain, other marketplaces will take up the practice. Effectively, the way I see it, we need to create the market for books as NFTs. Let’s get it rolling. Let’s get our work out there. Let’s embrace new tech.

Check the following post for instructions on how to mint an NFT.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘NFTs for Authors and Writers’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Transfigurative Acoustics, Song Four

transfigurative acoustics

'Transfigurative Acoustics', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetics.

Transfigurative Acoustics, Song Four

I was born on a Monday and died on Friday.

They cut me from my mother’s womb, the appetent progeny, one full of desire and eager for the world’s delights. For nine months I took form in her belly, the one who bore me, and for nine months my senses developed to the whims of my mother… I ate what she ate, drank what she drank, I learned what she loved and despised, and I too came to love and despise those things. Before I was six months old, I knew what lavender was, and gin and oil and semen, and these things made my tiny body coil with revulsion, and I knew also fresh bread, red wine and antiseptic, and perceived the pleasure in them too. Delight and loathing, I knew them in my tiny bones before my throat had uttered its first cry.

I came into this world with the murderous scream of the living. Contained in those first guttural cries were the pain I suffered in my conception, and the pain with which I would leave this earth too. All things were contained therein, my living and dying, my ecstasy and anguish, the still waters in which I was birthed and the raging torrent that would be my demise… therein, too, the loveless embrace of my mother and the absence of a father, and the sharpness of the air in my throat and impossible pain in my newly-opened eyes. How cruel was the colour white. Upon seeing the prison into which I had been born, I closed my eyes and continued screaming. The smell of antiseptic was my only comfort on that first day.

On the second day, my mother tried to feed me. I rejected her bitter tit. Cleaved from her body, I understood that there was no nourishment for me in her milk. I lay in her arms, the depth of her resentment clear from her touch. Her hatred for me grew. I tried to tell her I did not hate her, but all she heard were my indecipherable cries. She did not know how to speak to me. She did not know how to hear. I forgave her yet continued to wail, for my frail body craved sustenance. Wanting nothing to do with her acrid teets, they succumbed and fed me with a sweet nectar. I fell into the slumber of innocents.

On the third day, I was taken from the white walls of the prison to somewhere called ‘home’. I had known a home once so I was filled with distrust. My new home was filled with anguish, and still I didn’t have a father. I quickly learned to despise my new home. My mother taught me how. She swore and howled and filled me with venom, and when I met her with the same, she abandoned me for hours alone, with no company but the dirty rug on which I lay. My cries were to no avail. She denied me the sweet nectar and tried to force the bitter tit on me, and when I rejected her, she scorned me.

On the fourth day, I was alone.

All things know living and breathing. Dying is not known, nor can it be known. On my fifth day on this earth, I knew this and wept. My throat was cracked, my belly empty. I knew not love nor care, nor the soft touch of a mother, not warmth nor safety nor the joy of living. All these things I was denied. That is when I began to hear it, an ethereal acoustic, a faraway sound. It slithered into the bed where I lay, building slowly. My mother wrapped me in a black cloth, took me out and cast me away. I felt myself fall, once again in the embrace of the waters, this one not warm, lifegiving, but cold and torrential. But it didn’t matter, for now the music carried me and I sailed with it downriver, the music the surrogate of all the things I’d been denied, and I closed my eyes and ceased weeping, for I understood that I was going home.                  

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Transfigurative Acoustics’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Utopias, in theory

utopias in theory

'Utopias, in theory', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.

Utopias, in theory

Dunbar’s number. Many of you have heard of it. Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist who, some years ago, came up with a number that he suggested represented the most stable unit of people that could live together in a society in relative harmony. Actually, there were several numbers: 5, 15, 50, 150, 500 and 1500. The number ‘5’ was the number of people with whom he figured we formed our closest-knit unit, namely, the nuclear family (or modern alternative). On this small group, Dunbar proposed, we expend up to 40 per cent of our social energy. Go outwards from 5, and you get to 15 (intimate bonds), 50 (the social ‘band’), 150 (small community), 500 (large community) and 1500 (‘tribe’). I’ve no idea why these units are all multiples of 5, but I guess there’s some kind of impressive, mathematical weirdness involved. Dunbar came to his numbers by examining three primary groups: new-age utopian communes in North America, Israeli kibbutzim, and the Hutterites of Germany, a kind of self-sustaining community, like the Amish or Mennonites, built around strong religious bonds. Dunbar noticed that the Hutterite communities always ‘fractured’ when they overshot 150; what tended to happen was they’d wait until the number was 200, and then the group would spilt in two, into one group of 150 and one of 50. This way, there was ‘inbuilt’ stability to the spilt, the Hutterites somehow intuiting that 50 and 150 were much more stable than, say, two groups of 100. It seems they had come to the conclusion that 150 was the “limit at which community cohesion can be maintained without the need for formal laws and a police force with which to maintain discipline”. Hear that? Yes… tightly control the population and eliminate the need for authoritarian control. Anthropologist Anthony Forge came to a similar conclusion by observing farming tribes in New Guinea, concluding that, “when community size exceeds 500, the rising intensity of social and other stresses threaten community coherence and stability, and cohesion can only be maintained if some mechanism is available to suppress or mitigate these disruptive forces”. Forge went with the higher number, but both men seems to agree on the basics. 

 The numbers in the kibbutzim were not so clear cut, but the minimum number of souls that gathered in any one kibbutz was 150. A clear factor in this number seemed to be the minimum people required to sustain an ecological balance, and to have sufficient bodies in order to make any kind of agricultural endeavour viable. Nevertheless, the mean size of the kibbutz amounted to about 468 individuals, just within the proposed upper limit of five hundred.    

Interestingly, Dunbar noticed that religious communities survived significantly longer than secular ones, theories for this positing that perhaps religion functions as the social glue, or that maybe the abstract notion of God acts as the ‘all-seeing eye’, like Bentham’s panopticon, maintaining self-control within the population.     

The 'Social Brain Hypothesis'

What is most interesting, perhaps, is that Dunbar, in a separate study, linked the size of our social groups to brain size, or more accurately, to the size of a certain part of our brain. This became known as the ‘Social Brain Hypothesis’. By studying apes, Dunbar came to the conclusion that the size of our neocortex informs the size of the social group to which we may belong. By finding the correlation between the volume of the neocortex and the size of the social group, Dunbar posited that the maximum size of the neocortex directly determined the absolute limits of the size of the social group. Incredible.

So what of modern societies, and what of the virtual world, where we all exist with increasing duration, each day being sucked deeper into the universe that exists purely in virtual electronic spaces and algorithm? Well, Dunbar went back to work a few years ago, in 2016, and performed a study that examined the social circles of people on Facebook. There exists real and observable constraints on the social energy which we can invest in our real-world social relationships, yet there is no ceiling to how many people can interact with our posts online. Yet, despite this, he saw that many of the same laws applied, and that “there is a cognitive constraint on the size of social networks that even the communicative advantages of online media are unable to overcome.” Dunbar observed the same structure of hierarchical layers within online social systems as he did with human and primate social groupings, namely, the increasing units in multiples of 5, which functioned in the virtual world much as they did in the real. The mean network size of those online amounted to around 100–200, and furthermore, heavy users of social media did not have larger offline social networks than those who spent less time online. Common sense might tell you that indeed the opposite is true. His conclusion:

“…online social networks remain subject to the same cognitive demands of maintaining relationships that limit offline friendships. These constraints come in two principal forms: a cognitive constraint derivative of the Social Brain Hypothesis and a temporal constraint associated with the time that needs to be invested in a relationship to maintain it at a requisite level of emotional intensity.”

What am I getting at? Well, I’m all for the virtual environment. Not only is it essential for me to maintaining long-distance friendships, but, as a creator, it is indispensable in getting my name out there and getting my work into the hands of those that would enjoy it. But, as an environment, I believe that for many of us the sheen has worn off, the novelty of it long-disappeared. I keep a Twitter account with some two hundred odd followers, and don’t know a single one of them. But that’s a different story.

Social groups, on or offline, appear to be prone to very specific laws. There is no perfect environment out there within which you might flourish, but you might just increase your odds of finding balance should you bear these laws in mind. Keep your circle tight. Keep it small. Keep it close. Forget about the rest. It seems Utopia is only in your own head, after all.     

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 ‘Utopias, in theory’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.