Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Six Degrees Of Separation, And The Relative Importance Of Each Degree

For a recent pyramid scheme post, I whipped up a quick little diagram showing me at the top of the pyramid, and then different levels under.

At the bottom of the pyramid, for the people who would really see no benefit from the scheme, I wrote "Some Suckers".

This got me thinking about the popular idea of six degrees of separation, where any two individuals can be connected by a chain of acquaintances.

You can view the diagram as a representation of degrees of separation between myself and the "suckers". For me, it not only shows the connection, but also the loss in meaningfulness as the amount of steps from one's self to another increases.

For example, my connection to "you" is very important. As soon as I walk another step away from me, my interest in and concern for an individual sharply drops off.

So, say you tell me that your friend has been found to have a terminal form of cancer. I'd say, "Wow, that's horrible." But my concern would probably be more for how it affects you, than how it affects your friend. If it was a friend of a friend? I'd say, "Why are you even telling me this? I don't know this person." You try and tell me about a friend of a friend of a friend, and my eyes will glaze over.

We use degrees of separation every day, perhaps in situations we aren't really aware of, or don't want to be aware of.

Take this, for example:

Imagine the relationship of a person on a farm with a cow -- what kind of connection is there? How about a person who works at a slaughterhouse? What is the connection? What is your relationship with the cow? Is it even a cow when you get to it? It's not for me. It's beef. The steps the cow walks to get to me are involuntary and have a very negative effect on the cow's health.

We can say this is a small world, and that we are all connected, but how meaningful is that when the connections don't have any weight behind them? If we don't have extended connections that are truly meaningful, how can we combat issues like poverty, global warming, etc.? How can we be motivated if we don't feel connected? Will we die off as a species as a result of this flaw?

Should I go become a Buddhist now?


Distributorcap said...

i just dont want to be connected to Paris Hilton in any way shape or manner.....

Cowboy the Cat said...

Splotch, I don't know how serious this question is, but I have, at time struggled with the notion of "what the hell can I do?" The best answer I have come up with is to act on a local level, and think on a global level (I know it's an overused catch phrase). I volunteer, I try to buy locally grown foods, I try to shop at locally owned and operated stores. I fail at this sometimes becasue I'm so freaking poor, but That'll change soon. I think most of the big issues in society can only be addressed by individuals on a small scale. Then all the connections have meaning, because they're local, and through "degrees of separation" your influence outpaces your concern. In other words, even if you don't care about the cow at the bottom of the pyramid, through your action (buying locally raised beef), you have influenced a cow's life (it doesn't get shipped as far, pumped up with steroids, hormones, and antibiotics, it is raised in a field, rather than a barn). I'm not saying anything about directly addressing the "big issues", don't get me wrong. You travelling to New Orleans to build houses is awesome, I'm talking about day-to-day life.

Sorry about the rant.

Oh, and if this post was a big joke, I'm sending you a virtual kick-in-the-nuts.

Splotchy said...

dc, what's that on your lip? You might want to get that looked at.

CTC, nah, this post wasn't a joke. I should consider having a "sincere" tag as I mix my jokes and not-joke posts up quite a bit. Thanks for your comment.

You have some very good points. In some ways, however, my question was more of a rhetorical one. Sometimes I get kind of depressed about what I perceive to be human nature, or just the world we live in. This was kind of a "hands thrown up in the air, what the hell, I guess we're doomed by our nature" post. But there's always ways of improving things, even if they appear to be small, which you do a good job of pointing out.

dguzman said...

My answer would look pretty much like Cowboy's, except not as eloquent.

Further, it was right after I pondered the connection between those cute cows in the fields and my dinner plate that I became a vegetarian. So watch yourself, Splotch--it's not an easy life! No more ribeyes, no more BBQ. Kinda sucks. But I feel better when I drive past those cows.

Splotchy said...

d, deep down I know vegetarianism (to be honest, veganism) is probably a lot more moral way of living one's life than my meat-eating. Ack, it's hard (but that really isn't a valid excuse).

dguzman said...

Well, I don't blame people for sticking with the meat--in this country, it's the social default. But I do blame people for continuing to support fast food places, mass-produced meat vendors, etc.--it's not that hard anymore to buy free-range organic meat. At least then you're not eating shit with your meat.

Splotchy said...

again d, it's the degrees of separation kicking in that people use to disassociate themselves from the food they are eating. Who cares what or where the food comes from that magically appears at the grocery store or the fast food restaurant? The important thing it's available for them(/us) to purchase and consume it.